The Lions have had to overcome a lot this season, the loss of their quarterback, the loss of their second quarterback, the twin turf toes of Jahvid Best and a slew of bad calls. They have spent all season getting close but no cigar, but the last two weeks the Lions have overcome it all to deal two potential death blows to playoff contenders.
The Lions tackled poorly, they couldn’t capitalize on defense when they had the Bucs backed up on multiple occasions and they let Tampa Bay’s weapons hurt them. They also hung in for two huge goal line stands to force field goals, drove the length of the field in high pressure situations and won with a third string quarterback.
For the fourth straight week the Lions ran the ball extremely well which forced Tampa Bay out of their two deep coverages. That left Calvin Johnson facing one on one coverage most of the game which he and Stanton exploited to the tune of 10 catches for 152 yards. Stanton played a strong game despite suffering an undisclosed arm injury just before the half. Maurice Morris’ hard charging running style shredded the Bucs’ depleted defense for 109 yards and swung the momentum completely in favor of the Lions with a 26 yard run on the first play of overtime.
The defense really played poorly for the majority of the game, but somehow managed to step it up when the game was on the line. The Lions surrendered a pair of long runs to LeGarrette Blount after they had slowed him down but couldn’t drop him to the turf. The poor tackling wasn’t isolated to Blount though. The Lions had the Bucs backed up several times in 2nd or 3rd and 10+ yards and the Bucs were able to convert almost all of those situations into first downs. The Lions defense seemed completely unprepared for the screen pass which the Bucs gashed them with all game.
In the end the Lions made the plays, the Bucs had the mental breakdowns and the Lions capitalized on those breakdowns. The Lions are riding high now that they have established a running game and taken the pressure off of their backup quarterback. The Lions have a balanced offense to pair with a great defensive line, if they can just limit the breakdowns in the back seven they may be able to run the table and finish on a high note.
3rd and 13 the Lions had the Bucs backed up in a 2nd and 20, then gave up a 12 yarder to Mike Williams followed by a false start on Tampa Bay. On the third down play, the Bucs had a bad snap to Freeman which he was able to control but the heat from the rush was on. The Bucs had a screen set up but it looked like the timing was blown by the bad snap. The Lions couldn’t get to Freeman and he made the throw to Cadilac Williams who picked up the first after the defense looked completely unprepared for the screen. It was a good play call, but there was no excuse for the slow reaction by the defense. The timing of the play was thrown off so they had an extra second or two to diagnose the play. Williams picked up the first down and six plays later the Bucs tied the game.
1st and 18 for the Bucs after a holding penalty. Cliff Avril comes clean around the tackle and has a shot at Freeman. Freeman is able to slip away and keep his feet after Avril tripped him up. Freeman rushed for eight yards rather than losing eight on the sack. Instead of the Lions having Tampa Bay backed up in 2nd and 26, they had 2nd and 10. They promptly surrendered a first down on the next play on a swing screen to Earnest Graham and on the following play Legarrette Blount steamrolled for a 39 yard touchdown to take the lead.
Right before halftime the Lions had a good drive going with 1st and 10 from the Bucs’ 13 yard line. Corey Hilliard was flagged for holding on a running play that gained nothing. The penalty pushed the Lions to 1st and 20 at the 23 which they couldn’t recover from and they had to settle for a field goal.
2nd and 4 for the Bucs on the Lions 39. Corey Williams gets a great jump on the snap and forces Ted Larsen to hold him. That penalty negated a Buccaneer first down and on the ensuing play Sammie Hill sacked Freeman ending a Buc drive that would have resulted in at least a field goal attempt.
The Bucs first drive of the fourth quarter had two huge opportunities for the Lions to end the drive. They had Tampa Bay backed up in 2nd and 15, which they allowed Freeman to scramble for 14 and they would convert the 3rd and 1. That was followed up by a 2nd and 24 after a Lawrence Jackson sack that pushed Tampa Bay back across the 50 yard line. The Lions were caught completely unaware by a wide receiver screen again and gave up a 26 yard gain on 2nd and 24. The Bucs would drive down to the Lions’ 2 before…
Tampa Bay had 3rd and goal from the Lions’ 2. The Lions got early pressure on Freeman and took away his first option on the play. Freeman bought some time and lofted a touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow who was flagged for offensive interference. I know some Bucs’ fans will call it a weak penalty, but I would refer them to the offensive interference on Pettigrew on Thanksgiving before they play that card. The Lions would ultimately hold the Bucs to a field goal and keep themselves alive to force overtime.