Last season, the Detroit Lions went into Tampa Bay and beat the Buccaneers in overtime for their first road win in approximately a century. This season, they opened up their campaign in the same city against the same team. However, this time around road wins won’t be treated like near miracles for the Lions. This is a team a lot of people predicted would win this game. This is a team a lot of folks are predicting will make the playoffs. Beating Tampa Bay on the road would certainly help make that a reality. The Lions defense was missing a couple of pieces, most notably Nick Fairley and Alphonso Smith, but Ndamukong Suh and company were ready to take on Josh Freeman and the Bucs.
The Lions got on the board first with a field goal from Jason Hanson. Soon after that, Tampa Bay tied things up with a field goal of their own. Then, the Bucs took the lead with a 28-yard interception return by Aqib Talib. Don’t blame Matthew Stafford on this one, however, as the ball was tipped by Will Heller. It wasn’t a great pass by Stafford, but tips are fluky situations. Near the end of the first quarter, the Lions made it 10-6 with another Hanson field goal.
Then, Detroit took over for a little while. First, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson on an excellent 36-yard touchdown pass to give Detroit the lead. Later, Stafford connected with Tony Scheffler for an 11-yard score. The Buccaneers added a field goal as time expired to make it 20-13 at the half.
In the third quarter, Stafford and Johnson combined for another touchdown, this one on a 1-yard alley oop play. This was the only score of the third, making the game 27-13 in favor of Detroit headed into the fourth quarter? Would they be able to hold onto their two touchdown lead? The Lions kept the Bucs off the board for a while, but with 1:35 left in the game Freeman hit Mike Williams for a touchdown which featured some incredible footwork by Williams to make it a good score. They tried an onside kick, but it didn’t work. However, they got the ball one more time, and on the last play of the game they tried the ol’ laterals galore play which at first was alarming but quickly became farcical. In the end, the Lions ended up on top of a fumble and Detroit earned another win in Tampa.
The Lions were the better team on this day. They outgained Tampa Bay 431-315, and the Bucs only managed 56 rushing yards. However, to be fair they only tried to run the ball 16 times. The Lions actually only barely averaged more yards per rush in this game. That being said, they controlled the ball for 36:25, they had two sacks while Tampa had none, and they won the turnover battle. To be fair, however, both teams had one interception and four fumbles. The Lions just happened to recover one of Tampa’s fumbles, which is a matter of fortune rather than skill. Plus, the Lions took more penalties for more yards, “highlighted” by a stupid penalty from Gosder Cherilus,the king of the stupid penalty.
Stafford was excellent in this game. He went 24-for-33 for 305 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, and as I mentioned early the pick came on a deflected pass. Freeman, meanwhile, went 28-for-43 for 259 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He was also Tampa’s leading rusher with 26 yards on four carries. He also missed a bit of the game after a hit from Willie Young, but he was able to return to lead Tampa Bay down the stretch. Jahvid Best had himself a nice game, rushing 21 times for 72 yards and catching four passes for 42 yards. Jerome Harrison had eight carries for 27 yards. In the future, I expect him to get more carries. Meanwhile, the Lions held LeGarrette Blount to 15 yards on five carries.
Johnson, unsurprisingly, was the top receiver for the Lions, catching six passes for 88 yards and two scores. Nate Burleson had five catches for 60 yards, and he also had one 20-yard rush. Brandon Pettigrew had four receptions for 57 yards. Stephen Tulloch and Kyle Vanden Bosch had Detroit’s sacks, while Chris Houston had their interception. Justin Durant had two tackles for loss. The Lions got some big games on defense from their free agent signings.
The Detroit Lions won their opening game for the first time since 2007. Not only that, they won it on the road, and against pretty strong competition. Yes, Tampa Bay’s record flattered them last season, and I don’t expect them to make the playoffs this season, but they are at the very least a pretty good team, and the Lions were able to beat them in their home stadium. This game should do nothing to curtail anybody’s positivity they may be feeling about this team. Their key players looked good, particularly Stafford and Johnson, and Fairley and Smith should be able to help soon. Plus, their next game is at home against Kansas City, who was routed by the Buffalo Bills today. Still, let’s not read too much into one game for either team. For now, the Lions are 1-0 and things are looking good, but there are 15 more games to go.