Turnovers made all the difference in Detroit this week. Kitna and the Lions took the lead early over John Grudenâ€™s Bucs and never let it slip out of their grasp.
It was a remarkably impressive performance. Jeff Garcia had 45 passing attempts and connected on 37 of them â€“ better than 82% on the day. He spread the wealth around to numerous receivers although RB Earnest Graham was his favorite target collecting 13 catches for 99 yards. Veteran Ike Hilliard pocketed his share as well pulling in 9 passes for a gain of 92 yards, better than 10 yards per catch. Joey Galloway, BJ Askew, Jerramy Stevens and a few other assorted members of the cast rounded out the day as Garcia dished out 316 yards to seven different receivers, at one point in the first half reaching 18 completions in a row.
The Earnest Graham show continued in the rushing column as the 4th year running back out of Florida carried 19 times for 92 yards. Newly acquired RB Michael Bennett was handed the ball only 3 times but got good gains of over 7 yards a carry including a first down run in the red zone during which he displayed an incredible burst of acceleration and speed as he blasted through the secondary to reach the marker and was stopped just short of the goal line.
All told the Bucs rolled up 422 yards of offense while holding the Lions to 278 yards. Tampa Bay had 27 first downs to the Lions 17, they were 8 for 14 on 3rd downs and held possession for nearly 36 minutes. Garcia now has the third highest QB rating in the NFL and has a passing percentage of better than 70% (only Patriots QB Tom Brady has a higher completion percentage), and Garcia has done all this without a single interception this season in 189 attempts.
And as a stark reminder of how important it is to hang on to the football, the end result of all this hoopla is that Garcia and the Bucs lost the game.
Although his record of avoiding interceptions is intact, Garcia lost the football on two (well maybe one and a half) critical occasions, and Detroit pounced on those opportunities and devoured them. Early in the first quarter Garcia and Earnest Graham failed to execute a handoff properly. The ball bounced off Grahams chest and right into the arms of Lions defensive tackle Shawn Rogers who was downed by contact at the Tampa Bay 49 yard line. Detroit needed only 5 plays to score a TD and extend their lead to 10-0.
Then on their first drive of the 4th quarter with the score 16-7, Tampa Bay was in the red zone and threatening to make it a 2 point game. Instead, Garcia failed to handle the snap and fumbled the football at the Lions 2 yard line. Defensive end Jared DeVries fell on the ball at the 7 yard line giving Detroit possession. Ouch. Detroit took 7 plays to fight their way to midfield but from there the next 50 yards were covered in 60 seconds and 2 plays, one of them a reverse run by the rookie wide receiver Calvin Johnson which went for 32 yards and a touchdown.
The final tally was 23-16 in favor of the Lions â€“ a one possession game. To add injury to insult Tampa Bay lost wide receiver Mark Jones, their primary kickoff and punt returner to a season ending rip in the patellar tendon of his left knee.
The Bucs showed a lot of heart after being down 23-7 in the closing minutes by driving 78 yards for a TD, then recovering an onside kick and posting another 3 points with a Matt Bryant field goal from 48 yards. “I’m proud of the team with the way they competed until the end of the game,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
But some mistakes are just too difficult to recover from, and Tampa Bay would have had to perform the almost unheard of feat of recovering two onside kicks in a row to have a shot at winning. They did not recover the second onside kick and the Lions ran out the clock.
In spite of the 2 fumbles Jeff Garcia has shown great leadership to this Buccaneers team. I hope that he can use that leadership to help his team shake off this weeks loss and focus on the upcoming game with Jacksonville. The Jaguars and Buccaneers are pretty evenly matched – both are scoring and allowing almost the identical number of points per game. Jacksonville is 14th in the league against the rush and 17th against the pass. Tampa Bay is 21st against the run and 5th against the pass. The key task for the Bucs will be stopping the run â€“ Jacksonville is the 6th ranked rushing team in the league. If Tampa Bay can contain Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew even moderately it promises to be an exciting matchup.