The Lions won the preseason game, 33-30, but the starters looked bad. Should we be worried or is this just a case of the preseason not mattering? Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Tampa, Fla. — Don’t let the final score fool you. It was the Detroit Lions’ backups who delivered an impressive comeback win, 33-30, over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday in a preseason matchup where the Lions’ starters struggled on both sides of the ball.
After thunderstorms delayed the kickoff of the nationally televised game an hour, Detroit's starters disappointed in the contest many consider the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The Lions trailed 27-13 after the third quarter before rallying with a 20-point fourth quarter.
“It was obviously good to see those guys (backups) come out and compete in those situations," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "And they played extremely hard. They were challenged to go out and try to do a tough task, I think. And I thought they did a real good job. I thought they were – execution, communication – understood the situation kind of how we had to play it and I think both sides, really all three sides did a good job.”
The Bucs won the toss, and like a knife through hot butter, moved effortlessly down the field with the opening possession.
Running back Peyton Barber carried it five times, including the first three plays of the game, gaining 34 yards. On a 14-yard scoring romp to the right side, he dodged linebacker Jarrad Davis in the backfield and sped past Christian Jones to the end zone.
Tampa Bay’s backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, filling in for Jameis Winston, completed all three of his throws on the drive.
The Lions were able to counter punch, quickly working their way into the red zone. Quarterback Matthew Stafford took advantage of a blown coverage and connected with a wide-open Kenny Golladay for a 36-yard gain. But with a first-and-goal from the 6, the drive stalled, and the team was forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
The Bucs appeared poised to build on their early led on the ensuing possession, again moving the ball into the red zone. But Detroit’s first preseason sack, a cleanup effort by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams on a Davis blitz followed by an offensive pass interference call against receiver Mike Evans, forced Tampa out of field-goal range.
The Lions cut the lead to one with another short Prater field goal. On a broken play, Stafford waved for receiver TJ Jones to go deep. The long throw was underthrown, but drew a 53-yard pass interference penalty, setting up the kicker’s 26-yard boot after another series came to a halt inside the 10.
The momentum was short-lived as the Bucs drove 66 yards in 10 plays for a second first-half touchdown. Winston — who is scheduled to be suspended the first three games of the regular season — came off the bench and completed 4 of 5 throws for 36 yards, connecting with receiver Chris Godwin for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Bucs missed the extra point, making it 13-6 with four minutes remaining in the first half.
That’s when the night took a turn for the worse for the Lions’ first-stringers.
With time running out in the second quarter, the Lions opted to attempt a 62-yard field goal, despite soggy field conditions. Prater’s kick predictably came up short and was fielded by Bucs receiver Adam Humphries, who bobbed and weaved through Detroit defenders on his way to a 109-yard touchdown, extending the halftime advantage to 20-6.
Stafford stayed on for the opening series of the third quarter, but the offense continued to sputter.
Stafford finished his day 10-for-18 for 133 yards and without a touchdown or interception.
Detroit’s first-team defense, sans safety Glover Quin and defensive end Ziggy Ansah, also worked another series in the third quarter, where they were fileted by Tampa’s third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin.
Griffin completed all four of his throws during Tampa’s opening possession of the second half, capping a six-play, 88-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown to Freddie Martino.
Down 27-6, the Lions turned the offense over to backup Matt Cassel, who led back-to-back touchdown drives. He completed 4 of 5 passes on the first possession, while running back Ameer Abdullah churned out 27 yards on four carries, setting up a 10-yard scoring run by Theo Riddick.
A trio of short-yardage conversions fueled Detroit’s next touchdown series, with LeGarrette Blount plowing through a defender to get the first on a fourth-and-1 and Zach Zenner powering forward for the other two. On a second-and-goal from the 3, Cassel found receiver Bradley Marquez for the score, cutting the deficit to 27-20.
The Bucs pushed their edge to 10 with 7:17 remaining on a 42-yard field goal, but an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by Detroit’s undrafted rookie receiver Brandon Powell gave the Lions life with a little more than five minutes on the clock.
After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, Powell put the Lions at their own 40 with another 15-yard return. From there, quarterback Jake Rudock dinked and dunked his way down the field, finding tight end Marcus Lucas for the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds on the clock.
Rookie safety Tracy Walker intercepted a pass to seal the victory.
"It’s important for us to really take a look at everybody and find out where we’re at," Patricia said. "It’s a process. September is going to look one way, and October is going to look another, and hopefully November looks better than both of them.
"Certainly, you would like to see more than what we’ve been doing so far. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to get ready here pretty soon, and we’ve just got to keep working to get better.”