Lions 'battle back' but can't overcome Buccaneers’ Winston-led air attack
Detroit — With the way the week had gone, it might have been easier to circle which players on the Detroit Lions roster were healthy enough to play as opposed to who was out with injury.
That steady attrition looked to have caught up with the Lions at the start of Sunday's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But after twice falling behind by 21 points, the Lions fought back into a position to tie it up late in the fourth quarter.
But as the Lions have done so many times during their seven-game losing streak, they didn't have the answers in crunch time and fell, 38-17, at Ford Field.
Down seven and having worked into Buccaneers territory, rookie quarterback David Blough delivered the fatal blow with a critical mistake.
Looking for wide receiver Danny Amendola on an out route, Buccaneers cornerback and former Central Michigan standout Sean Murphy-Bunting undercut the route, intercepted Blough's pass and returned it 70 yards for a back-breaking touchdown with 5:12 remaining.
"Yeah, can’t do it," Blough said. "Obviously, it’s the play that we’ll come back to, that we’ll look at that ultimately was the dagger in the game. Danny ran a good route. I left it a little behind him, guy made a good play and went the other way with it. Playing quarterback in this league, you have to value the football first and foremost. It’s just frustrating that it happened there after the guys fought so hard to battle back. I’ll take it. It’s on me. It’s frustrating.”
With the way things started, it was surprising the Lions even got close.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston came into the day with a reputation for posting big numbers and making more than his fair share of ugly mistakes. The flaw in his game flashed early when he threw an interception directly into the arms of linebacker Jahlani Tavai on the game's opening possession.
But the Lions failed to capitalize on the turnover and Winston quickly put the error in the rear-view mirror, leading the Buccaneers on three long touchdown drives to stake his team to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Winston finished 28-of-42 passing for a career-high 458 yards and four touchdowns. He is the first player in NFL history with 450-plus yards passing in two consecutive games. He had 456 yards and four TDs in last week's win over the Colts.
On the first scoring drive, Winston completed all four of his passes for 70 yards, connecting with Breshad Perriman on a 34-yard post pattern for the series-capper.
The Lions pinned the Buccanneers at their 1-yard line the next possession, but not even that could slow the potent Tampa Bay offense, which needed five plays to get back into the end zone.
A pair of busted coverages, first a 51-yard pass to Chris Godwin immediately followed by a 33-yard strike to Scotty Miller, extended Tampa's first-quarter lead to 14.
After that score, Lions coach Matt Patricia rallied the entire defense on the sideline as he delivered an animated and impassioned speech.
"I’ll probably keep a lot of that private, but I would say, obviously, I was not happy with where we were at and how we were starting," Patricia said. "I don’t think they were happy with it either. I think they understand that and there are certain things that we have to do from that aspect just to settle things down, and go out there and do what we’re supposed to do and not try to do something else."
The two sides traded punts before Tampa Bay struck again. On the brink of a stop, the Lions allowed Winston to step through pressure and find Perriman on third-and-15 for a 25-yard touchdown.
Despite the early onslaught, the tide started to shift before the end of the half when the Lions put together an 11-play, 49-yard drive ending in a 44-yard Matt Prater field goal to snap the shutout, 21-3.
But Detroit failed to keep the momentum through the half. Taking possession to start the third quarter, Blough overthrew Amendola and was intercepted by safety Andrew Adams, who spent the offseason with the Lions.
Tampa Bay turned the turnover into three points, a 46-yard field goal by Matt Gay, and extended their advantage to 24-3.
But as we've seen all season, the Lions continued to fight.
Blough led a 11-play touchdown drive, highlighted by a tightly contested 46-yard grab by Amendola down the right sideline. That set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by rookie running back Wes Hills, who was making his debut on Sunday.
Hills found his way into the end zone a second time on Detroit's next possession, leaping across the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter to slice the Buccaneers' advantage to a single score, 24-17.
"I was trying to take advantage of that opportunity," Hills said. "It’s a dream come true, but it would’ve been 10 times better with a win.”
After Gay clanged a 54-yard field goal attempt off the left upright, the Lions had an opportunity to complete the improbable comeback, but Blough's second interception ended those hopes.
Following Murphy-Bunting's pick-six, the Lions turned the ball over on downs near midfield and Winston provided the exclamation point by finding Perriman for a 25-yard touchdown.
Perriman, the son of former Lions receiver Brett Perriman, matched a career-high with five catches, while his 113 yards and three touchdowns marked new personal bests.
"I have a lot of love for my pops and the legacy he had here and just to be able to come here and have a great game, one of my biggest games of my career, it means a lot for our story, my story, my dad’s story and my family’s story in general," the younger Perriman said.
Blough was 24-of-43 passing for 260 yards and two interceptions. Amendola caught eight balls for 102 yards.
The loss drops the Lions to 3-10-1 on the season. The victory was the fourth in a row for the Buccaneers, which moved them to 7-7 on the year.
On the injury front, the Lions placed four starters on injured reserve this week — wide receiver Marvin Jones, linebacker Jarrad Davis, guard Joe Dahl and defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand — while several others were ruled out before the game, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Bo Scarbrough, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson.
Additionally, linebacker Devon Kennard, guard Kenny Wiggins and running back J.D. McKissic exited Sunday's game and were unable to return.
"It’s not easy, but it’s part of the deal," Patricia said. "We just tell the guys we have to be ready to go and these are the scenarios that might come up, and if they come up everyone just has to be ready."