Matthew Stafford threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, two to Calvin Johnson, as the Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Although the Bucs showed signs of life in the fourth quarter, Detroit was in control for most of the day, racking up 431 total yards and keeping possession for over 36 minutes.
Despite a dominant first half by the Lions, the Bucs trailed just 20-13 at the start of the third quarter and received the second-half kickoff. But they were no closer to solving the Lions than they had been earlier in the game. After another three and out, Detroit drove 70 yards in 11 plays, taking six and a half minutes off the clock and finishing the drive with a fantastic 1-yard TD catch by Johnson. Even with Aqib Talib pushing him out of bounds and trying to knock the ball loose, Johnson got both feet in and kept possession all the way to the ground to give the Lions a 27-13 lead.
After picking up zero first downs in the third quarter, the Bucs finally got some offensive rhythm in the final period. Josh Freeman returned after briefly coming out of the game with leg cramps and drove Tampa Bay to the Lions’ 8-yard line. But needing two touchdowns, the Bucs had to go for it on a 4th and 1, and Earnest Graham was stopped short of the first down. Following a Detroit punt, the Bucs went 59 yards in 11 plays and pulled within 27-20 on a terrific catch by Mike Williams, who tapped his toes just inside the end line on a fourth-down pass.
The Bucs had taken too long to score, though, and with only 1:35 to play they were forced into an onside kick that Johnson recovered for the Lions. Although Gosder Cherilus's brain-dead personal foul penalty bought Tampa Bay an extra 40 seconds, they only reached the Lions’ 42-yard line on their last possession before trying a last-second lateral drill that never had a chance.
Tampa Bay has now lost five of its last six season openers, and will head north next Sunday to face the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.