Killer instinct drives offense in Lions OT win over Bucs
TAMPA -- It was all about attitude for the Lions on Sunday.
They did not play like a team that had won only three games, they played like they meant it -- for 60 minutes and then some.
“We had a killer instinct on offense today, a truly different attitude out there today ...’’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “I think it’s the week of practice, coming off a win. That breeds a lot of confidence and we carried it down here.’’ With the 23-20 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Lions (4-10) have now won two straight games for the first time since 2007.
That, however, is not the streak of importance.
With the huge win on Sunday -- the result of back-to-back drives ending in field goals -- the Lions finally snapped their NFL record 26-game road losing streak that began in October 2007.
It was a huge win for this franchise and for the Jim Schwartz era. It could be the game that gets them over that hump that has been holding them back. And now that ugly streak is history.
“When that streak is talked about and all of that, a lot of these players and coaches don’t know what you’re talking about, they haven’t been a part of it. It’s kind of not right to say they are a part of it,’’ left tackle Jeff Backus said. “Dom (Raiola) and I and a few other guys have been here the whole time. It’s nice to get the monkey off our back and hopefully that’s the last streak that we have and we can start some positive ones and get this thing turned around.’’
Raiola was totally fired up for the win and the inspiration the offensive line received from Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris. On Friday when Morris was asked how he planned to replace defensive tackle Gerald McCoy he took a swipe at the Lions.
"It will all depend on what (the Lions) do and what I want to do and how I want to force my will on our opponent that day," Morris said, as reported in the Tampa Tribune.
Raiola took exception.
“That’s like a slap in your face. ... I’ll tell you right now I’m fired up, we’re not going to be monks any more right now, you saw the film you saw how violent it was,’’ Raiola said.
It was part of the fire that burned within the Lions’ offense which apparently spread to defense and special teams.
“We take all that personal, especially that to think you’re going to be able to throw anybody out there and be able to play us, that’s not the sign of a professional and taking the job very seriously,’’ left guard Rob Sims said. “We went out there and proved it today.’’
While the emotions were high they were in control especially for quarterback Drew Stanton who picked up his second straight win in just his fourth NFL start.
All he had to do was lead the offense on two field-goal drives -- one at the end of the game with no timeouts and the other in overtime after Detroit won the OT coin toss.
With 1:39 left on the clock and the Bucs up 20-17, Stanton started the fourth-quarter drive on Detroit’s own 32.
Stanton was four of eight with key passes to Calvin Johnson for 23 yards on a second-and-six, a 19-yard pass to Bryant Johnson on second-and-10 and a 12-yarder to Tony Scheffler on a third-and-10.
Then Dave Rayner (Michigan State and Oxford High) stepped in and kicked a 28-yard field goal to tie the game with no time left.
After winning the toss, the Lions started on their own 21 with a 26-yard run by Maurice Morris, followed by a 14-yard scamper by Jahvid Best.
On a third-and-8 at Tampa’s 37 Stanton threw to Calvin Johnson who ran out of bounds at the Tampa 25 with a 12-yard gain.
Stanton never saw Johnson made the catch that secured the win.
“I knew they were going to bring an internal blitz so I have to sit in here and take this one and trust he’s going to get to his spot, I still haven’t seen it. I’m sure he made an unbelievable catch,’’ said Stanton who was 23 of 37 for 252 yards, one touchdown and 0 interceptions.
Even though it was the key play in the win, Calvin Johnson aw-shucked it. “It was a simple route, it just happened to be in a good situation, it was a good ball for me to snag,’’ Johnson said.
And he was able to keep his feet in.
Rayner, who has stepped in for the ailing Jason Hanson, stepped in and kicked a 34-yard field goal to win the game.
It was a team win in every way. Stanton, Calvin Johnson (10 catches 152 yards), the running game featuring Maurice Morris with 15 carries for 109 yards and a 10-yard touchdown run, Rayner’s two field goals (28 yards and 34 yards), the offensive line that opened up holes for the running game. Nate Burleson opened the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
And, of course, the defense which gave up 403 yards of offense, but didn’t allow the Bucs to score on two red zone opportunities.
“Winning on the road is a step we needed to take, I can’t help but think this is a game that maybe we don’t win early in the season,’’ Schwartz said. “We’re becoming a battle-hardened team. This is a franchise that hadn’t been used to playing a lot of close games and this year we have.’’
And so have the Buccaneers (8-6) who entered the game with five fourth-quarter comebacks and the odd record of not having beat a team with a winning record.
It was a huge step for the Lions who were finally looking forward to the plane ride home.
“It’s a big relief, finally get to take a plane ride with smiles and laughter and all that good stuff, instead of going back all sad and everybody mad,’’ defensive tackle Corey Williams said.
This win won’t mean as much if the Lions don’t follow it up with another solid effort next Sunday at the Miami Dolphins.
It was a sign that this bunch of talented, yet very banged up players, is on the right path. It’s been tough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and these Lions are living proof.
“We needed all those lessons. When you’re changing the structure of a team, when you’re changing the whole face of a team you’re going to have growing pains,’’ said left guard Rob Sims. “Now we’re starting to peek around the corner, we’re not all the way there yet, but we’re showing up.’’
(Paula Pasche covers the Detroit Lions. Follow her on Twitter @PaulaPasche. Read her Lions Lowdown blog at TheOaklandPress.com.)