Sunday, November 23, 2008

OH THE HUMANITY! Bucs Survive Motown Scare

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten this rally thing down pat. Now let's not see it anymore. Tampa Bay fell behind 17-0 to the putrid Detroit Lions, then rallied with a 21 point 2nd quarter and two more scores in the 3rd to subdue to plucky Lions 38-20. The victory, combined with Atlanta butt kicking of the Carolina Panthers move the Bucs into a 1st place tie in the NFC South. If the playoffs ended today, the Buccaneers would have their third division title in four years and a first round bye.

The Bucs began this game as a team that looked anything but a team in playoff contention. After the teams exchanged punts on their opening series, the Lions drove 71 yds in 7 plays with new Lions QB Daunte Culpepper hitting the monster WR Calvin Johnson for a 41 yd strike to the Tampa Bay 17 yd line, then found Johnson again in the endzone for a 15 yd score and a 7-0 lead.

The Bucs got the ball back at the 29. Garcia hit Jerramy Stevens for a 5 yd gain, then WR Antonio Bryant for 17 to the Lions 49. Then disaster struck. Head Coach Jon Gruden inserted running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams for his first action of the 2008 season - showed. Garcia had the inclination to play action to Williams and go for Antonio Bryant deep, unfortunately Garcia and Williams collided in the backfield, knocking the ball loose and Detroit safety Daniel Bullocks picked up the fumble and rumbled 49 yds for a score. The stunned Buccaneers trailed 14-0.

Tampa Bay would go three and out, then normally reliable punter Josh Bidwell shanked a punt 34 yds, setting the Lions up in superb field position, allowing them to drive it 36 yds to set up a 38 yd Jason Hanson field goal with 0:15 left in a nightmare first quarter for the Buccaneers. After one quarter of play, it was the Lions 17, the Buccaneers 0.

Then the second quarter began and things changed. A terrific kick return by Clifton Smith set the Bucs at midfield. From there, Garcia would drive the Bucs 50 yds in 7 plays, setting up a whirling derbish touchdown run by the ageless Warrick Dunn, cutting the Detroit advantage to 10. After a 3-and-out by the Lions, Garcia marched the Bucs back down the field again, driving Tampa Bay all the way down to the Lions 36. On 3rd and 13, Garcia scrambled, then found WR Ike Hilliard wide open for a 36 yd score, suddenly the daunting lead of the Lions had been shaved to only 3.

In typical Lions fashion, Detroit would set the Bucs up in prime field postion, as Daunte Culpepper's short pass that was intended for Shaun McDonald ended up in the hands of Bucs CB Ronde Barber, setting the Buccaneer offense at the Detroit 24 yd line. The Bucs would take advantage immediately, in almost a carbon copy of their last score Garcia found a quarrantined Jerramy Stevens all alone for a 24 yd touchdown. Shocker reversed - Tampa Bay led at the half 21-17.

In the 3rd quarter, the both teams would punt on their opening drive - but Tampa Bay's Clifton Smith would return the Detroit punt 70 yds for a touchdown. Clifton Smith became the first Buccaneer in team history to have a kick return and punt return for a touchdown in the same season. If Smith can ever figure out how to not lose the pigskin (he fumbled for the fourth straight game today), he might become a special teams superstar in the vein of Devin Hester or Dante Hall. This guy has the chance to break it each time he touches the ball. Smith is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Fresno State - what a find by the Buccaneer scouting department.

With 9:33 left in the third quarter and the Bucs driving, Jeff Garcia was hit from behind and fumbled the football. The Bucs challenged the call and replays appeared to clearly show Garcia down, but inexplicably, referee Bill Corollo decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call. The Lions had the football at the Tampa Bay 45, then promptly threw it away. Daunte Culpepper telegraphed an out intended for Shaun McDonald and Barber, as he's done so many times before, stepped in front for his second pick of the game and raced 65 yd for the score, putting the Bucs up 38-17.

Jeff Hanson would take advantage of a muffed punt by Ike Hilliard to pound in a 40 yd field goal to pull the Lions within 18 but they would get no closer. Drew Stanton would briefly make an appearance for the Lions going 2 for 6 for 13 yds before being knocked cuukoo and out of the game. The benched Culpepper would re-enter the ballgame and basically not do much. Someone who did get a chance to do a lot was Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. The Bucs rested Warrick Dunn in the 4th quarter, allowing Williams to get a good feel for the game. Williams at one point carried the ball eight straight times, finishing with 27 yds on 16 carries. Sure the average isn't much, but Williams got an opportunity to get a feel for the speed of the game, got to cut on the fieldturf, got hit, and survived, feeling sore but great. No ill effects from the knee injury and it appeared that he still had that speed and power that was a trademark of Williams game. It will take some time, but Cadillac definitely showed some glimpses of why the Bucs were so proud of the miraculous comeback he has made.

Tampa Bay improved to 8-3, tied for 1st in the NFC South and head back home to host the struggling New Orleans Saints in a big time revenge game for the Buccaneers. The Lions fell to 0-11, and their bid for OH-mortality remains intact.

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