TAMPA FL - DECEMBER 19: Receiver Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions runs through the tackle of defensive back E.J. Biggers #31 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 19 2010 in Tampa Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
It was now Week 15, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 8-5. While competition in the division and the NFC was strong, the Bucs had a real chance of making the playoffs. But to make the playoffs they would more than likely have to win all three of their next games: against the Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints. Of those three opponents, the Lions surely were the weakest. They had won just 3 games all season, although they had managed to beat a battered Packers team the week before. The Bucs were missing a couple of players as Cody Grimm, Arrelious Benn, Gerald McCoy, Quincy Black and Aqib Talib had all been placed on IR in recent week. Still, they were up against a bad team with a backup quarterback and a really, really bad defense. How could the Bucs ever lose?
Well, they sure showed us they could lose if they wanted to. Again, things started out poorly. The Bucs got to the edge of field goal range on their openeing drive, but decided to punt for a whopping 19 yards. The Lions did nothing on that drive, but the Bucs couldn't answer back either. The Lions then decided to just move downfield if the Bucs weren't going to put up a fight, and threw a touchdown pass to Nate Burleson. Bucs down 7-0. Well, they'd been in that situation plenty of times before. No need to panic.
And the Bucs didn't panic. Instead, they moved the ball downfield themselves, and Mike Williams caught yet another touchdown pass. Mike Williams route on that play was a thing of beauty, as he works himself free and is wide open when he catches the touchdown. The Bucs then decided to make short work of these upstart Lions, as they mounted another long drive on their next possession. This time, Legarrette Blount capped it off with a stylish 39-yard run. He broke a ridiculous amount of tackles on that play, and it was at this point that the Bucs looked safe and secure for this game. The Lions managed to put up a field goal before half time, but a 14-10 lead looked pretty safe against this team.
And then the second half changed everything. On their opening possession, the Lions moved methodically downfield. Short, quick passes brought them to the 10-yard line, where the Bucs run defense couldn't contain a pedestrian running back in Maurice Morris. Touchdown Lions. The Bucs were down, now, but they still had a potent offense. In true dink-and-dunk fashion, the Bucs moved downfield again. It took them a whopping 15 plays officially to get down to the red zone. But 5 penalties made it a very real 20 plays, a very real 20 plays at the end of which seemed to be a perfectly valid Kellen Winslow touchdown. But in a bizarre call, the referees decided that that touchdown was no touchdown, as Kellen Winslow had pushed off. The league later apologized to the Bucs for that call, but small good it did them. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal the game was tied. It was time for the Bucs defense to step up as they had so often before in the fourth quarter.
And they did, for a time. The Lions couldn't score, and the Bucs got another drive going down to the red zone. Once inside the redzone the Bucs decided to eat clock, as the Two Minute Warning had already passed. They kicked a field goal, were up 20-17 and all they had to do now was stop the Lions from scoring with 1:44 and no timeouts. Piece of cake.
Except the Bucs didn't seem to want this game to end. First, they allowed a big return to the Lions' 32-yard line. Then Drew Stanton could seemingly complete passes at will, and E.J. Biggers was overmatched against Calvin Johnson. It didn't take long for the Lions to get to the Bucs' 10-yard-line. And from there they managed to get off one pass to the endzone, to Calvin Johnson, the superstar. Thankfully, Myron Lewis beat Megatron on a jump ball, but the Lions still scored a field goal to tie the game as time expired.
And then, as with so many overtime games, the deciding moment happened: the toin coss. The Lions won. They elected to receive, and that was all she wrote. The Bucs defense was tired, and they couldn't stop anyone anymore. Maurice Morris gashed the defense for 26 yards. Jahvid Best added 14 yards. Maurice Morris ran for another 2 before Calvin Johnson caught a ball for 12 yards, and the Lions were easily in field goal range. They let Maurice Morris carry the ball three more times for fun, and Dave Rayner then ended the game with a simple field goal.
The Bucs needed to win this game to get in the playoffs. And when they had to win this game, they came up short.