With some help from its last opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stayed in the playoff hunt. They’ll have to overcome a few more key injuries, though, against a Detroit Lions team mired in the longest road losing streak in NFL history.
After losing four starters over the previous two weeks, the Buccaneers will take on the Lions at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Kellen Winslow caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman last Sunday against Washington to put Tampa Bay up seven with just under 4 minutes remaining.
The Redskins drove down the field and scored a TD with 9 seconds to go, but when holder Hunter Smith bobbled the high snap, they couldn’t convert the extra point, giving Tampa Bay a 17-16 victory.
The Buccaneers (8-5), who are 5-0 in games decided by three points or less, are tied with Green Bay and sit one game behind the New York Giants for the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
"We go into every game to prepare as best we can, and then when it comes down to it on Sundays when we try to go out and win the game," Freeman said. "They’re not always perfect, but at the same time, we know that if we keep grinding away, we have a chance to win it."
It wasn’t all good news for Tampa Bay, as it lost defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Quincy Black to injuries. McCoy (torn left biceps), the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Black (broken forearm) were placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
The injuries come as a huge blow for the Buccaneers after center Jeff Faine and cornerback Aqib Talib – who was tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions – suffered season-ending injuries in a 28-24 loss to Atlanta on Dec. 5.
Freeman, who had averaged 159.6 yards in his previous three games, completed 15 of 25 passes for 266 yards – the same number the Lions have surrendered through the air over their last three contests.
Tampa Bay is also dealing with Monday’s arrest of linebacker Geno Hayes on disorderly conduct and trespassing charges.
Hayes, who will play Sunday, is the third Buccaneer to be arrested in the past two months.
"You talk to your team about making good decisions all the time," coach Raheem Morris said. "Obviously, you’re frustrated with anything that diverts attention away from your team. … It’s diverting away from us being positive and 8-5, and just talking about that stuff."
The Lions (3-10) have dropped an NFL-record 26 straight on the road but will look to carry over their momentum from a 7-3 win over Green Bay last Sunday.
Detroit, which has also been hit with the injury bug, turned to Drew Stanton at quarterback for the second straight week with Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and Shaun Hill (finger) hurt. While Stafford is unlikely to be available Sunday, Hill’s status has yet to be determined.
Stanton threw for 117 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while running for 44 yards.
"There were some throws that he needs to throw a lot better, some decisions he needs to do a lot better," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Drew’s got a lot of confidence. He’s a battler, he’s tough that way, and the players respect that."
Calvin Johnson, second in the NFL with 12 receiving touchdowns, was held to one catch for 44 yards against the Packers, snapping his four-game TD streak.
Johnson could bounce back against the Buccaneers, who have allowed two passing touchdowns in each of their previous three games.
Detroit hasn’t won on the road since Oct. 28, 2007.
"Winning on the road is something that we need to do as a football team," Schwartz said. "One win isn’t going to – say you get one win and then all of a sudden we’re going to be undefeated on the road for the next decade – that’s not going to happen. But it will be a step and it is something that we need to accomplish.
"Good football teams win on the road, and we aspire to be a good football team."
The Lions have lost five of their last six meetings with Tampa Bay.