Lions win 23-20 in OT, end record road skid at 26
When Dave Rayner's kick sailed through the uprights to end the longest road skid in NFL history at 26 games, the Detroit Lions did the predictable.
They streamed off the sideline to congratulate one another before retreating to a jubilant locker room.
''Everybody's happy,'' defensive end Cliff Avril said after Rayner's 34-yard field goal in overtime lifted the Lions over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-20 on Sunday.
''It's cool when the coaches can come in here and actually be happy about a game,'' Avril added. ''We pulled it out ... and it was definitely a great feeling for all of us.''
Drew Stanton threw for 252 yards and one touchdown, Calvin Johnson had 10 receptions for 152 yards, and Maurice Morris rushed for 109 yards and one score for the Lions (4-10), who forced the extra period by driving 58 yards to tie the game on a 28-yard field goal by Rayner on the final play of regulation.
Detroit triumphed on the road for the first time since Oct. 28, 2007, when it won 16-7 at Chicago.
''What's happened two years ago, what happened last year, three years ago, whatever it was, isn't important to this football team right now,'' second-year coach Jim Schwartz said, adding that finally getting over the hump on the road is a step an improving team needed to take in its development.
''It's a lot like our other wins. We don't have party hats on or anything else,'' Schwartz added. ''We've got work to do.''
Rayner kicked the game-winner after the Lions took the overtime kickoff and drove 63 yards, covering most of the distance on two big runs and a 12-yard reception by Calvin Johnson on third-and-8.
Stanton threw a 10-yard TD pass to Nate Burleson in the first quarter and Morris scored on a 10-yard run that put Detroit up 17-14 early in the second half.
''It feels great to be on the road, get a win and go back on the plane and have a good week,'' Johnson said. ''It's definitely good to bury that.''
At the same time, the Lions damaged Tampa Bay's playoff's hopes.
Tampa Bay, which had been 5-0 in games decided by three points or fewer, failed to take advantage of losses by several NFC teams in contention for a wild-card berth by losing for the first time in nine tries against an opponent with a losing record.
The Bucs (8-6) kicked the second of two fourth-quarter field goals to go ahead 20-17, but an injury-riddled defense that has lost five starters in recent weeks couldn't hold on.
''There's not really much to talk about,'' rookie running back LeGarrette Blount said. ''We had the lead, we lost.''
The Lions forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal that made it 17-17 after Freeman led his team to a first-and-goal at the 1.
Tampa Bay hurt itself when Kellen Winslow drew an offensive pass interference penalty that nullified what would have been his go-ahead 2-yard TD reception.
''I can't help but think that this is a game that we maybe don't win early in the season,'' Schwartz said. ''We're becoming a battle-hardened team. This is a franchise that hasn't been used to playing a lot of close games, and this year we have. We've learned from a lot of those.''
Johnson went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season and became the first Detroit player to reach that plateau and have at least 12 TD receptions in a season twice.
The fourth-year pro set up the Lions' first TD with receptions of 20 and 16 yards, then had catches of 30 and 17 to get Detroit into position for Rayner's 41-yard field goal that trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 14-10 at the half.
The winning drive began with Morris bolting 26 yards on the first play of overtime. Jahvid Best ran for 14 on the next snap for a first down at the Bucs 39.
Three plays later, Johnson reached high to make his last catch of the day, barely keeping his feet in on the sideline at the 25.
''We're obviously disappointed. We lost a game that we could have won, and that we had in our grasp,'' Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said. ''We let it slip away in the fourth quarter, which is kind of unlike us and unfamiliar from what we've been going through this year.''
Freeman, who has an NFL-leading five fourth-quarter comebacks, completed 21 of 32 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown - a 24-yard throw to Mike Williams, who set a franchise record for rookies with his eighth TD.
Blount scored on a 39-yard run in the second quarter and finished with 110 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
''It's rough to lose a close game like that, to lose a game that we felt like we definitely should have won. But it's not a death blow, I guess, from a mathematical standpoint,'' Freeman said, alluding to Tampa Bay's playoff hopes.
''It hurts just to know what we had in front of us,'' running back Cadillac Williams added. ''We need a lot of help, but I've seen a lot of weird things in this league.''