TAMPA — Dominic Raiola and Jeff Backus are the yin and yang of the Detroit Lions’ offensive line.
Both have been on the Lions for 10 years and both have suffered through the longest road losing streak in NFL history.
Happily for them, that 26-game streak is now history. It ended in overtime Sunday at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium as the Lions beat the Buccaneers, 23-20, on Dave Rayner’s 34-yard field goal at 9:51.
Raiola and Backus were both elated, each in his own way.
After the game, Raiola was — in his words, some unprintable — “fired up.”
Raiola had heard some comments that Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris had allegedly made which helped him gain some extra motivation.
Morris told the Tampa Tribune Friday that he had hadn’t decided on a starter to replace the injured Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle.
“It will all depend on what they do and what I want to do and how I want to force my will on our opponent that day,” Morris told the Tribune. “The thing is, you always have a rotation in the interior line anyway, but now you particularly have to have a rotation inside because you’ve lost your franchise guy there in McCoy.
Raiola and his linemates took exception to the quote, which naturally was brought to their attention.
“You want to say something like that, basically taking a shot at the offensive line,” an animated Raiola said. “I think if you take a look back and see what he said, he said he’s going to pick who he wants to start up front to impose his will on the Detroit Lions. Basically us. I don’t know. He’d better re-evaluate, watch the film.”
When Morris watches the film, he probably won’t enjoy what he sees, especially on the last two Lions’ drives. The Bucs had taken a 20-17 lead with 1:39 left in the fourth quarter. After Stefan Logan’s 29-yard kickoff return, that left the Lions 92 seconds and no timeouts to tie it.
Drew Stanton (is anyone remembering the fact that he’s technically the third-string quarterback?) calmly led the Lions on a 10-play, 58-yard drive, culminating in a 28-yard field goal by Rayner to tie the game as time expired.
The Lions won the toss.
On their winning drive, Maurice Morris, who had 15 carries for 109 yards, had a 26-yard run. Jahvid Best had a 14-yard run. But on 3rd-and-8, Stanton had to pass. Who better to pass to than Calvin Johnson, the man who had 10 receptions for 152 yards?
“It was just a simple route,” a giddy Johnson said. “Just happened to be in a good situation, Drew threw a good ball for me to snag and I was able to get my two feet in.”
Stanton had no idea.
“I didn’t even see it, to be honest with you,” Stanton said. “I knew I had to hold it with the rush, they were bringing the internal blitz. I said I’ve got to sit in here and take this one and trust that he’s going to get to his spot. I still haven’t seen it. I’m sure he made an unbelievable catch.”
Morris had three more carries for nine yards and then it was Rayner’s turn again and he did not miss from 34 yards out.
“The snap was good, the hold was good,” Rayner said. “That’s my job to make the kick.”
And with that kick came elation. Loud elation in Raiola’s case and quieter elation in Backus’ case.
“When that streak’s talked about, a lot of these players and coaches, they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Backus said. “They haven’t been a part of it. It’s kind of not right to say that they are a part of it and they shouldn’t have to deal with that stuff.
“But Dom and I and some of the other guys have been here the whole time and it’s nice to get that 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. This was the first step towards getting this going in the right direction.”
Last week the Lions got their first win against the Green Bay Packers in 11 tries. Sunday it was the first road win in 27 tries.
“Oh, man. Actually, honestly, I don’t even know what the streak was but it’s definitely good to bury it,” Johnson said. “We buried two demons in the last two weeks so it’s big.”
It’s also the first time the Lions, who now have four wins, have won two in a row since 2007.
“First time two in a row, first time away,” Cliff Avril said. “I think we could have done this earlier in the season but better late than never.”
Left guard Rob Sims is in his first season with the Lions, but he said he feels the same pain as those who have been here a long time.
“We take it personal,” Sims said. “This line is close even though we haven’t been together as long as others. I kind of fit right in when I came in, as far as having the same kind of character. Dom has been playing 10 years on a losing team, Jeff has been playing 10 years on a losing team. I hadn’t had too much success in Seattle.
“I’ve been in the playoffs a couple times but I guess you could say we were all kind of thrown together in the mix and jelled and it’s getting better and better and better every week. Hopefully we stay together for a long time and we got something special going.”
If that happens, perhaps they’ll send Raheem Morris a thank-you card. On second thought, maybe not.