TAMPA - They won, and that beats the alternative, but does anyone really feel good about it?
The Detroit Lions blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead — against one of the worst teams in the NFL, in a game in which they forced five turnovers — then rallied to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-21, on Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds to play.
The Lions (7-6) stayed mathematically alive in the NFC playoff hunt, but with three games to play they still face long odds to reach the postseason — and after news leaked that coach Jim Caldwell signed just a one-year extension before the season, that's what he might need to keep his job.
Jeff Seidel: These Lions looked ugly in win over Bucs
The Minnesota Vikings still have a three-game lead in the division, and the Carolina Panthers (9-4), Atlanta Falcons (8-5) and Seattle Seahawks (8-4 with a game still to play later today) remain in front of the Lions in the wild-card chase.
On Sunday, the Lions squeaked out a win thanks to a hot start by Matthew Stafford and the offense and some opportunistic play by the defense.
Stafford showed no ill effects from the bruised hand that limited him in practice all week. He completed his first 12 pass attempts for 137 yards — without targeting Marvin Jones or Golden Tate once.
Stafford did throw two interceptions in the first half, but he finished 36-of-44 passing for 381 yards and one touchdown.
Theo Riddick, playing the bulk of the game at running back with Ameer Abdullah inactive, scored two touchdowns, and the Lions took advantage of a sloppy performance by the 4-9 Bucs.
Tampa committed five turnovers and had a sixth reversed on replay, but the Lions flipped those into just 14 points.
Detroit Lions 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5) kicks the game winning field goal during the fourth quarter as punter Sam Martin (6) holds the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Kim Klement, USA TODAY
Detroit Lions 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
Quandre Diggs forced an O.J. Howard fumble on a play that he was initially flagged for unnecessary roughness — the call was reversed on replay — and intercepted a terrible Jameis Winston overthrow. Glover Quin forced a Doug Martin fumble with the Bucs in field-goal range, Darius Slay made a sliding interception on Winston and Jarrad Davis stripped Winston of another fumble to set up Riddick’s second touchdown run.
The Bucs fought back to tie the game on two Winston touchdown passes — one to offensive lineman Leonard Wester — but Stafford led the game-winning nine-play, 49-yard drive and Ziggy Ansah capped the victory with a sack on Winston on the game's final play.
Ebron shines in T.B.
Eric Ebron might be playing his way into sticking around for the 2018 season. Ebron had a career-high 10 catches for 94 yards Sunday and has been quietly been playing well for the last two months or so. Ebron is an enigma, and the Lions expected more form the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, but it’s not like they need to clear cap space this offseason and Ebron is still just 24 years old.
Ebron wasn’t perfect Sunday. He lost a fumble in the first quarter. But he showed some resiliency in bouncing back to have a nice game.
Abdullah down and out
Abdullah, on the other hand, is clearly on the outs. Abdullah could have played Sunday despite a neck injury that limited him in practice last week, but the Lions decided to hold him out and take a longer look at Riddick and Tion Green in the backfield.
Riddick had 93 yards from scrimmage on 10 carries and six catches, and scored two of the Lions’ three touchdowns. The Lions are bound to draft a running back this offseason, and it’s Riddick, not Abdullah, who’s the best complementary piece for the backfield.
Penalties were killer for the Lions on Sunday. They had five holding calls, including one by Graham Glasgow that stalled out a fourth-quarter drive. T.J. Lang drew one holding penalty and was called for a false start on the Lions’ final drive that they were able to overcome after Golden Tate hauled in a 14-yard catch on a crossing route to set up Prater’s game-winning field goal.
Caldwell on hot seat?
Lions president Rod Wood declined an interview request when asked about Caldwell's extension and future with the team. The team is not expected to make any decisions on his future.
Just stop running the ball on third-and-1 already.
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