DETROIT - Bruce Gradkowski considers Ford Field a special place.
It is where the former University of Toledo quarterback helped establish himself as an NFL prospect while leading the Rockets to the Motor City Bowl in 2004.
The second-year pro made his first return to the Lions' home field yesterday as a Tampa backup to former Lions starter Jeff Garcia.
"It's always a cool experience and I'm just blessed to be in this situation to come back with an NFL football team," Gradkowski said following the Buccaneers' 23-16 loss to the Lions.
Gradkowski said he hasn't attended a Rockets game since he last played for them. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Pittsburgh native has visited the Toledo area a few times since then and has kept track of what has been going on with the Rockets - both on and off the field.
"I talk to the coaches in Toledo every now and again," he said. "They're just trying to get back on track and I think they'll be all right. Coach [Tom] Amstutz does a great job with those guys and does a great job with that program."
Gradkowski didn't elaborate further on the state of the Rockets, who have been marred in controversy surrounding an FBI investigation of alleged point-shaving by former Rockets running back Scooter McDougal, who was a teammate of Gradkowski.
Gradkowski, who had his parents and a couple of high school friends attend the game, spent yesterday standing on the Buccaneers sideline as Garcia took all of the snaps for Tampa. It's a role he is comfortable with in the early stages of his NFL career.
After receiving several starts as a rookie because of a rash of injuries, Gradkowski has seen little action this season. He played during the final minutes of a 33-14 loss at Indianapolis two weeks ago, completing three of four passes for 22 yards, with one interception.
"It's a little bit different this year," he said. "I'm getting a chance to watch Jeff. Jeff has been around the league for a while and does a great job and I'm just trying to soak it all in and enjoy."
DAREDEVIL KITNA: Lions quarterback Jon Kitna apparently can't help himself from playing in a style Evil Knievel would appreciate. He went airborne when he scrambled on a short-yardage play for a first down and was met by two Buccaneers defenders who hit him low, causing him to do a somersault. The play drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd, which later turned to cheers when Kitna picked himself up and walked back to the huddle.
"That's what this game is about. You just do whatever needs to be done to move the chains and to help your team win," Kitna said.
Lions coach Rod Marinelli considers Kitna a throwback to an era when quarterbacks were as daring running the football as they were passing it.
"That's who he is - Billy Kilmer or Joe Kapp," Marinelli said. "Whatever you call him, that's him. That's what I love about the guy. He just competes and that's what this team needs. I've said that from day one. If you understand the game of football, it's about competitiveness and doing what it takes.
"Is he the prettiest guy? No. Is he a real leader and fighter for this town and community? You bet he is."
DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS: Garcia came into the game with one of the league's top passer ratings. The Lions defense helped the former Lion maintain his efficiency early in the contest.
Twice in the first half Garcia had plenty of time to check-down and find Ike Hilliard standing alone for completions. The first completion went for 38 yards and put Tampa in Lions territory.
The second time Garcia found Hilliard wide open was on a five-yard touchdown pass with 12:42 remaining in the second quarter.
It was a defensive problem the Lions had to fix at halftime.
"The biggest thing is they did a nice job coming out running the ball and some of the play-actions off of it," Marinelli said. "Then we did a nice job of adjusting to it."
EXTRA POINTS: Lions safety Idrees Bashir suffered a rib injury during the second quarter and did not return to the game. ... The Lions recorded their third blocked kick of the year when defensive end Corey Smith got to a Josh Bidwell punt in the opening quarter.42.33168 -83.04792