DETROIT — Even by Detroit’s exasperating standards, this loss was befuddling.
Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions — the last of which slipped in and out of Calvin Johnson’s grasp near the Tampa Bay 5-yard line — and the Lions lost to the Buccaneers 24-21 today. Detroit turned over the ball five times and failed to take advantage of a Tampa Bay defense that lost star cornerback Darrelle Revis to a groin injury in the middle of the game.
“I don’t think our team by any means took them lightly,” Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said. “I just feel like we made too many mistakes to obviously win the game. We got what we deserved.”
Detroit (6-5) remains tied with Chicago atop the NFC North, with third-place Green Bay (5-5-1) visiting the Lions on Thursday. The Bears also lost Sunday, and the Packers tied Minnesota. So Detroit still controls its future, but the Lions have squandered a chance to pull away from the Bears and Packers. The Lions were in sole possession of first place after a win at Chicago on Nov. 10, but since then, they’ve lost two in a row to teams with losing records.
“It’s going to be a five-game season,” coach Jim Schwartz said.
Stafford had one interception run back for a touchdown, and the other three were picked off inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. The Lions were down by three in the final minute and facing third-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 28 when Johnson appeared to come down with Stafford’s pass around the 5. But he was hit almost immediately by Kelcie McCray and the ball popped free. Cornerback Johnthan Banks caught it out of the air, and the Buccaneers were able to run out the clock.
“Can’t make bad decisions. Had a couple bad ones, had a couple unlucky bounces,” said Stafford, who did throw for three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay let the Lions hang around in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers missed two field goals, failing to take advantage of a blocked punt deep in Detroit territory.
“Five takeaways and a blocked punt, and we needed every bit of it to win,” Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said. “My hat’s off to that group in the secondary.”
Johnson had seven receptions for 115 yards, but the Buccaneers were able to contain him despite the loss of Revis, whose groin injury was announced around the start of the second half.
Tampa Bay (3-8) has won three straight after losing its first eight, joining the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals as the only NFL teams to do that.
Bucs rookie Mike Glennon avoided miscues. Glennon was 14 of 21 for 247 yards and threw two touchdowns to Tiquan Underwood, whose second score was an 85-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. That turned out to be the game’s final scoring play.
Glennon couldn’t rely on the running game he’s had lately because Bobby Rainey was held to 35 yards on 15 carries — he had 163 yards rushing and scored three times in the previous week’s win over Atlanta. Glennon also didn’t have go-to receiver Vincent Jackson open very often. But he didn’t force the ball, playing almost mistake-free football.
Stafford was 26 of 46 for 297 yards. He connected with Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria for scores, but couldn’t overcome his interceptions.
He also was picked off when Pettigrew ducked when a pass came his way and Leonard Johnson returned it 48 yards for a touchdown late in the first half. Tampa Bay led 17-14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Stafford floated a pass toward Calvin Johnson. Safety Keith Tandy easily intercepted it.
Tampa Bay started the game without two key players in the middle of its defense — suspended safety Dashon Goldson and injured middle linebacker Mason Foster. Revis, who did a relatively good job against Johnson, didn’t play after halftime because of a groin injury.
NOTES: Lions CB Chris Houston left the game with an injured foot after Underwood ran past him on the long TD in the fourth. ... Tampa Bay, which won its first road game, plays next week at Carolina. ... Johnson set a league record with 861 yards receiving over five games, surpassing the 822 yards Charley Hennigan had in a five-game span for Houston in 1961.