DETROIT — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rolling into the Motor City with a chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“This is why we play, to put your team in a place and give yourself an opportunity to compete for a championship,” Brady said.
The six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and the Bucs (9-5) are a victory away from earning a spot in the post-season for the first time since 2007.
“I call them `Hat and T-Shirt' games," Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “You get a hat and a T-shirt when you get in the playoffs. It’s a great feeling for those guys. That was the goal this year — it was to get in the dance.''
The out-of-contention Detroit Lions (5-9) will likely be very accommodating Saturday at fan-free Ford Field.
Detroit will be led by Robert Prince, its third head coach, because interim coach Darrell Bevell became the NFL’s first head coach to miss a game because of COVID-19 protocols. The Lions will also be without defensive co-ordinator Cory Undlin and other assistant coaches because of contact tracing.
“It's super disappointing," said Bevell, who is 1-2 since replacing fired coach Matt Patricia. “I’m frustrated. Since we’ve started, I’ve tested negative. So, there’s that whole part of it. You don’t quite understand all the stuff that goes along with it, then there’s that drive that you want to be there."
Antonio Brown is coming off his most productive game since making his Bucs debut last month following an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He had five catches for a season-best 93 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown that capped last week’s comeback win over Atlanta.
“Obviously as a teammate (and) someone who knows him pretty well, he’s done a lot of work to get to this point,” Brady said. “Just proud of him, his focus, how he’s prioritized different things.”
The 32-year-old Brown has 30 receptions for 310 yards and one touchdown in six games.
“He’s doing the best with his opportunities,” Arians said.
Detroit's offence and defence will be led by coaches who have never had that responsibility in the NFL.
Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan will make calls in place of Bevell, who also serves as the team’s offensive co-ordinator . Evan Rothstein, who helps the team behind the scenes with research and analysis, will handle Undlin's game-day job with the defence .
“I’m confident in what those guys know and how they’ll be able to handle it," Bevell said.
Tampa Bay has rallied to win after trailing by at least 10 points to win four times, tied with the New Orleans Saints for the most in the NFL this season. The Bucs been outscored 59-7 in the opening quarter over their past six games. They overcame the deficit to beat three sub-.500 teams and lose to three teams with winning records.
“You can win against teams that aren’t going to make the playoffs right now, but I don’t think we will win too many playoff games spotting a team 17 points,” tight end Cameron Brate acknowledged. “It’s going to be something we’re going to have to figure out.”
Tampa Bay hasn’t led at the end of a first quarter since Week 5 at Chicago.
The Lions blew double-digit leads in becoming the first team in NFL history to lose four straight games after leading by 10-plus points.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played with banged-up ribs in last week's loss at Tennessee and added to his long list of no-look passes on a remarkable touchdown throw to Marvin Jones. Stafford was looking right when he threw left, connecting with Jones in the back of the end zone.
Arians said Stafford is one of his all-time favourite players, ranking him among the NFL's top four or five quarterbacks.
“He's one of the few quarterbacks I like going out and watching warm up, just watching him throw because he’s so special," Arians said.
Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski will have at least one request after the game. Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, drafted No. 8 overall by Detroit last year, said he hopes to walk away from Ford Field with Gronkowski's No. 87 jersey.
“He's somebody I looked up to for sure growing up and throughout my career," Hockenson said.
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Larry Lage, The Associated Press