DETROIT (AP)—The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting pretty good at rallying against bad teams after digging big holes.
Tampa Bay fell behind the winless Detroit Lions by 17 points, then scored five unanswered touchdowns en route to a 38-20 victory Sunday.
The Buccaneers came back from a 24-3 deficit two weeks ago against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs and won in overtime.
“We don’t seem to make it easy on ourself and it’s not always pretty,” Jeff Garcia said. “But we find ways to do it.”
Tampa Bay (8-3) earned its third straight victory to maintain its strong standing in the playoff race.
Detroit (0-11) moved a step closer toward becoming the NFL’s first 0-16 team.
“We’ve played so bad that we actually have something to play for now,” kicker Jason Hanson said.
The Bucs trailed the Lions 17-0 after the first quarter before all three phases scored to contribute to a rout.
“That’s worst than frustrating,” Hanson said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Rookie Clifton Smith returned a punt 70 yards early in the third to give them an 11-point cushion.
Garcia’s second fumble of the game gave Detroit the ball in Tampa Bay territory, but Ronde Barber stepped in front of Daunte Culpepper’s next pass and returned it 65 yards for a 35-17 lead and his seventh career score off an interception.
Hilliard failed to handle the ensuing punt and Detroit gained just 4 yards, settling for Hanson’s second field goal of the game and the 400th of his career.
Tampa Bay tried to give the Lions the ball back quickly, but Cory Redding was called for a late hit on third down to keep a drive alive that ended with Matt Bryant’s 48-yard field goal to end the scoring.
“We’ve proved that we can be a gritty team,” Barber said. “We proved that we can show a lot of character and come back when we’re down, especially on the road.”
Dunn—starting in place of the injured Earnest Graham—accounted for 127 yards of offense and his 13-yard run started Tampa Bay’s comeback in the second quarter.
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams had 27 yards rushing on 16 carries in his first game since a knee injury almost ended his career 14 months ago.
Garcia was 13-of-18 for 165 yards with two TDs, no interceptions and two fumbles.
Culpepper completed just eight of 20 passes for 121 yards, a score and two interceptions—both to Barber. The lackluster quarterback was benched in the third quarter.
“Do I agree with it? No, but I accept it fully,” Culpepper said.
Culpepper had to go back in the game because Drew Stanton was sidelined with a concussion.
Daniel Bullocks scooped up Garcia’s first fumble and returned it 44 yards for a score and Hanson kicked a field goal to give the Lions a 17-0 lead—their largest of the season—late in the first quarter.
The lowly Lions, though, fell apart in every way.
“No one is quitting, but we don’t know how to win,” defensive tackle Shaun Cody said.
Detroit coach Rod Marinelli—who is 10-33 overall and 1-18 since midway through last season—insisted he hasn’t approached a breaking point heading into a Thanksgiving matchup with the Tennessee Titans (10-1).
“I cannot have any doubts. I can’t flinch,” Marinelli said. “I owe these men every once of energy I have. I’m getting up and going to work enthusiastically.”
In the final month of the season, the Lions are schedule to host Minnesota and New Orleans and travel to Indianapolis and Green Bay.
Barber’s 11th touchdown off interceptions and fumble returns puts him in third place in league history behind Rod Woodson (13) and Aeneas Williams (12). … Tampa Bay’s Jimmy Wilkerson had two sacks, matching his previous total this season and doubling the sack total from his first five seasons. … Garcia has lost two fumbles twice in his career and both times it was at Detroit. … DE Jared DeVries (hand) and LBs Ernie Sims (ankle) were among the Lions injured in the game. … Clifton Smith, who was cut during training camp and activated in October from the practice squad, is the first Buc with a kickoff and punt return for TDs. “The return game was almost laughed at here for years,” coach Jon Gruden said. “We weren’t able to take a kick back, and this guy comes out of nowhere and is taking a punt and a kickoff back. He has breakaway speed and he has really made a big impact here in a couple big wins.”
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