TAMPA – Burning questions: Replays, strange plays, the Detroit Lions leading and sagging and finally coming through with a field goal by Matt Prater for a 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday:
Question: One word – what did the Lions do to win the game?
Answer: Survive. They created turnovers, committed turnovers, benefitted from penalties, committed penalties, took the lead and gave it away and finally won.
It was survival. They overcame a lot – and a lot of it was done to themselves.
Q. The record: The Lions are 7-6. What does it mean for their playoff chances now?
A. No idea, and it doesn't matter. They have three games left – at home next week against the Bears, on the road against the Bengals, and the season finale against the Packers.
Win all four, and sometime Sunday afternoon they can add up the wins and losses and figure out where they stand. Frankly, winning the next three to get to 10-6 probably won't earn a wild card berth in the playoffs.
That will matter at the end of the season, but right now the only thing that matters in terms of their record is that they survived Sunday – often in spite of themselves against a Bucs team that fell to 4-9.
But with everything that went on during the game, and speculation that surfaced before it, the Lions survived. That cannot be stated too strongly.
They got big plays on offense from Matthew Stafford and his receivers, and the defense came up with the five turnovers.
Q. Yellow flags: The Lions had two big ones in the fourth quarter – one on offense, one on defense. How much did they hurt?
A. They were huge, but you can't blame the loss on them. They were just more misplays and missed plays that the Lions chipped in from start to finish.
The first was a holding call that wiped out a catch and run by Golden Tate on a third and nine from the Lions' 33. It would have been a gain well across midfield and given the Lions a chance to add to a 21-14 lead.
The second was an interference call against DJ Hayden on a third and 10 that gave the Bucs a 40-yard gain to the Lions' 18. That led to the tying touchdown.
And there was a third on the final drive – a false start on veteran guard T.J. Lang, but the Lions overcame that one.
Q. Halftime lead, 14-7: Was it satisfactory that the Lions had a seven point lead at halftime?
A. No. It should have been more – 17-7 at least, and probably more than that. The Lions left points on the board on the board because of two interceptions in the last two minutes.
It was a sloppy first, with each team committing three turnovers. The Lions should have taken better advantage and had a bigger lead.
Breaking even on the turnover battle was not acceptable.
Q. Stafford's picks: Stafford was playing great until the last two minutes. What happened?
View pregame photos from the Detroit Lions Week 14 game at Tampa Bay.
A.** It looked like he got greedy on the first one, and just made a bad throw on the second.
The Lions had first down at their 48 at the two-minute warning, and Stafford and his receivers had been shredding the Bucs' secondary for the first 28 minutes. Stafford went deep down the right sideline with a pass meant for rookie Kenny Golladay, but veteran defensive back Brent Grimes got to the ball to make the interception to end the threat.
Q. Better choice: What would have been better than going for the big play there?
A. Anything, obviously, except an interception.
It's hard to criticize Stafford for going for big plays, but the way he was completing passes – 20 of 24, even with the two picks – he could have picked the Bucs apart with shorter throws and ended the half with either a field goal or a touchdown that would have extended the lead.
Q. Second pick: The Lions were in field goal range. What happened on that one?
A. It was a pass in traffic that got picked off. The Lions had the ball at the Bucs 30 with 19 seconds left. Stafford rolled left and threw a pass meant for Golden Tate. There was good coverage, and Robert McClain made the pick.
It would have been a good time to throw the ball away, and not take a chance on an interception. The Lions needed points, especially with the Bucs getting the second-half kickoff.
**Q. Turnover drama, first half: The Lions ended up with a fumble recovery on a play that originally was called a penalty against safety Quandre Diggs. What happened?
A. Ultimately, head coach Jim Caldwell throwing the challenge flag settled the issue and gave the ball to the Lions. It was called an incomplete pass and unnecessary roughness on Diggs for hitting a defenseless player because of the original ruling that tight end O.J. Howard had not caught the ball.
After the challenge, replays showed that Howard had caught the ball, making contact legal, and fumbled on the hit.
Q. Turnover drama, second half: A replay was needed to determine if the Lions had recovered a fumble when Bucs QB Jameis Winston fumbled on a third-quarter sack. What took so long?
A. The originally ruling was that Tahir Whitehead had recovered the ball, then fumbled it back when he got up to run. On replays, it was ruled that he was down by contact because he was on the ground when touched by a Bucs player.