NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (2-10) at Detroit (8-4)
By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Detroit Lions try to keep their NFC North title hopes alive on Sunday when they welcome the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Ford Field.
Detroit snapped a two-game losing streak and picked up a much-needed win on Thanksgiving, as Joique Bell and Calvin Johnson each scored twice to help the Lions snatch a 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Matthew Stafford was 34-for-45 for 390 yards with two touchdown passes for the Lions (8-4), who bounced back from a pair of road losses to Arizona and New England.
"We had shown that we could do it in spurts at times this season," Stafford said of his offense. "To put it together for 60 minutes was gratifying."
Detroit, which remains a game behind Green Bay for first place in the NFC North, has now won three in a row at home and hasn't won four straight in the Motor City since 2007.
Bell totaled 91 yards on 23 carries, while Johnson had 11 catches for 146 yards for the Lions, who had lost nine straight in its traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but has now won its past two thanks to this win and a victory over an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay last year.
Johnson's 25-yard touchdown reception was the Lions first in nine quarters and it was the first time the team went over 24 points since it hung 35 on the New York Giants in Week 1.
"It's something to build off of," Stafford said. "Just being consistent with it, not having a bad quarter - maybe a bad series here, one or two, but making sure that we were playing well in every quarter."
Tampa, meanwhile, continued to flounder in head coach Lovie Smith's first season and fell to 2-10 on the season, despite a valiant effort in a 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Josh McCown went 15-for-29 for 190 yards with an interception, and Doug Martin had a rushing touchdown for the Buccaneers (2-10), who have dropped their past two games and remained winless in six tries at home this season.
"That's how 2-10 football teams play, they find a way to lose the game at the end," said Smith. "We did some good things defensively and made some plays, but when you make dumb stupid penalties throughout the game they wind up biting you in the end."
Compounding matters was a too many men on the field penalty with time winding down that cost the Bucs an opportunity to attempt a potential winning field goal.
The Bucs, who were flagged 13 times, are tied with Seattle for most penalties in the league and have let fourth-quarter leads slip away in five of their 10 defeats.
"Growing pains, learning situations, normally it doesn't take this many games to get the point across," Smith said.
Sunday's matchup between these former NFC Central foes will mark the fourth clash in five seasons between them, with the Lions winning two of the three previous matchups (2010, 2011).
The Lions, though, have dropped five of the past six home meetings in the series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Detroit's offense could be hitting its stride at the right time. The Lions generated a total of 474 yards in the win over the Bears with Megatron producing his finest game of the season.
The talented wideout, who returned Nov. 9 after missing more than a month due to an ankle injury, was targeted a season-high 16 times in the victory. He's hauled in 23 catches for 355 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his last three games versus the Buccaneers.
And that offense could get even more of a boost this week with the return of running back Reggie Bush, who has been sidelined the past three weeks with an ankle injury.
Even though Tampa comes into this contest with just two wins on the season, its opponents have averaged just 18.2 points per game over the past five games.
The Bucs may also be able to keep Johnson in check, as they have given up three pass plays of 40-plus yards on the year, tied for the lowest total in the NFL.
"I see Tampa really being a bend but don't break defense," Detroit wideout Golden Tate said. "I see those guys being one of those teams where, 'we're going to let you mess up. We're not going to press. We're going to force a fumble or expect you to get a holding call on offense or throw an interception and we're going to rally around that.'"
The Bucs are minus-six in turnover differential on the year, but they've forced 19 takeaways, the same amount as the Lions' defense. The problem is that Tampa Bay's offense has turned the ball over 25 times.
Tampa's offense has also failed to capitalize while in the red zone, particularly in the last three games, as they have managed a touchdown in just 28.6-percent of its chances.
"We've got to do a better job in just our focus and we've got to demand more from ourselves because those things are stopping us," said McCown. "And it's a shame because, this past game specifically, because it puts you ... you get behind the sticks, especially when you're running the ball the way we ran it in the first half, but you start having penalties and you get behind the sticks and you can't run the ball, it changes what you're doing."
Martin managed a season-best 58 yards on the ground last week versus the Bengals, but he will be going up against a Lions defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league against the run after surrendering a mere 13 yards on the ground to the Bears.
The 13 yards allowed were the fewest since 1991 and team has given up just 2.7 yards per carry over the last four games.
Detroit, meanwhile, also boasts the league's No. 1 defense when it comes to points allowed as it is holding opponents to just 17.3 points per game through 12 games.
Detroit actually controls its own destiny in terms of winning a division. The Lions have very winnable games the next three weeks before what could be a winner-take-all showdown with the Packers in Week 17. The Lions seem to be hitting on all cylinders at the moment and should be able to roll this week against what is an improving Buccaneers club.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Lions 23, Buccaneers 12
12/07 09:13:37 ET