NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (2-8) at Detroit (6-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - An 0-8 start pretty much doomed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that hasn't stopped the club from showing a lot of spirit during a two-game winning streak.
The Bucs and surprise running back Bobby Rainey look to deal the Detroit Lions' NFC North title hopes a blow as the two clubs clash this Sunday at Ford Field.
Tampa Bay's rough start featured a ton of turmoil, with head coach Greg Schiano's control over the team and job security both coming into question. Things finally boiled over when former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman was released on Oct. 3.
Rookie Mike Glennon took over as the starting quarterback, but it has been a red-hot ground game that has helped the Bucs record back-to-back wins. Rainey has been at the center of it, scoring the go-ahead touchdown in a win over the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 11 before having a coming out party in a 41-28 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons this past weekend.
Rainey, claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 21, ran the ball 30 times for 163 yards with two touchdowns while also adding a four-yard TD reception.
"The thing that Bobby has a benefit of is when he played at Western Kentucky, this is the stuff that he ran -- power, inside zone, those plays that we run," Schiano said. "So he was very, very comfortable seeing them and feeling them but to answer your question I don't think anyone thinks a guy is gonna come out and rush for, what, 163 yards. But very proud of him. The biggest thing is we didn't turn the ball over once."
Glennon threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, one to Vincent Jackson as part of the receiver's 10-catch, 165-yard game.
Linebacker Mason Foster added a 37-yard pick-six as part of a 21-point second quarter for the Bucs.
"We're just focused on one game at a time right now and we can't do anything about the past," said Glennon. "We are looking to the forward. We had a great win today. We're going to enjoy this win, learn from our mistakes, and move on to the next one."
Tampa Bay will need its focus as it is 0-4 on the road this season and will play back-to-back as the visiting team.
The first stop is in Detroit to face a Lions club that will be looking to rebound from a 37-27 defeat to the hosting Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. Detroit scored all of its points in the second quarter and racked up just 72 total net yards in the second half after having 379 through the first two quarters.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson made all six of his catches in the first half for 179 yards and a score before getting shut out after halftime. Matthew Stafford threw for 362 yards with a pair of touchdown throws and one interception.
"We just didn't execute very well for three quarters of the game," said Stafford. "We didn't capitalize in the red zone as much as we needed to and that's something we've got to improve. We've got to bounce back because we have a couple of games real close to each other coming up."
Detroit, of course, will make its annual appearance on Thanksgiving when it hosts Green Bay after this contest. The Lions hope to do so with a victory in tow as they had won two straight before the setback to the Steelers.
The loss had an impact as the Lions fell to 6-4 and into a tie with the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North. Green Bay is right on their heels at 5-5.
The Lions have lost seven of their past 11 versus the Buccaneers, but have won the past two meetings, both in Tampa.
The Bucs have won four of their past five in Detroit, where the clubs are meeting for the first time since 2008.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Rainey has become the talk of football this week after his incredible performance, going from waiver-wire pickup to sudden backfield stud. He has kept Tampa Bay's 13th-ranked ground game on track despite the loss of former starters Doug Martin and Mike James to season-ending injuries.
Martin, James and Rainey are the first trio of running backs in club history to have each recorded a 100-yard rushing game in the same season and Rainey is the first in team annuals to have a pair of rushing scores and a receiving touchdown in the same game.
"I've always been blessed with (vision)," said the 5-foot-8 Rainey. "And then with the offensive line being taller than me, it's hard to find me because I'm so short, so the offensive line does a great job of blocking and I just get behind them and hide, really."
The Buccaneers have recorded 140-plus rushing yards in three straight games for the first time since 2005 and have never done so in four consecutive games in team history.
Also key to the recent turnaround is a defense that is solid versus the run game and got a three-sack effort from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy versus the Falcons. He became the first Bucs player with a three-sack game since Jimmy Wilkerson in 2009 and joins Warren Sapp and Brad Culpepper as the only defensive tackles to do it in team history.
McCoy is looking to become the first Tampa Bay player since Simeon Rice during the 2005 season to have consecutive multiple-sack games.
Also looking to disrupt the Lions pass game are linebackers Lavonte David and Foster. David is the only current player this season to have 80-plus tackles, at least five sacks and one interception, while Foster is one of three players this season with a pair of pick-sixes but is questionable with a concussion.
Tampa will be without safety Dashon Goldson, who was suspended for one game due to a helmet-to-helmet hit on Atlanta receiver Roddy White, while cornerback Michael Adams landed on injured reserve this week due to a knee injury.
Adams was a key contributor to nickel and dime packages and further weakens a unit that is also dealing with a shoulder injury to rookie corner Johnthan Banks.
Stafford could exploit that one week after becoming the club's all-time leader in passing yards with 16,005, surpassing Hall of Famer Bobby Layne's former mark of 15,710.
In his only other meeting with the Bucs, Stafford threw for 305 yards with three touchdowns.
Johnson has 35 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns over his past four games and will try to rebound from his second-half shutout, though it wasn't from a lack of effort.
"We weren't going away from him," said Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. "We wanted to keep throwing. We threw the ball to him in two critical situations. One was a 3rd-and-goal and they doubled him as we expected. We still threw the ball to him, he wasn't able to get it down."
Johnson will likely be matched up this weekend against Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis in a battle between two of the best at their position.
"I think everybody has a chip on their shoulder each week, just going out and playing and trying to compete. When you match up the best against the best, (there's) probably a little bit more chip on your shoulder because, at the end of the game, you want to get the best of that person," said Revis. "I'm sure Calvin feels the same way. We'll see. I know Calvin, I know him off the field, and we'll see. It'll be fun."
Though ranked fifth against the run, the Lions struggled against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw four touchdown passes, and are giving up 283.8 yards per game through the air to rank 30th.
This despite linebacker DeAndre Levy tying for the NFL lead with five interceptions and defensive tackle Nick Fairley aiming to record a sack for a third straight game.
For the offense, wide receiver Nate Burleson could return to action for the first time since breaking his forearm in a car accident on Sept. 24.
However, safety Glover Quin suffered a left ankle injury versus Pittsburgh and could not finish the game.
Give the Buccaneers credit for not going down without a fight, but their struggles this season against the pass will do them no favors in this matchup. Tampa Bay is yielding 23.7 points per game, a respectable number but made to look worse considering the club is scoring just 18.7 points per game.
The Lions excel at putting up points and have enough playmakers in running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell along with tight end Brandon Pettigrew to take the pressure of Johnson in his big meeting with Revis.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 24, Buccaneers 17
11/21 14:26:39 ET