Defense picked apart
Preseason numbers are probably the most worthless statistics available, but the fact that the Lions allowed just three sacks in the preseason — fewest in the league — is no accident. The Lions used their quick passing game to dice the Bucs with short throws that neutralized a rebuilt defensive line.
"I'm a speed rusher," Bucs DT Gerald McCoy said. " … When those (offensive linemen) are sitting back deep, it's hard to do that. When they were sitting back, they were getting the ball out (quickly). That basically eliminates the defensive line and puts all the pressure on the DBs. Now we have to go back and figure out how to rush that. That's a game-day adjustment because we didn't game plan for that."
Quick slants and outs were the order of the day for the Lions. While those shouldn't often result in long gains, the Bucs' poor tackling allowed the Lions to use their short game to pick up key first downs. QB Matthew Stafford excels in the quick game, throwing accurately, even in traffic. "We knew we wouldn't be able to get these guys on first and second down," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. " The ball comes out so quickly with the bubble screens, quick (throws) and things of that nature — the quick-designed throws."
The defensive line didn't get a single hit on Stafford, and the odds of that were reduced when DT Brian Price left in the third quarter grabbing his hamstring. After a complicated offseason surgery on his pelvis area, Price began the game getting better penetration than his linemates. He didn't offer details about the injury after the game but said he will "be all right" as he left with a slight limp.
Tributes of the day
It was expected to be an emotional day at Raymond James Stadium, with pregame tributes to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to Bucs legend Lee Roy Selmon, who died last week.
Selmon's No. 63 was painted in two places on the sidelines, and there were two 9/11 ribbons painted on the field. All Bucs players had a No. 63 decal on their helmets, and both teams had a 9/11 ribbon patch on their jerseys. There were moments of silence held for both, and taps was played before the national anthem, with an American flag covering the field and players from both teams helping hold it. A special 9/11 coin was used for the opening coin toss.
"It was very emotional; I had to hold back a tear," Bucs LB Geno Hayes said. "9/11 was very serious, and it stuck in everybody's mind. It kind of hit home when the flag came out and had the moment of silence."
And a moment of silence was held in the press box in memory of longtime Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen, who died in June.
Surprise of the day
Army Sgt. Scott Osborn, 37, a St. Petersburg native and lifelong Bucs fan, got to fulfill a few dreams Sunday. With the help of the Bucs, Osborn — stationed in Afghanistan the past four months — surprised his family near the end of the first half at Raymond James Stadium.
A few moments after a video message was played on the JumboTron of Osborn saying hello, he walked down the steps and greeted his wife, Amy, and parents, getting a rousing ovation and chants of "USA!"
"It's like a fairy tale," Osborn said. "I've never been in this good of a mood while the Bucs were losing." Osborn's friends had told his wife his flights were delayed and he wouldn't make it to the game. Osborn actually got back in town Saturday night and had to hide, spending time at One Buc Place and staying at the team hotel. He said he felt like a "rock star" with everyone shaking his hand at the game.
Osborn got into the military, spending eight years in the Army Reserve, because of the Sept. 11 attacks, making Sunday's reunion all the more special.
"When I was little, two things I always wanted to do — play for the Bucs and be in the military," he said. "I'm not a Buccaneer, but this is plenty close enough. I'll definitely settle for this."
Lions' Stafford on the mark
It looked like Lions QB Matthew Stafford was making up for lost time against the Bucs. Stafford, the 2009 top overall pick who missed 13 games last year because of season-ending shoulder surgery, went 24-of-33 for 305 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 118.9.
"The guys up front did a great job; they kept me clean pretty much all day," Stafford said. "When they do that, the sky is the limit with this offense."
Bucs S Cody Grimm said Stafford made great reads and was able to get rid of the ball quickly, "chipping away at us." And it helps when Stafford can throw to one of the game's best receivers, Calvin Johnson, who had 88 yards and two impressive catches for scores. "He made me look good again," Stafford said.
"(Stafford) put the ball in the perfect spot twice," Grimm said. "And when that happens, there's no defense for it."
A costly return
Sammie Stroughter was one of the few bright spots early for the Bucs, with his 78-yard kickoff return setting up the team's first field goal. "He started fast," WR Mike Williams said. "That was a big boost." But Stroughter's day was cut short after he injured his left foot on the run. Stroughter, who could be out for a while, had a walking boot on while in the locker room and declined to comment as he left on crutches. Coach Raheem Morris had said the team planned to rotate kick returners anyway, with Preston Parker and Micheal Spurlock getting looks, so they could step in if needed.
No repeat for Blount
Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for 110 yards against the Lions less than nine months ago. Sunday, you might easily have forgotten he was even on the roster. With the offense attempting just six rushing plays in the first half and spending most of the second half in hurry-up mode, offensive coordinator Greg Olson didn't have much use for a 250-pound power back for most of the game. Instead, the Bucs turned to Earnest Graham, the designated third-down back and the primary back in the two-minute offense. "It was just the way the game went (Sunday)," Graham said
Blount, who declined requests for interviews, was held to 15 yards on five carries. Graham finished with 13 yards on six attempts but had a big role in the passing game. He caught a team-high eight passes for 58 yards.
The Bucs were torched by WR Calvin Johnson last season in a game without CB Aqib Talib. Sunday, with Talib in the lineup, the Bucs were torched by Johnson again. "He's obviously a great player," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of the wideout.
Johnson had six catches for 88 yards, but among his receptions were a pair of touchdowns, including a 36-yard strike down the sideline and a stunning 1-yard touchdown catch with Talib draped all over him. Talib, who declined interview requests, didn't go home empty-handed. He grabbed a ball deflected by TE Will Heller in the first quarter and went 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Bucs a 10-3 lead.
But Johnson grabbed the belt in this heavyweight fight. Both teams looked forward to the featured matchup. "Calvin wanted to shut (Talib) down all day, and (Talib) wanted to prove himself against a great receiver," Lions QB Matthew Stafford said.
While the Bucs don't typically have cornerbacks swap sides — Talib is the left corner and Ronde Barber the right — Sunday's plan called for Talib to shadow Johnson. Talib was the Bucs' best hope against a receiver who had 10 receptions for 152 yards in December in Tampa. All things considered, Talib didn't perform horribly. He mistimed a jump on the 36-yard touchdown, missing the throw by inches. And Johnson made a tiptoe catch while falling out of bounds on the second touchdown .
"Calvin is tough to deal with," Barber said. "We all know that. There were some opportunity throws, and he went up and got them. We were in defenses that limit that, and he beat us. So it's on us."
The Bucs' streak of blacked-out home games stretched to 13 (including preseason games), with an announced paid attendance of 51,274 in the 65,000-seat stadium.
. How much does the new kickoff rule (placing the ball at the 35 instead of the 30) affect returns? In Sunday's game, eight of the nine kickoffs — not including a late onside kick — were touchbacks.
. Bucs GM Mark Dominik acknowledged the team has had multiple meetings with the NFL about possible illegal contact between coach Raheem Morris and players during the lockout but said he has not been notified of any fine. In question are seven phone conversations Morris had with players — three of them less than a minute, one with TE Kellen Winslow over the birth of his child and one with former LB Niko Koutouvides, who was a free agent and no longer with the team.
Heating up not best for Freeman
Bucs QB Josh Freeman finally started to heat up in the second half, but not how many might think. On a day when temperatures reached the low 90s and the heat index on the field was higher, Freeman was one of several players who suffered from cramps. In the third quarter, after Freeman scrambled and was dropped by two defenders, he got up gingerly and walked toward the sideline, gesturing for backup QB Josh Johnson. Before Freeman could make it to the sideline, he dropped to one knee and tried to stretch out his hamstrings. He immediately went to the locker room with team trainers, who administered intravenous fluids to hydrate him. "I sweat. I sweat like crazy," Freeman said. "I started my hydration like three days ago, just heavily hydrating. It's something where I probably should have gotten the IV at halftime, but I was pumping fluids the whole game, knowing that I'm a heavy sweater. … I have to be better prepared for that. You never know what can make the difference in a game." In this game, it wasn't a big factor. Freeman returned after missing parts of two series. Meanwhile, Lions QB Matthew Stafford experienced similar difficulties. On a third-quarter touchdown pass to WR Calvin Johnson, Stafford was cramping and had trouble delivering the ball. "I bet I look pretty stupid on the replay," he said. "(Johnson) made me look good once aga