So, what did RB Warrick Dunn do in his first game since being pressed into a role as the featured back? Not a whole lot — apart from his 127 total yards, including 90 rushing yards on 14 carries (6.4 yards per carry). Sunday's game was the Bucs' first since losing RB Earnest Graham to a season-ending ankle injury, and giving a steady dose of touches to a 33-year-old back might give a coach reason to pause. But when you see Dunn spinning and darting like he did on his 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, it becomes quickly apparent there's little cause for alarm. And when Dunn breaks through the big bodies in the middle on a shotgun formation draw play for a 40-yard pickup, the notion of questioning the former Florida State standout seems ridiculous. From Dunn's perspective, it's really not all that special. Asked about his touchdown, he said, "I don't remember. … I pretty much just read the blocks, running for daylight." As for the dizzying spin move that helped him elude Lions DE Jared DeVries, Dunn didn't have much to offer there, either. "Everything I do is instinct," he said. "I'm pretty much running for my life. That's the reality of how I run."
Garcia wins in Motown — finally
Jeff Garcia's return to Detroit last season wasn't memorable. For all the Bucs' offensive fireworks (Garcia led a 422-yard effort), Tampa Bay lost, with Garcia suffering defeat against the team he played for in 2005. This visit was totally different. "It kind of reminded me of last year's game with the fumbles and the sacks," Garcia said. " … But this time we can walk out with a win, and that's what it's all about." The 21 points the Bucs scored in the second quarter were the second most in team history (they scored 24 in a quarter twice: vs. Chicago in 1996 and vs. Green Bay in 1981). Garcia finished with a 137.5 passing rating against the Lions and moved into eighth place on the Bucs' all-time passing list ahead of Shaun King. With 4,223 passing yards as a Buc, Garcia is just 349 yards shy of seventh place on the team's all-time list behind Brian Griese, who replaced Garcia at one point this season and remains inactive after injuring his elbow.
Several calls that officials made Sunday irritated both teams. Arguably the most egregious involved a fumble by Bucs QB Jeff Garcia after a sack by Lions DE Cliff Avril in the third quarter. Officials ruled it a fumble, but replays seemed to indicate Garcia fumbled as a result of being driven into the turf. The Bucs challenged, but referee Bill Carollo ruled in Detroit's favor. "I felt like it popped out when I hit the ground," Garcia said. And the Bucs took issue with a roughing-the-passer call against DL Jimmy Wilkerson after which he was told by an official he made contact with QB Daunte Culpepper's head. On replay, that didn't appear to be the case. Meanwhile, the Lions complained after Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli's clear interference on WR Calvin Johnson that would have given Detroit a much-needed long gain as it attempted to rally in the third was not called.
Suffering through slow start
For the second straight road game, the Bucs stumbled to a slow start and were forced to dig out of a deep hole. This one required them to climb back from a 17-0 deficit, two games after they fell behind 24-3 in the first half at Kansas City. Even inferior teams can emerge with energy when playing at home, and the Bucs are struggling to match that early emotion. "You have to take the same energy every week, whether at home or away," DE Gaines Adams said. "I know it takes a lot more to win on the road. You can't minimize the Detroit Lions. But unfortunately we came out slow today." The Bucs have come from behind in each of their three road wins — Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit. They have evened their road record at 3-3 with only games at Carolina and Atlanta left. "We've got a two-game winning streak on the road, and we've won three games on the road," coach Jon Gruden said. "It gives you a chance to stick around in the playoff race. But we can't fall behind 24-3 or 17-0 and expect to beat an NFL football team. That's something we have to take a look at."
• Don't blame Bucs CB Ronde Barber exclusively for Lions WR Calvin Johnson's two big plays early. S Sabby Piscitelli will tell you he had as much or more to do with them than Barber, who was matched up against the 2007 No. 2 overall pick. When the 6-foot-5 Johnson hauled in a 41-yard pass down the left sideline in the first quarter, the 5-10 Barber actually had decent position. Meanwhile, Piscitelli was motoring across the field with the ball in midair but hesitated slightly when he reached the sideline, allowing Johnson to make the grab. Piscitelli could have played the ball or laid a punishing hit on Johnson, but with his indecision, he did neither. "That's the first thing coach said — make a decision: either hit him or go for the ball," Piscitelli said. "I was running for so long, and I just got caught in between. That's something I need to learn from and definitely grow. I need to make that play." Three plays later, Johnson caught a 15-yard TD pass against Barber, but Piscitelli again wasn't all that helpful. "I think I broke (on the ball) pretty good," he said. "I just think my angle was off a little. I have to make that play."
In a (pass) rush
At the rate DL Jimmy Wilkerson is going, the biggest challenge the Bucs might face is whether to play him inside or outside. Wilkerson had one sack at tackle and another at end, continuing to show the versatility that made him attractive in free agency. Behind Wilkerson's first career multi-sack game, the Bucs finished with four sacks and have nine in their past two games. Against Detroit, the pass rush took on greater importance because of the Lions' personnel. "We try to throw in different types of rushes against teams like this," Wilkerson said. "We knew going into the game with the receivers they had that they were going to try to chuck the deep ball. That's going to give us an opportunity to get back there because they have to hold the ball. We knew we had to get something going." The Bucs used a combination of blitzes and straight rushes to get to QBs Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton. And they experimented a bit with creative blitzes they haven't shown often. "When you have a lead, sometimes you can use some of your (new) things," coach Jon Gruden said.
Positioned for success
Field position was key on two of the Bucs' first three touchdowns. RB Clifton Smith's 49-yard kickoff return on the final play of the first quarter took the ball to midfield. The Bucs scored seven plays later on RB Warrick Dunn's 13-yard touchdown run. CB Ronde Barber's interception return to the Lions 24 eight minutes later set up TE Jerramy Stevens' 24-yard touchdown reception on the next play. "I think with Clifton back there, it really gets you excited about your opportunities for good field position because of his return abilities," QB Jeff Garcia said. "The guy is really exciting. And then, defensively, to create turnovers and do the things they did, they just kept getting after it. That creates better opportunities for our offense when we have a short field."
RT Jeremy Trueblood got away with a violent grab of a defender's facemask, but he isn't so sure the infraction will get by NFL officials who review game film looking for such misdeeds. Trueblood disclosed Sunday that he was fined $5,000 last week for an unnecessary roughness penalty against Minnesota, and he learned from teammates Sunday that others on the team have been fined for facemask penalties. "I can't catch a break," he cracked.
The Lions backfield consisted mostly of former Central Florida players, with QB Daunte Culpepper and RB Kevin Smith accounting for 207 of the Lions' yards. Culpepper, signed by Detroit this month, struggled in his second game and gave way to backup Drew Stanton in the third quarter. When Stanton suffered a concussion, Culpepper re-entered, finishing 8-of-20 for 121 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Smith had a decent performance, running for 86 yards on 16 carries.
• The game marked only the fourth time the Bucs have won after trailing by 17 points or more (behind only the 21-point deficit to the Chiefs this month and tying the 17-point deficits to the Bears in 1983 and Colts in 1979).
• WR Ike Hilliard's 36-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was his team-best fourth touchdown reception this year. It was his 35th career touchdown reception and his longest of the season.
• TE Jerramy Stevens' 24-yard touchdown catch was his second of the season and 21st of his career.
• DE Gaines Adams leads the team with five sacks after recording one Sunday. DE Greg White, who added a sack against the Lions, is second with 4½.