TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he played for the go-ahead field goal late in regulation Sunday against the Lions because he wanted to put the game in the hands of his defense.
Unfortunately for him, the Lions were a little smarter. They kept putting the football in the hands of receiver Calvin Johnson.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder caught 10 passes for 152 yards to help Detroit end the longest road losing streak in NFL history at 26 games with a 23-20 overtime win.
Dave Rayner's third field goal of the game, a 34-yarder 5:09 into overtime, capped a 63-yard drive after the Lions won the coin flip.
But it was Rayner's 28-yard field goal as time expired in regulation that sent the game into the extra period. With no timeouts and 99 seconds left on the clock, the Lions drove 58 yards in 10 plays.
The Bucs (8-6), who had won all five of their previous games decided by three points or fewer this season, saw their playoff chances crippled before 42,466 at Raymond James Stadium. It was particularly damaging because two of the teams they are chasing for a wild-card spot, the Saints (10-4) and Giants (9-5), also suffered defeats.
"It's certainly a gut punch," Morris said of the effect on the playoff chase, "but not a death blow."
Morris might have a queasy feeling in his stomach when he evaluates his decision to play for a go-ahead field goal rather than take a shot in the end zone with Josh Freeman.
The Bucs quarterback, who already had five fourth-quarter comebacks this season, was working on No. 6. He drove the Bucs to the tying field goal on their previous drive. Then he drove them from their 35 to the Lions 15 with 2:00 left.
However, Morris was more interested in making the Lions burn all of their timeouts than trying to score a touchdown, even though his defense was without five injured starters: cornerback Aqib Talib, safety Cody Grimm, tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Quincy Black and end Kyle Moore.
Freeman, who has thrown only one interception over his past 142 attempts, went 21-of-32 for 251 yards and a touchdown. But two runs by Cadillac Williams gained 3 yards, and Freeman gained 4 on a draw to the Lions 8.
"We wanted to win it on defense," said Morris, also the defensive coordinator. "I wanted to take their timeouts, make us win it on defense, make them drive the length of the field and us kick a field goal.
"I can second-guess myself (today) when I go back and look at it."
Instead, Freeman and the offense didn't see the ball again, and Tampa Bay lost to a team with a losing record for the first time in nine games this season.
While Morris second-guessed his decision to settle for a field goal, two of his defensive captains questioned the plan to contain Johnson, nicknamed "Megatron."
Johnson, who became the first Lion with two seasons of 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, controlled the game. He also made life easy for third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, who passed for 252 yards and a score.
"He dominated the second half of that game. He dominated the first half of that game," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "It was just a bad plan, and we didn't execute, even when it was a good plan."
"It was not a very good (plan)," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "He's a good player, and he's pretty rare. I think if we could redo that plan, we definitely would."
Johnson's success helped the Lions' rushing attack.
Maurice Morris gained 109 of their 181 yards. His 10-yard touchdown run to cap the opening drive of the second half put the Lions up 17-14.
The Bucs offense also has its fingerprints on the loss. Trailing by a field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Bucs had it first and goal at the 1.
But Freeman was stopped for no gain on a draw, and running back Earnest Graham lost a yard on second down.
Freeman's apparent touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow was erased when Winslow was called for pass interference against safety C.C. Brown. Freeman fired incomplete to Mike Williams in the end zone on the next play, forcing Connor Barth's 26-yard field goal.
"If I disagree with it, it doesn't matter," Morris said of the penalty. "They called those plays. I disagreed with a lot of plays. But it doesn't matter. It's not up to me."
For the second straight week, the Bucs defense faltered in a two-minute situation. It faced certain overtime last week at Washington but won 17-16 when Hunter Smith dropped the snap on an extra point.
In overtime Sunday, the Lions opened with runs of 26 yards by Morris and 14 by Jahvid Best.
Soon after, it was over.
"Some of those games, you would've let Freeman win it," Morris said. "This is not a knock on Freeman. This was something for us. This was something we needed to step up and do. If we want to play championship football, you've got to be able to stand up at championship-caliber times.
"And we weren't able to stand up on defense, especially at the end of the game."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.