TAMPA — Touchdowns come in all forms, and the Bucs have tapped just about every source imaginable for theirs.
Sunday at Detroit, the Bucs scored touchdowns via a Clifton Smith punt return and a Ronde Barber interception return, continuing a trend.
Tampa Bay is second in the NFL in non-offensive touchdowns with seven, trailing only the Packers, who have 10. Scoring using other means takes some heat off an offense that has been inconsistent.
"It's helped tremendously," C Jeff Faine said. "I hope we haven't used them all up. Our defense is playing well; our special teams is playing well. (Smith) has come on and has been a great returner for us. It's definitely a team game, but our offense can only rely on them for so much. We have to do our part as well."
Several non-offensive touchdowns have come during games in which the Bucs badly needed them, such as DE Gaines Adams' 45-yard interception return at Chicago, a game the Bucs won in overtime.
And when such plays don't produce scores, they often result in the next best thing: superb field position. That was the case Sunday when Smith's 49-yard kickoff return to midfield and Barber's first interception in Detroit territory. Both ensuing drives ended in touchdowns.
Tight ends looking good: The Bucs hope TE Alex Smith (ankle) returns against New Orleans this weekend, but in his absence, they have gained even more confidence in the abilities of his replacement.
Jerramy Stevens, the recipient of Jeff Garcia's 24-yard TD pass Sunday, has a bigger role and continues to impress.
"We think he's a heck of a tight end," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's been in a Super Bowl (with Seattle). He's a very good receiver. And he's improving as a run blocker, which is allowing us to get him on the field more and more."
Blocking is central to Stevens staying on the field in running formations, giving the Bucs the flexibility to throw to him out of such alignments, which they did on his touchdown Sunday.
Sacks surge: Detroit sacked Garcia six times, raising concerns about the source of the breakdowns in pass protection. But Faine said that, in most cases, they weren't breakdowns at all.
"I watched the tape and there were a couple breakdowns up front, but for the most part, they were just sending more guys than we could protect (against)," he said.
Faine and Gruden emphasized that the Lions deviated from their usual approach in part because, at 0-10, they were willing to sell out against the pass.
"They were out of character," Gruden said. "It wasn't our best day, that's for sure. But we did enough."
Phillips close: Gruden said S Jermaine Phillips (broken arm) might return against the Saints.