DETROIT – Not even the mediocre NFC South can keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in playoff contention any longer.
The Bucs were officially eliminated Sunday when they lost 34-17 to the Detroit Lions. Tampa Bay turned the ball over three times in the second quarter of a game it never led.
"We were beaten by a better football team today," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. "We didn't really get anything going. Offensively, we had three turnovers, and they only had one. They dominated us on third downs. They were able to run the ball, and we weren't able to."
Tampa Bay (2-11) lost eight of its first nine games this season, but the Bucs were only three games out of first place heading into Sunday's matchup.
Mike Evans caught two touchdown passes, but Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown was under pressure all day, and the Bucs managed only 26 yards rushing against Detroit's stout defensive front.
Matthew Stafford threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions — including one off a fluky deflection late in the game. Detroit (9-4) trails first-place Green Bay by a half-game in the NFC North, with the Packers hosting Atlanta on Monday night.
Calvin Johnson had eight catches for 158 yards and a touchdown for the Lions, who snapped a nine-game losing streak in December.
"We've definitely found a rhythm. I can't call our future. We're just going to keep on plugging away," said Johnson, who missed a month earlier this season with an ankle injury. "I'm feeling pretty good — the best I've felt in a little while."
Stafford went 26 of 34 without an interception, and he and Johnson seem to be clicking again at the right time. The Detroit quarterback was also a bit fortunate on his fourth-quarter scoring pass to Joique Bell.
Stafford had a pass bounce off someone at the line of scrimmage — Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy was in the area — and it bounced back toward Bell, who alertly grabbed it out of midair and ran into the end zone for the game's final score.
Detroit opened the scoring on Stafford's 6-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, and Patrick Murray answered with a 54-yard field goal for the Bucs.
The Bucs' first turnover came when McCown's pass deflected off Evans and was picked off by a sliding Glover Quin, who reached out with his left hand to secure the ball at the Tampa Bay 34. Bell's 1-yard scoring run made it 14-3.
"The one on the sideline to Mike, I threw the ball exactly to where I wanted to throw it and obviously, Mike was upset," McCown said. "I don't know what happened. The guys on the sideline said his arm got grabbed, so that's frustrating."
A fumble on a snap gave the Lions the ball at the Tampa Bay 32 moments later, and Detroit managed a field goal off that turnover.
Late in the half, the Bucs caught a break after McCown's pass was intercepted in the end zone by James Ihedigbo. The Detroit safety tried to run the ball out, but he ended up fumbling it back to Tampa Bay.
The Bucs took over at the Detroit 10 and scored a touchdown with 5 seconds left on McCown's 5-yard pass to Evans.
Stafford threw a 53-yard pass to Johnson to set up a third-quarter field goal, and his 10-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria made it 27-10.
Evans caught a 26-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth, using one arm to secure the ball in the back of the end zone.
Bell broke free for a 57-yard run in the final minutes. That helped set up his 5-yard touchdown catch off the bizarre deflection.
McCown went 20 of 39 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Vincent Jackson caught 10 passes for 159 yards for Tampa Bay.
NOTES: Tampa Bay called a timeout on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, before a single second had ticked off the clock. ... McCoy left in the first quarter with a knee injury but quickly returned. Bucs LB Lavonte David left in the third with a possible concussion after Johnson's leg collided with his head. ... Fauria hurt his left ankle early in the game but came back.
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