Tampa, FL – A new season has sparked new hopes in Detroit, 20 win over Tampa Bay.
Stafford passed for 305 yards and three scores, two of which went to Calvin Johnson, as the Lions (1-0) opened the season with a win for the first time since 2007.
Last season, Detroit finished just 6-10, but won its final four games of the season to triple its win total from 2009.
The defense, led by last year's rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh, prevented Tampa Bay from generating much offense until a late drive made it a one-score game. Prior to that score, Tampa Bay had managed just two field goals and an interception return for a touchdown.
"(We) made a couple plays, scored a couple touchdowns, but we made way, way too many mistakes," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. "Too many penalties. Too many really dumb mistakes. This one shouldn't have been close."
Johnson caught six passes for 88 yards while Tony Scheffler caught the other score for Detroit, which won in overtime last season in Tampa Bay to snap an NFL-record 26-game road losing streak.
Josh Freeman went 28-for-43 with 257 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Mike Williams caught the touchdown for the Buccaneers (0-1), who finished last season with a mark of 10-6 after going just 3-13 in 2009.
"Obviously not the result we wanted to start the season, it was too little, too late," said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. "There's stuff that we have to figure out fast or we're going to dig too deep a hole for ourselves."
After getting stuffed on a fourth down play deep in Detroit territory, Tampa appeared to be dead in the water. Detroit held a 14-point lead with under eight minutes to play and had been playing stifling defense.
But the Bucs' defense held Detroit and Tampa got the ball back at its own 41 with 5 1/2 minutes left. Freeman quickly marched his team down the field and made it a one-score game with 1:35 to play, when Williams made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone and kept both feet in for a five-yard score.
Tampa tried the onsides kick, but Detroit came away with the ball. However, Tampa's defense again did its job, holding the Lions to a three-and-out. An unnecessary roughness call on Detroit on third down helped Tampa get the ball back at its own 20 with 1:07 to play.
The Bucs were able to get across midfield, but had used up all but eight seconds. They tried some trickery on the final play, going with a short pass and several laterals until a fumble was recovered by Detroit to end the game.
An impressive opening drive from the Lions stalled at the four-yard line, and Jason Hanson kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 8:58 to play in the first. Detroit picked up five first downs during the 12-play, 76-yard drive, while Jahvid Best totaled 39 yards.
The Buccaneers' special teams came through on the ensuing kickoff, as Sammie Stroughter fielded the ball, took it up the middle, then bounced to the left sideline and raced into Detroit territory before being stopped at the 21. However, Detroit's defense held firm and the Bucs had to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Connor Barth.
Tampa Bay's defense cashed in with a big play on Detroit's next touch. On 3rd- and-3, Stafford lofted a short pass to the left that was tipped by his receiver. Aqib Talib came down up with the ball and went into the end zone untouched on a 28-yard return for a 10-3 lead.
The Lions used another long drive to get points on the board. The 11-play, 70- yard march ate up nearly five minutes and ended with Hanson's 28-yarder to make it a 10-6 contest with 52 seconds left in the first. Brandon Pettigrew had dropped a catchable pass in the end zone on 3rd-and-6 prior to the field goal.
"We moved the ball well, but we didn't punch it in for sevens," said Stafford. "That's something we have to work on. We got to be better at that."
Following an exchange of punts, Freeman drove the Bucs past midfield, but he heaved a long pass into the end zone that was picked off by Chris Houston to give the Lions the ball at the 20.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Johnson caught a pass for 22 yards and Best followed with a nine-yard run to get the ball past midfield. Facing a 4th-and-2 at the 36, Stafford lofted a pass down the right sideline for Johnson, who caught it between defenders and trotted into the end zone for a 13-10 lead with 7:16 to play in the first half.
"Calvin [Johnson] ran a great route," said Stafford about the score. "It was a perfect play for that situation. We knew they had an aggressive corner over there, guarding Calvin, that wanted to shut him down all day. He wanted to prove himself against a great receiver, and Calvin ran a great route and I threw the ball out there, he had a great catch and he scored."
After another three-and-out from Tampa Bay, the Lions got the ball back at their own 16 and converted a 3rd-and-6 on a 29-yard catch by Nate Burleson. Pettigrew hauled in a 25-yard catch to get the ball into the red zone, and Scheffler got into the end zone on an 11-yard score for a 20-10 lead with 1:16 left in the first half.
Tampa Bay cut into its deficit on the final play of the half with a 31-yard field goal from Barth.
The Tampa offense, which held the ball for just 8:15 of the first half, continued to sputter in the second half, going three-and-out on its first touch.
The Lions offense, though, continued to produce with a third consecutive touchdown drive. The 11-play, 70-yard drive was finished when, from the one- yard line, Stafford lofted a pass to the right side and Johnson out-leaped his defender for the score and a 27-13 lead.
After each team punted twice, Tampa Bay put together an impressive drive in the fourth quarter to advance to the Detroit 11. But on 4th-and-1, Earnest Graham was stuffed and Detroit got the ball back.
The interception in the second quarter was the first one Freeman threw in his previous 116 pass attempts...Johnson has caught a pass in every game he has played in the NFL...Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber made his 184th consecutive start. It is the longest active streak in the NFL due to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning missing Sunday's opener...Tampa has lost five of its last six season openers...Best totaled 72 yards on 21 carries and 42 yards on four catches...Detroit had 431 yards and held the ball for 36:25...Tampa managed just 313 yards...The Lions hold a 29-25 edge in the all-time series.