It was the type of performance one could only hope for from a defense featuring two all-pro defensive backs and a promising young middle linebacker — five turnovers with four interceptions of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and zero touchdowns from Calvin Johnson — except there was no sign of Dashon Goldson or Mason Foster and Darrelle Revis was relegated to the sideline in the second half.
And yet they still made it happen, with lesser-known players stepping up and stringing together some electrifying plays on both sides of the ball, defeating the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions on the road, 24-21.
Tiquan Underwood, who was released by the team in September and re-signed the following month, came up with a clutch 85-yard touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter to retake a 24-21 lead.
Cornerback Danny Gorrer, a former undrafted free agent placed on injured reserve/designated for return, then blocked a punt on fourth-and-21. He also dislodged the ball from wide receiver Kris Durham, with Kelcie McRay, who was waived by the Dolphins in October, making the recovery.
On third-and-12, with one minute remaining, it was McCray who knocked the ball loose from the hands of Calvin Johnson at the Tampa Bay 3 yard line, allowing cornerback Johnathan Banks to make the pick and preserve the lead.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis had been guarding Johnson throughout the first half, but a groin injury took him out of the much-anticipated matchup, forcing Banks to slide over and guard the league’s premier wide receiver, who caught seven passes on 14 targets for 115 receiving yards but no touchdowns.
Foster, who had a pick-6 last week, suffered a concussion and was not cleared to play, while Goldson served his one-game suspension for last week’s hit on Roddy White.
Goldson’s replacement, Keith Tandy, picked off Stafford in the third quarter on a pass intended for Johnson at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. It was the second touchdown-saving interception Tandy made in three NFL starts, and the third interception of the game.
The first came on second-and-7 of Detroit’s second possession, when weakside linebacker Lavonte David intercepted a pass deflected by Leonard Johnson, setting up a 38-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay its first points of the day.
David finished with a team-leading 12 combined tackles, nine of them solo, a pick, a pass break-up and a forced fumble. Johnson had seven combined tackles, six of them solo, with a pick and two pass breakups.
With 1:01 remaining in the first half, Johnson intercepted Stafford on a pass intended for tight end Brandon Pettigrew, returning it 48 yards for a touchdown. Johnson’s play gave the Bucs a 17-14 lead after Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon threw a 7-yard touchdown to Underwood.
Earlier in the game, Johnson had given up a 5-yard touchdown on an inside slant to Nate Burleson, who finished with seven catches for 77 receiving yards.
Gorrer, also gave up a touchdown in the first half — a 10-yard catch by tight end Joseph Fauria in the corner of the end zone that was challenged and upheld, but his heroics in the fourth quarter kept the league’s fourth-ranked offense and third-ranked passing game off the field, rendering the Lions to a scoreless fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay had an opportunity to distance itself from the Lions in the fourth quarter when both of Gorrer’s turnovers set up field goal attempts, but kicker Rian Lindell missed from 35 yards out and then from 50.
The Bucs’ ground game, averaging 177 yards through the last three games, was limited to 35 yards from rookie Bobby Rainey, who was bottled up four times behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive line surrendered four sacks.
Glennon finished 14 of 21 for 247 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 138.4.
Stafford went 26 of 46 for 297 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Tight end Tom Crabtree left the game with an arm injury in the first half and did not return … With his first quarter pick, Lavonte David became one of only six Buccaneers with at least 5.0 sacks and two interceptions in a season, joining defensive end Gaines Adams in 2008, cornerback Ronde Barber in 2000, defensive end Simeon Rice in 2003, defensive tackle Warren Sapp in 2002 and linebacker Broderick Thomas in 1992 … Tampa Bay’s four interceptions are the most in a single game since Oct. 31, 2010 against the Arizona Cardinals … Mike Glennon’s 85-yard touchdown to Tiquan Underwood became the fourth-longest play in team history … With his 115-yard performance, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson eclipsed the 9,000-yard receiving mark…Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford set a career high in the first half, with 275 passing yards…Stafford’s four picks were the most since his rookie season in 2009.