December 03, 2014

After a long-awaited breakout on offense, the Detroit Lions need to remain focused heading into what could be a key stretch in their playoff chase.

In the first of three straight against teams currently with losing records, the Lions seek a sixth win in seven home games Sunday against the NFC-worst Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Detroit hadn't scored more than 24 points since an opening 35-14 win over the New York Giants before totaling a season-high 474 yards in a 34-17 home victory over the Bears on Thanksgiving Day.

The Lions also hadn't produced a touchdown over nine quarters spanning their first back-to-back losses until Calvin Johnson's 25-yard TD reception from Matthew Stafford in the second quarter.

Johnson finished with a season-high 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns after totaling nine for 117 in his previous two games. He also became the fastest to surpass 10,000 receiving yards, needing only 115 career games.

The star wideout, who returned Nov. 9 after missing more than a month due to an ankle injury, has 23 catches for 355 yards and two scores over his last three against with Bucs.

Stafford is coming off one of his best performances of the season, completing 34 of 45 passes for a season-high 390 yards with two touchdowns against Chicago.

"It's something to build off of," he said. "Just being consistent with it, not having a bad quarter - maybe a bad series here, one or two, but making sure that we were playing well in every quarter."

Now Reggie Bush is expected to return after missing four of the past five games with an ankle injury. Joique Bell filled in with season highs of 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries versus the Bears.

While Detroit (8-4) is tied with Seattle and Dallas in the race for two wild-card spots, the Lions and Seahawks hold the potential tiebreaker over the Cowboys. However, that may be looking too far ahead for Detroit, which is trying to extend its longest home winning streak since 2007 to four before taking on Minnesota and Chicago - both 5-7.

"We know that trap, we've fallen into it," center Dominic Raiola said. "It's a work in progress. We're gonna keep the pressure on ourselves and keep the pedal down. It's a brand new week and a brand new challenge."

Since allowing 41.3 points and 466 total yards per game over a four-game stretch, the Bucs have limited opponents to an average of 18.3 and 299.7 in their last six. Behind Gerald McCoy's five sacks, they rank fifth with 16 since Week 9.

Tampa Bay sacked Andy Dalton twice and picked him off three times last Sunday, but a penalty for having too many men on the field cost the team an opportunity to attempt a potential winning field goal in a 14-13 loss.

The Bucs (2-10), who were flagged 13 times, are tied with Seattle for most penalties in the league and have let fourth-quarter leads slip away in five of their 10 defeats.

"Growing pains, learning situations, normally it doesn't take this many games to get the point across," coach Lovie Smith said.

Smith's club hasn't made much progress offensively, ranking 29th in rushing at 83.3 yards per game, 26th in total offense at 313.6 and 28th with 18.3 points per game.

Josh McCown completed 15 of 29 passes for 190 yards with his ninth interception in seven games last Sunday. He had thrown for an average of 310.0 yards in his first three games since returning to the starting role.

After racking up 21 receptions for 458 yards and five TDs in three games, rookie Mike Evans has been quiet with seven catches for 96 yards and one score in his last two.

Doug Martin will try to build on his best game after finishing with 58 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals, but that's not likely to be easy against Detroit's top-ranked run defense.

Even without defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee), the Lions have limited opponents to 49.8 rushing yards per game and 2.7 per carry over their last four. They allowed 13 yards on eight carries last week - the fewest they've given up since 1991.

"Everything is kind of working together now," defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "The main emphasis is stopping the run."

Stafford has thrown three touchdowns in each of his two games versus Tampa Bay, though he had four interceptions in a 24-21 road loss in the most recent matchup Nov. 24, 2013.

The Lions also have dropped five of the past six home meetings.

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