TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Detroit Lions picked up where they left off last year and are building confidence with each victory.
A season-opening 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday already has them off to their best start since 2007, although coach Jim Schwartz stressed that it's important to keep a turnabout that began in December in perspective.
The Lions have won five consecutive regular-season games. Throw in a perfect preseason this summer and they've won the last nine times they've taken the field.
``I think that we will leave it right where it is. We won our first game of the season,' Schwartz said. ``Preseason doesn't count for anything. ... Last year was obviously last year. We have a long way to go, there's a lot of improvement we can make as a football team. We're not going to worry about that or anything else. What we need to worry about is playing the best we can play.'
Matthew Stafford threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns and was not sacked, showing what he could mean to Detroit's chances of ending a decade of futility and making the playoffs if he's healthy.
The improved Lions defense pressured Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, held Tampa Bay's running game in check, and didn't allow an offensive touchdown until there were less than two minutes remaining.
Even more encouraging, Detroit prevailed despite Stafford having an interception returned for a touchdown, special teams allowing a long kickoff return that set up a field goal, and several costly penalties, including an unsportsmanslike conduct call that stopped the clock and gave Freeman a chance to lead a potential game-tying drive at the end.
``I don't want to discount the value of a win, particularly a win on the road, but we've got to play a lot better than we played today,' Schwartz said. ``We had way too many mistakes that kept Tampa in this game. I guess a sign of a good team is you can have those mistakes and still come out with a win. But we did some things that are inexcusable and they will not continue.'
Stafford completed 24 of 33 passes, including TD throws of 1 and 36 yards to Calvin Johnson and 11 yards to Tony Scheffler. The interception he threw glanced off the hands of intended receiver Will Heller and was returned 28 yards by Aqib Talib for the lone touchdown Tampa Bay managed until Freeman threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Mike Williams with 1:35 remaining.
The Lions, who haven't finished with a winning record since 2000, lost four straight to begin 2010. Stafford was hurt in the opener and went on to miss 13 of the team's remaining 15 games.
Stafford, who missed 19 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, led four scoring drives of at least 70 yards against a defense that was on its heels most of the day. The Lions outgained the Bucs 147 yards to 4 in the opening quarter and finished with a 431-313 advantage in total offense.
Johnson had six receptions for 88 yards. His 36-yard TD reception came on a perfectly thrown ball on fourth-and-2, and the 6-foot-5 receiver reached above Talib to make an acrobatic grab on a lob throw for the 1-yard TD that put Detroit up 27-13 in the third quarter.
``We have so much confidence in him,' Johnson said of Stafford. ``He puts it up there for me, I've got to go get it. He's our coach on the field.'
Freeman, selected 16 spots behind No. 1 overall pick Stafford in the 2009 draft, was 28 of 43 for 245 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked twice.
``It's really frustrating because we felt like, for sure going into it, it was a winnable game. ... We just have to find a way to score points earlier,' said Freeman, whose growth a year ago during his first season as a starter keyed a surprising 10-6 finish that nearly produced a playoff berth.
``You hate to start the season out 0-1, but it's the first game of the year,' Freeman added. ``It's not going to make or break anybody.'
The Associated Press News Service
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