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One big play makes up for a downer day

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2002

DETROIT -- While the Lions offense seemed to be enjoying unexpected success against the league's No. 1 defense Sunday, everyone on the Tampa Bay sideline expected that at some point, someone would make a play.

Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, having his most productive season as a Buc, provided that spark early in the fourth quarter.

Tied at 13 entering the fourth, the Lions appeared to be driving for the lead after backup quarterback Mike McMahon complete a 37-yard pass to running back Aveion Cason that put the ball on the Bucs 39.

But on the next play, Quarles jumped and batted McMahon's pass, stayed with the ball and came down with the interception.

The Bucs scored on a 4-yard Michael Pittman run six plays later to take a 20-13 lead.

"It was a big play," coach Jon Gruden said. "They make the huge play on their sideline, with McMahon backed up and throwing the ball and I don't know how (Cason) makes the one-handed catch. But that play (by Quarles) right there obviously is the turning point, in my opinion, of the football game."

SPECIAL CONCERN: For the second time in three games, the Bucs special teams gave up multiple big returns.

Eddie Drummond started the third quarter with a 46-yard return that led to a 25-yard Jason Hanson field goal.

After Pittman's score, the Bucs surrendered a 91-yard return to Drummond on the kickoff. Drummond would have scored had kicker Martin Gramatica not grabbed him by the face mask at the 5. The Lions scored on a 2-yard run by McMahon on the next play.

"I haven't seen the film so I don't know where the breakdown was, but we have to do better than that," backup tight end Todd Yoder said.

Still, Gramatica had field goals of 20, 28 and 38 yards, punter Tom Tupa delivered a key 56-yard punt in the fourth quarter and Aaron Stecker opened the game with a 67-yard kickoff return, third longest in team history.

WOUNDED BUC: Linebacker Nate Webster sprained his right knee late in the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room on a cart. He will be evaluated today.

BLOCK PARTY: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp twice had been in on the goal-line offensive package, and twice the Bucs didn't get in. Not anymore.

With the Bucs facing third and goal from the 1 in the second quarter, Sapp came off the bench to play tight end and registered a critical block on rookie defensive end Kalimba Edwards as fullback Mike Alstott rolled in easily.

Backup fullback Darian Barnes also registered a decisive block on linebacker Clint Kriewaldt to spring Alstott.

Barnes, a rookie out of Hampton, followed with another jarring block in the second quarter to set up a 23-yard Alstott run. Gramatica kicked a 28-yard field goal four plays later to give the Bucs a 13-10 halftime lead.

LOCAL TIES: Cason, a former Lakewood High standout in his second season in the NFL, got his first career start, replacing veteran James Stewart, inactive with a sore knee. Cason (5-10, 205) played two seasons at Illinois State and was signed as a rookie free agent by the Rams. He spent time on the Chiefs practice roster before joining the Lions.

Linebacker Jeff Gooch and receiver Jacquez Green, both of whom played with the Bucs last season, also are on the Lions roster.

Gooch signed in the offseason as a free agent and Green, who began the season with the Redskins but was released, signed with the Lions to return punts. Green was inactive.

Former Bucs cornerback Martin Mayhew (1993-96), who spent nine seasons in the NFL and now is a lawyer, is Detroit's senior director of football administration/staff counsel.

HARRINGTON UPDATE: Lions rookie quarterback Joey Harrington played the first quarter, then was taken into the locker room after team doctors discovered an irregular heartbeat. He was taken to a local hospital and was expected to spend the night under observation.

"We think everything is going to be fine," team doctor Keith Burch said.

BUCS BITS: Left guard Lomas Brown, who spent the first 11 of his 18 seasons in Detroit, needed 40 tickets for friends and family. ... Alstott's touchdown was the Bucs' first rushing touchdown since Oct. 13 against the Browns, eight games ago. ... The Lions' first three-and-out on offense came with 7:06 left in the third quarter. ... Quarles' fourth-quarter interception gave the Bucs 39 straight games with at least one turnover, the longest current streak in the NFL.

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