ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — At this time last season, the Detroit Lions were smarting from a controversial loss in their season opener — and wondering when their franchise quarterback might play again.
The mood is different this year. The Lions made some big mistakes down the stretch last weekend against Tampa Bay, but they came home undefeated.
"Luck is starting to change around here, bounces are starting to change around here," offensive lineman Rob Sims said. "It's coming together nice. We're excited."
Detroit outplayed the Buccaneers and controlled the ball for more than 36 minutes, but the Lions still had to withstand a late rally to win 27-20. Tampa Bay pulled within a touchdown with 1:35 remaining, and although Detroit recovered an onside kick, the Buccaneers still got the ball back with over a minute remaining after an unnecessary roughness penalty on Lions offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus.
Detroit could be forgiven for wondering if this would be like last season's opener, when the Lions lost at Chicago after officials ruled Calvin Johnson didn't maintain possession on a potential touchdown catch. Detroit held on this time when Tampa Bay's final, lateral-filled play fell apart well short of the end zone.
"We did some good things in the game, but we also did some boneheaded things that almost caused us to lose the game," coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "Our offense just kept the foot to the floor and started getting points. Defense kept getting stops and next thing you know, we had a little bit of lead to work with — but the way it finished was unacceptable and we need to do a better job there."
Matthew Stafford, who was injured in that season-opening loss at Chicago last year, looked impressive against Tampa Bay, throwing for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Jahvid Best ran for 72 yards on 21 carries, but the Lions were only 2 for 11 on third down and were unable to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter.
"We're going to score a lot of points on offense, we expect to be much improved on defense," Schwartz said. "It really doesn't matter how you do it, but you need to finish games. That is an important thing that we need to do."
Schwartz found plenty of mistakes to dwell on after Detroit opened a season with a win for the first time since 2007. The Lions kicked a field goal to open the scoring, then immediately allowed a long kickoff return that set up a field goal for Tampa Bay.
Moments later, Stafford's pass glanced off the hands of intended receiver Will Heller and was intercepted by Aqib Talib, who returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, Tampa Bay led 10-3 without any real contribution from its offense.
In the end, the improved Lions were good enough to overcome all those mistakes — but that's the last thing they should be assuming as they prepare for next weekend's home opener against Kansas City.
"Our expectations are high," defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "It's frustrating that we really dominated a lot of the game and statistically did some things really well, and yet it ended up being close."
Detroit went 6-10 last season but finished with four straight wins, and after an undefeated preseason, the win over Tampa Bay wasn't a huge surprise. Perhaps that's why the Lions are willing to be some of their own worst critics — even after a victory.
"If this were the same old Lions, we'd be happy to get a win," Vanden Bosch said. "I don't think anybody's satisfied with how that game ended up and how close it was."