Lions, Bucs aim to salvage largely disappointing seasons
- Eagles shock Rams to aid playoff hopes
- Steelers hold off Pats, keep North lead
- Bears win NFC North, eliminate Packers
- Colts cool Cowboys with 23-0 blowout
- Vikes use ground game to rip Miami 41-17
By FRED GOODALL
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't wasting time wondering what might have been had they played better at times this season.
The teams meet Sunday, with the Lions (6-6) focused on trying to break a two-game losing streak that has dampened their playoff hopes, and the Bucs (4-8) also desperately needing a win to begin feeling better about themselves.
With four games remaining, neither team is looking to the future. It's all about salvaging what's left of mostly disappointing seasons undermined by inconsistency.
"You guys are talking as if it's all is lost and that kind of thing," Lions coach Jim Caldwell told the media early in the week.
"That's the great thing about our game, it's going to challenge you. It's going to be tough. It's not going to be an easy road," Caldwell added. "And it's either going to polish you up or grind you down, and it's our job to make certain that we get polished up. We've got a lot of work to do, but that's all part of what we do."
Detroit's chances of remaining in contention will depend heavily on whether Matthew Stafford's injured throwing hand heals enough to allow the quarterback to play and throw the ball effectively against the Bucs' porous secondary.
Stafford's right hand was stepped on during last week's 44-20 loss at Baltimore, and the ninth-year pro was limited in practice this week.
"I would never question his toughness," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "I'm sure if there's any way possible that he'll be out there."
The Lions, who'll face Chicago, Cincinnati and Green Bay after playing Tampa Bay, likely will have to win out to earn a playoff berth.
The Bucs, who began the season with heightened expectations after going 9-7 a year ago, need four more wins to avoid finishing with a losing record.
It won't be easy concluding against Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, which are all in playoff contention.
"Obviously, this year hasn't turned out how we wanted it to turn out, but we can definitely finish strong," Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said.
"Everyone dislikes losing. But what can we do now about it? That's all we can do," the third-year pro added. "We've got to focus on this game. We've got to start with Detroit."
Some things to know about the Lions and Bucs:
Stafford is second in the NFL with 3,302 yards passing - and he's been outstanding in his past three road games, averaging 312.3 yards per game with five touchdowns and one interception. His backups are second-year pro Jake Rudock and rookie Brad Kaaya, who is on the practice squad.
Rudock replaced Stafford last week against the Ravens, completing his first three throws before throwing an incomplete pass and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The Bucs expect to face Stafford.
"He is a tough dude. He has gotten rocked a few times this season and he just keeps getting up," Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "That is why we are anticipating - I am not sure what his status is going to be, it's questionable - but we are preparing like he is going to go."
Winston returned a week ago after missing three games with a sprained throwing shoulder. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft threw for 270 yards, two TDs and no interceptions but also had a fumble returned for a score in Tampa Bay's 26-20 overtime loss at Green Bay.
He said he's just happy to be back on the field, eager to help the team end the season on a positive note.
"It's not really about me. Obviously, I've got to do my job and me taking care of the football is part of me doing my job, but it's really about just this whole locker room (and) everybody just coming together and finishing strong," Winston said. "I think that's huge ... coming back into next season with confidence, with fire. ... That's what we want to do."
Detroit struggles to run the ball and protect the passer, though there's little to suggest that'll mean much against Tampa Bay's beleaguered defense, which has done a poor job of exploiting the shortcomings of opponents.
The Lions are next-to-last in the league in rushing offense, averaging 78.3 yards per game. They've allowed 39 sacks, tied for 28th in the league.
Tampa Bay's defense is last in sacks with 17 and 31st in total defense, yielding 118.3 yards per game on the ground and 267.3 yards through the air.
"It's a new Sunday and we haven't stopped the run," Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "They are going to try it. We just can't allow them to do it. How many times he's been sacked (doesn't) matter either because we don't have many sacks."
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Updated December 7, 2017