DETROIT — Tampa Bay is turning around its season, relying on a cool and calm rookie quarterback and an opportunistic defense.
Mike Glennon played almost mistake-free football and Matthew Stafford’s fourth interception went in and out of Calvin Johnson’s hands inside the Buccaneers 5 in the final minute, allowing Tampa Bay to hold on for a 24-21 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Bucs rookie Johnthan Banks made the critical pick toward the end of the game.
Tampa Bay (3-8) has won three straight after losing its first eight, joining the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals as the only NFL team to do that.
“Wow — that’s history,” Bucs rookie tight end Tim Wright said after making a season-high eight receptions for 75 yards.
Tampa Bay took advantage of Detroit’s five turnovers, including Kris Durham’s fumble in the fourth period, in a game with six lead changes and no more than a four-point lead for either team.
“One of the more gutsy performances I’ve seen,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
The Lions (6-5) have lost two straight for the first time this season. They missed out on a chance to break a first-place tie in the NFC North with Chicago.
“As disappointing as this was, it doesn’t eliminate us from anything,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “It just raises the urgency level for the next five games.”
Detroit hosts the Green Bay Packers, who trail the Lions and Bears by a half-game in the division, in its annual Thanksgiving Day game.
“We can’t let this stay in our system too long,” said Nate Burleson, who had seven receptions for 77 yards and a score in his first game since breaking his left arm in a one-car crash two months ago.
The Bucs have refused to let losses and off-the-field distractions from the first half of the season linger. They dealt with the benching and release of quarterback Josh Freeman and a MRSA infections outbreak.
Tampa Bay had been relying on a running game lately, but couldn’t against a defense that is stingy on the ground. Bobby Rainey was held to 35 yards on 15 carries after he had 163 yards rushing and scored three times last week against Atlanta.
Glennon, a third-round pick from North Carolina State, also didn’t have go-to receiver Vincent Jackson open very often. But he didn’t force the ball to Jackson or anyone else.
He was 14 of 21 for 247 yards and threw two touchdowns to Tiquan Underwood, whose second score was an 85-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. Glennon had a season-high 138.4 quarterback rating.
“He’s very calm in the huddle, no matter what the situation is in the game,” Wright said.
Stafford was 26 of 46 for 297 yards with three TDs. He connected with Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria for scores that couldn’t overcome his interceptions.
“I can’t make bad decisions, and I had a couple of those and a couple bad breaks,” Stafford said.
The last interception was not Stafford’s fault because Johnson had the ball briefly before Kelcie McCray jarred it loose and Banks caught it out of the air.
“He got a good hit on me,” Johnson acknowledged.
Stafford also was picked off when Pettigrew ducked when a pass came his way and Leonard Johnson returned it 48 yards for a go-ahead score late in the first half. Stafford’s first interception in Tampa Bay territory caromed off Burleson.
The fifth-year QB had no one to blame for floating a pass into the middle of the end zone toward Johnson because safety Keith Tandy easily intercepted it in the third quarter.
“The way it came right to me, I guess he didn’t see me,” Tandy said.
Johnson had seven receptions for 115 yards, but he and the Lions didn’t take advantage of the Bucs playing the second half without cornerback Darrelle Revis. Reggie Bush had 100 yards of offense for the Lions.
Tampa Bay started the game without two key players in the middle of its defense, suspended safety Dashon Goldson and injured middle linebacker Mason Foster, and lost one on the outside during the game. Revis, who did a relatively good job against Johnson, holding him to four receptions for 61 yards in the first half, didn’t play after halftime because of a groin injury.
“Our guys did a great job against him after I left,” Revis said.
NOTES: Lions CB Chris Houston left the game with an injured foot after Underwood ran past him on the long TD in the fourth quarter. … Tampa Bay, which won its first road game, plays next week at Carolina. … Johnson set a league record with 861 yards receiving over five games, surpassing the 822 yards Charley Hennigan had in a five-game span for Houston in 1961.