Lions’ Victory Gives Fontes Room to Breathe

From Associated Press

This time the owner was smiling. That means Wayne Fontes has another week of job security.

Tampa Bay rolled up 411 yards on offense and controlled the clock. But the Lions’ defense came up with four turnovers and Detroit hung on for a 27-24 victory Sunday.

“Even though we lost, I’m still happy for my friend Wayne,” Tampa Bay Coach Sam Wyche said. “It’s impressive that he had his team that ready with all the pressure he is under.”

After the Lions took a 34-22 pounding last week in Atlanta, owner William Clay Ford issued an ultimatum: Make the playoffs or Fontes may lose his job as Detroit’s coach.


That means the Lions (4-6) will almost have to win their remaining six games.

It was the 56th victory for Fontes, enabling him to pass George Wilson as Detroit’s winningest coach.

“We still have a lot of games left to play,” Ford said in the Lions’ dressing room. “But winning makes everyone feel a lot more comfortable.”

An 18-yard field goal by Jason Hanson, his second of the day, gave the Lions a 20-17 lead at the 1:48 mark of the fourth quarter. That kick came seven plays after Mike Johnson recovered a fumble by Trent Dilfer at the 34-yard line of Tampa Bay (5-5).

On their next possession, the Lions mounted a 95-yard, nine-play drive in which Scott Mitchell completed four of five passes for 75 yards. The key was a diving catch by Brett Perriman for a 37-yard gain to the Tampa Bay one on third and four.

“At the University of Miami, I used to make those catches all the time, because it was a grass field,” Perriman said. “Here, it’s [artificial] turf and I try not to go diving around like that all the time.”

Mitchell, who completed 21 of 34 for 260 yards and one touchdown, plowed over for the touchdown with 5:21 left in the quarter.

“The catch Brett made, that was the play of the game, really,” Mitchell said. “That was a big-time play. That’s what we need if we’re going to go anywhere this year.”

It turned out to be a crucial score. Tampa Bay’s Curtis Buckley blocked a punt by Mark Royals, giving the Buccaneers the ball at the Lions’ 19 with 1:39 left.

Three plays later, Jerry Ellison scored on a one-yard run, cutting the gap to three points.

The Buccaneers tried an on-side kick, but Herman Moore fell on the ball for Detroit and the Lions ran out the clock, sending Tampa Bay to its third consecutive loss.