By LARRY LAGE
DETROIT (AP) — Tom Brady was so dominant in Detroit that he could’ve left Ford Field at halftime to get his favorite chicken wings near the University of Michigan’s campus and still made it back to fly to Florida with his team.
Brady threw four touchdown passes in the only half he needed to play and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on to rout the Lions 47-7 Saturday, sealing a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“When we do play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re pretty tough to beat,” Brady said.
The Bucs (10-5) set a franchise record with 588 yards and snapped the NFL’s second-longest postseason drought behind Cleveland’s 18-year run that can end Sunday.
“We’ve been scratching and clawing every single year to make the tournament,” said receiver Mike Evans, who was drafted by Tampa Bay six years ago. “It’s been a journey and we’re happy that we finally accomplished it.”
Tampa Bay rested Brady ahead 34-0, its largest halftime lead in franchise history.
Brady was 22 of 27 for 348 yards with a mix of passes deep down the field and darts in traffic. The six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback threw touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski, Evans, Chris Godwin, who made a one-handed catch, and Antonio Brown from 33, 27, 7 and 12 yards.
“When we can keep Tom standing, he’s going to deliver for us,” coach Bruce Arians said.
The 43-year-old Brady, who split time with Drew Henson in college, started his 298th game to tie Brett Favre’s record for an NFL quarterback and played in his 300th game.
The Lions (5-10) started the game without interim coach Darrell Bevell along with assistants on the defensive staff because of COVID-19 contact tracing. And they played much of the game without quarterback Matthew Stafford. He was questionable to play with hip and thumb injuries and then hurt his right ankle on the opening drive and did not return.
Chase Daniel struggled to move the ball much for the Lions, who avoided getting shut out for the second time this season when Jamal Agnew returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Daniel was replaced in the fourth by David Blough, an undrafted rookie last year.
“It’s obviously tough when you’ve got a lot of coaches shifting around, but those guys did a great job of getting us ready,” Blough said. “No one feels sorry for us.”
Tampa Bay’s Blaine Gabbert threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski on his first snap, one play after Detroit running back D’Andre Swift fumbled, and a 22-yard pass to Evans later in the third quarter.
Brady has thrown a franchise-record 36 touchdowns and set a personal record with 348 yards passing by halftime. Brady and Gabbert combined to throw a Bucs-record six touchdowns. Tampa Bay set team records in points (34) and yards (410) in the first half. Evans, who had 10 catches for 181 yards, scored twice to set a team record with 13 receiving touchdowns.
The Bucs were outscored 59-7 in the opening quarter of their previous six games. It looked as if they might start slow again when Brady was sacked on third down of the opening drive. Detroit, though, negated the play by being offside.
“There’s no doubt, their discipline or lack of, helped us tremendously,” Arians acknowledged. “I love what our guys did with that opportunity and went right down to score.”
After defensive end Everson Griffen was offside, Brady converted the ensuing third down with a short throw. He later went downfield to connect with Evans on a 33-yard throw and to perfectly loft a 33-yard touchdown pass over a defender and into Gronkowski’s hands.
Detroit wide receiver coach Robert Prince made his first big decision as head coach for the day on the ensuing drive when he had the offense with a fourth-and-1 at midfield. Alas, offensive tackle Taylor Decker was flagged for a false start and the Lions punted.
“I’ve been involved in at least one loss like this,” Prince said. “You can’t blame the defense for all of this. The offense has to stay on the field. If they can’t do that, it is going to wear the defense out.”
Bucs: S Mike Edwards hurt his hip during the game and didn’t return.. CB Carlton Davis was inactive with a groin injury.
Lions: Stafford left the game with an ankle injury after he was 2 of 3 for 17 yards on his only possession and was not available for comment after the game.
Bucs host on Atlanta on Jan. 3.
Lions host Minnesota on Jan. 3.
Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage