The Detroit Lions took advantage of both uncharacteristic miscues with touchdowns to beat their former quarterback and another NFC team with a winning record.
Calvin Johnson scored on a 32-yard run midway through the fourth quarter after Garcia's second fumble, and the spectacular play proved to be the difference in a 23-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
"We were our own worst enemy at crucial times," said Garcia, who hadn't turned the ball over in his first six games with the Bucs. "That's disappointing because in a game like this, it definitely came back to haunt us."
The Lions used to hurt their chances with untimely mistakes, but seem to be turning things around in Rod Marinelli's second year as coach and Matt Millen's seventh season as an executive.
Detroit (4-2) pulled within a game of idle Green Bay in the NFC North, improving to 3-0 at home and surpassing last season's win total.
"We have the pieces to win," said quarterback Jon Kitna, who said he would be disappointed if the Lions didn't win at least 10 games. "We just had to put it altogether."
Against the Bucs, the Lions did.
Detroit ran the ball effectively and threw it efficiently. A bend-but-don't-break defense worked well. Jason Hanson rounded out the all-around performance by making all three of his field goals.
The players passed the credit to Marinelli, giving him the game ball after he led them to a win against the team he spent a decade with as an assistant.
"He was quiet," said defensive end Dewayne White, a former Buc, who handed the game ball to Marinelli. "He accepted it, and said 'Thank you.' "
Marinelli downplayed his emotions about playing the Bucs, who gave him his first NFL job in 1996.
"Honestly, my only focus is getting the franchise turned around," he said. "That's what I'm locked in on."
Tampa Bay (4-3) lost a chance to move past idle Carolina in the NFC South, drawing the ire of Ike Hilliard.
"There's not a team that's established itself as the team to beat in the NFC," Hilliard said. "We dropped the ball on this one."
In fact, Garcia dropped two.
Garcia, who played in Detroit for one forgettable season two years ago, botched a handoff in Detroit territory in the first quarter. He also mishandled a snap on a first-and-goal when the Bucs were a yard away from pulling within two points early in the fourth.
"Those were two critical errors on my behalf that hurt," Garcia said.
Capping a 93-yard drive, Johnson broke a few tackles on an end-around to give the Lions a 23-7 lead with 6:28 left.
"That's why he was drafted No. 2 overall," Kitna said. "He stiff-armed one of the best linebackers in the league (Cato June); made another guy (Tanard Jackson) miss; and then dragged one of the NFL's leading tacklers (Barrett Ruud) into the end zone."
But the Bucs hung around.
Garcia connected with Maurice Stovall on a 4-yard pass, then after the 2-point conversion failed, Tampa Bay got the ball back on a unique onside kick. The Bucs bunched up near the hash marks and Matt Bryant's low kick ricocheted off Jared DeVries, and Torrie Cox recovered it.
Bryant's 48-yard kick with 1:04 to go pulled Tampa Bay within seven, but its rally ended when Casey FitzSimmons recovered an onside kick.
"I'm proud of the team with the way they competed until the end of the game," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
Garcia finished 37-of-45 for a season-high 316 yards with two TDs and kept his streak alive without an interception, dating to last season when he was playing for Philadelphia.
Kevin Jones, getting his first start of the season, ran for 76 yards and a TD after Garcia's first fumble.
Kitna was 16-of-20 for 147 yards without a score or a turnover. His chances to make plays were limited by Tampa Bay's methodical offense.
Garcia completed 18 straight passes in the first half, setting a franchise record for consecutive completions in a game, and running back Earnest Graham had career highs with 99 yards receiving and 92 yards rushing.
Garcia has thrown 270 passes without an interception, including attempts in the postseason last season for the Eagles, for the longest active streak.
Overturned calls helped both QBs in the first quarter, negating fumbles, including Kitna's that was returned for a score.
The last time the Lions started 4-2 was 2004, when they finished with six wins -- the most since Millen took control of the franchise.
Garcia broke Steve DeBerg's franchise record for consecutive completions in a game, and tied the mark Brad Johnson set spanning two games.
Bucs KR/PR Mark Jones left in the first quarter with a knee injury.
Garcia had his right hand wrapped after the game, but said it was fine.
Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton (ankle) was injured.
The Associated Press News Service
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