NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Nate Burleson caught a touchdown pass in his first game back from an arm injury, then held the ball aloft like it was a freshly made pizza.
“I buckled my seatbelt first,” the Detroit receiver said.
The quirky celebration was classic Burleson — and his return after missing two months following a car crash was one of the few bright spots in the Lions’ 24-21 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Burleson broke his left arm in the one-car accident in late September, saying he was distracted by pizza boxes sliding off the front passenger seat before his car hit a wall.
So after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Buccaneers, Burleson pretended he was delivering a pizza in the end zone.
The Lions hope Burleson can provide more than just laughs as the season draws to a close and he looks ready to contribute. The 32-year-old receiver caught seven passes for 77 yards Sunday, giving Detroit some much-needed receiving depth for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Afterward, Burleson seemed no worse for wear.
“I came out of the game OK. I was good,” Burleson said Tuesday. “My arm held up. It was more just soreness from getting hit. I felt like I was in an accident all over again. It felt good, though, actually.”
Burleson has 26 catches in the four games he’s played this season, enabling the Lions to rely a bit less on star receiver Calvin Johnson. Detroit still lost after turning the ball over five times, but the Lions will be back on track if they can beat Green Bay on Thursday.
The annual Thanksgiving showcase hasn’t been pleasant for Detroit lately. The Lions have lost nine straight times on the holiday.
Detroit (6-5) is tied for first in the NFC North with Chicago, and Green Bay (5-5-1) is right behind. When the Lions lost to the Packers 22-9 on Oct. 6, a banged-up Johnson didn’t play.
Johnson’s knee has been troublesome this year, and he didn’t practice Tuesday, but it still looks like he and Burleson will both be on the field Thursday.
“We’ve got chemistry there,” Johnson said. “It’s great to have Nate back again. I know Matt’s happy to have him back.”
Aside from Johnson, Detroit’s leaders in receptions this season are running back Reggie Bush and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, so there’s a void at wide receiver waiting to be filled by Burleson, now that he’s back.
There’s also no real excuse if the passing game doesn’t start to click. Detroit had a hard time getting the ball to Johnson late in its last two games — and Stafford was intercepted four times by the Bucs.
But with Burleson back, the Lions seem awfully healthy — especially compared to a Green Bay team that has been without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I’m really confident in the fact that once we play our game, there’s no other team in the NFL that can play with us,” Burleson said. “We walk on any field, anywhere and know that we have a great chance of winning. I’ve been in the league 11 years, and I couldn’t say that every year. I could say we had a good team, but there were always teams that might have been better at certain things.
“If we piece it together, and everybody’s healthy on this team, we can go out there and not just compete with anybody, but I think we can beat anybody.”
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