Leading The Pack

November 24 - The Buccaneers picked off quarterback Brett Favre four times to beat Green Bay. Tampa Bay also picked the Packers off the top of the NFC and have the best record in the NFL at 9-2.

TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers extended their NFC South division lead to two games with a hard fought 21-7 win over the visiting Green Bay Packers.

The Pewter Pirates spotted the Cheeseheads an early 7-0 lead and then ran off 21 unanswered with 18 of them coming in the final 30 minutes of play.

The victory gives the Buccaneers the best record in the National Football League at 9-2, and dropped the NFC North division-leading Packers to 8-3.

The game was all about pilfers and the Bucs defense came up with four big second half interceptions. Two of the four picks, one by cornerback Brian Kelly in the third quarter and another by free safety Dexter Jackson in the final period, led to 15 points that put the Bucs in the lead for good after trailing 7-3 at halftime.

The two other interceptions, a third quarter grab by cornerback Ronde Barber at the Bucs 21-yard line and a fourth quarter snag by Kelly at the Pewter Pirates' 4-yard line, stopped Green Bay drives that progressed deep into Bucs territory without giving up any points.

After the Packers were only able to generate two first downs on their opening series, the Bucs began at their own 20-yard line after Green Bay punter. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Brad Johnson was poked in the right eye by Packers defensive end Vonnie Holliday while throwing an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell.

After the next play, a 19-yard jaunt around the left end by running back Michael Pittman, Johnson was forced to the sidelines with blurred vision and was replaced by backup signal caller Rob Johnson as Brad went to the locker room for medical attention. Rob Johnson moved the team to a first down, but on second-and-10 from the Green Bay 33, his pass to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was deflected into the waiting arms of linebacker Na¹il Diggs at the Packers' 26-yard line.

Diggs took the ball back 29 yards to the Buccaneers 30-yard line until he was corralled by guard Kerry Jenkins at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. An unnecessary roughness penalty moved the football down to the Bucs' 30-yard line.

The Pack made the Buccaneers pay for the turnover as they went the final 30 yards in six plays to draw first blood at 5:44 of the opening period. A 4-yard pass from quarterback Brett Favre to wide receiver Donald Driver over the outstretched arms of Kelly on a slant fade route in the back left corner of the end zone put the Pack on the board on a drive that culminated 2:57 off the clock. The successful conversion by kicker Ryan Longwell put the Packers up 7-0.

After Rob Johnson suffered through two sacks and a couple of fruitless series, Brad Johnson returned under center at 10:04 of the second quarter on the Bucs' second drive of the quarter, but Tampa Bay didn't reap the benefits of that until right before halftime.

The Buccaneers forced the Packers to punt and Josh Bidwell drilled a 50-yarder that wide receiver Karl Williams brought back 17 yards to the Tampa Bay 41-yard line. With only 23 ticks on the clock before halftime and only one timeout, Johnson the quarterback hit Johnson the receiver on a quick skinny post. The Bucs' Pro Bowl receiver eluded the tackle of reserve safety Matt Bowen and scampered 39 down to the Packers 20-yard line before being tackled by Diggs.

After an incomplete pass into the end zone kicker Martin Gramatica hit his first of two field goals from 38 yards out. The three play drive took 23 seconds to traverse 39 yards and cut the Packers lead to 7-3 as time expired in the first half.

The second half belonged to the Buccaneers, who cut the lead to 7-6 at 7:33 of the third quarter. After forcing a three-and-out by the Packers on their first possession of the second half, Tampa Bay put together a seven-play drive that went 27 yards and ate up 2:57 of clock time. Gramatica's second field goal of the game, this one from 51 yards out, split the uprights and the Bucs were within two points of taking the lead.

The fans had hardly settled back into their seats when the interception feast began. On the first play from scrimmage on the next Packers drive, Favre tried to hit wide receiver Terry Glenn on a play-action streak down the right hash mark, but the Tampa Bay defense was not fooled by the fake to running back Ahman Green. Kelly stepped in front of the ball at the Green Bay 49-yard line and returned it to the Pack 18-yard line.

It only took the Bucs four plays and 2:13 to cover those 18 yards, but the final four were very eventful. Johnson hit wide receiver Joe Jurevicius with a quick out in the left front of the end zone that was initially ruled out of bounds. Head coach Jon Gruden challenged the ruling on the field and referee Johnny Grier overturned the call and awarded Tampa Bay a touchdown. The two-point conversion was successful when Johnson and Johnson hooked up in the end zone giving the Buccaneers their first lead of the game at 14-7.

The Bucs receiving corps had a bad case of the drops today. Johnson, Jurevicius, McCardell, tight end Ken Dilger and backup tight end Rickey Dudley all had balls that could have been caught but ended up on the turf. Yet the Bucs overcame these gaffes by making enough plays on offense to win.

The Packers made a strong bid to answer that score with one of their own on their next possession. Green Bay moved to the Bucs 21-yard line but the drive was stopped when Barber stepped in front of a quick slant from Favre to wide receiver Terry Glenn.

The Buccaneers capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown play-action pass from Johnson to tight end Ken Dilger with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. A fake pitch to running back Aaron Stecker going left sucked the entire Packers defense in that direction and Johnson made an easy flip to a wide open Dilger just over the goal line near the pylon.

The touchdown was set up by a 58-yard interception return by Jackson down to the Packers 5-yard line with an unnecessary roughness penalty tacked on that moved the ball to the 2.

Any hopes of a patented Favre-led Packers comeback went up in smoke with Kelly's second interception of the game. The Bucs' fourth pick came at their own 4-yard line with 3:06 left in the contest and ended the Packers last grasp at victory.

But the fireworks didn't end with the final gun. Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman got into a verbal, profanity-laced shouting match after the game. Sherman approached Sapp after he felt that the Bucs' Pro Bowl defensive tackle had taken a cheap shot on Green Bay offensive tackle Chad Clifton after Kelly's first interception. Clifton was knocked out of the game with a concussion and a hip injury after a blindside hit by Sapp, and had to be carried off the field on a backboard.

Sapp took exception to Sherman's comments, shouting "(Expletive) you!" and responded by pushing Mike Cygan, a member of the Packer security personnel who was trying to separate Sapp and Sherman.

"If you think you are so tough, why don't you put on a uniform?" Sapp said to Cygan and/or Sherman.

"He's a lying (expletive)-eating hound," Sapp said of Sherman after the game. "If I was 25 years old and didn't have a kid and a conscience, I would have given him an ass-kicking right there at the 30-yard line."

Sapp didn't deny that he was hunting Clifton after Kelly's interception.

"Yeah, I was a heat-seeking missile," Sapp said.

Sapp and Co. have a chance to separate themselves from the Pack and the rest of the NFC by beating NFC South rival New Orleans in a revenge game next Sunday night at the Superdome on ESPN.

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