The Packers (9-0), not surprisingly, are playing the role of the Hare. The NFL's only undefeated team has been firing out of the starting gates as if propelled by rockets. Not only do they lead the league in scoring with 320 points, they're also atop the charts with 87 first-quarter points and 168 first-half points. Plus, on game-opening drives, the Packers have scored five touchdowns and a field goal for 38 points.
The Buccaneers (4-5) are playing the role of the Tortoise. To say their offense has started slow this season would be an understatement. They've been outscored 53-21 in the first quarter this season, including 23-2 in the last three games. Their offense hasn't put points on the board in the opening period since the Oct. 16 victory against New Orleans, when a "drive" of four plays and 3 yards turned into a field goal. The Buccaneers' only touchdown in the first quarter came in Week 1, on a pick-six by Aqib Talib against Detroit.
That means the offense's entire first-quarter output consists of four field goals.
You want more? OK, you've got more. On nine opening possessions, the Buccaneers' offense has punted eight times. In the season-opening game against Detroit, a 78-yard kickoff return set up a scoring "drive" of four plays and 1 yard. They've gotten four first downs out of their nine game-opening possessions — never more than one.
While Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris chose to focus on his team's strong finishes to games — the Bucs have outscored their opponents 60-47 in the fourth quarter, including winning touchdowns in the final period against Minnesota and Indianapolis — the frustration was evident in quarterback Josh Freeman's voice during his conference call.
"Really this year it's been penalties," he said. "The first quarter, it's been outrageous the amount of penalties we've had, whether it's been holding or this past week we had a facemask by a wide receiver going up for a fade ball. Penalties have really set us back early on in games."
Part of that is age. Through Week 10, the Buccaneers have the youngest roster in the NFL, with an average age of 25 years, 293 days. Of their 53-man roster, 20 players are rookies, first-year or second-year players. Nor is there a ton of star power. A whopping 16 players on their active roster entered the league as undrafted free agents. Of the 15 players selected in the first three rounds of the last five drafts, 10 were used on defense and five on offense. To underline that last fact, since Morris took over as coach in 2009, only two top-three picks were used on offensive players: first-round pick Freeman in 2009 and starting receiver Arrelious Benn in the second round in 2010.
"We're not a team full of all-stars," Freeman said. "We don't really have any. We're really young, and we cant ever get the sense of arrival, that we've made it."
The Buccaneers will be facing a defense that's allowed four first-drive touchdowns. Last week's three-and-out against Minnesota was its first since the Week 4 game against Denver and snapped a short streak of two consecutive games of having allowed a touchdown to start the game.
"It was huge, man," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "That's one of our goals is to always start fast. The last couple games, we hadn't been able to do that. Last game, we came out with a good mind-set and made some plays."
And with the offense humming, some quick stops by the defense can turn a game into a blowout in a hurry. Last week's victory over Minnesota, in which the Packers led 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game, marked their 15th consecutive victory. Not once have the Packers trailed in the fourth quarter — a league record — and they've only been tied in the fourth quarter for about two-and-a-half minutes of the Week 17 game against Chicago.
"We just want to get points on the board as quick as possible," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "We want to score every possession. If we can get a lead similar to what we did against Minnesota, that allows the defense to be aggressive and go get the ball. That's what they do best: attack the ball, attack the quarterback. If we get the lead, that puts their team in a bad situation."
Of course, in Aesop's fable, the Tortoise beat the Hare. And, of course, the 0-7 Buccaneers beat the 4-3 Packers 38-28 in a Week 9 game in 2009.
Don't expect a repeat. While the Buccaneers are going through some growing pains, the Packers are a mature bunch.
"The expectation now is to bury your opponent when you know you should," receiver Greg Jennings said. "That's our mind-set going into this game and any game. We feel like we're a better team. It's not about what's on paper. It's about what you're going to put out on the field."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.