Tampa Bay scored 10 consecutive points to pull within 14-10 with 3:52 left in the first half when Bucs coach Raheem Morris called for an onside kick. The Bucs recovered, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy won a replay challenge when it was determined kicker Connor Barth touched the ball before it travelled 10 yards.
Set up just 38 points from the end zone, Aaron Rodgers quickly put the Packers back in command, with a 30-yard completion to tight end Jermichael Finley setting up a 5-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson that made it 21-10 just before halftime.
With that, and with a clutch fourth-quarter touchdown drive, the Packers were on their way to 10-0 with a 35-26 victory.
With that, the Packers head to Detroit (7-3) to face the Lions on Thanksgiving.
Green Bay's high-powered offense took a 14-0 lead in unexpected fashion.
The Packers' first possession resulted in a punt attempt, but when Jacob Cutrera stormed in untouched, punter Tim Masthay took off running. Masthay droped the ball twice but still gained the first down. Finally, on the 15th play of the drive, defensive lineman B.J. Raji entered the game at fullback and took the handoff from Rodgers for a 1-yard touchdown.
"We have never run that play before," said Raji, who was a lead-blocking fullback on John Kuhn's touchdown run in the playoff win at Atlanta. "It's the first drive of the game, so a team's not thinking they're going to give it to a nose tackle to run the ball. I can understand why it would take them by surprise."
Moments later, it was 14-0. Completions of 26 yards to Nelson and 17 yards to James Starks set up a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Tom Crabtree. Crabtree, normally used as a blocker, had caught two passes all season, and the second-year player's only other touchdown came in the wild-card win at Philadelphia in January.
The Buccaneers got back in the game when LaGarrette Blount regained his punishing form from last season. As an undrafted rookie last year, Blount led the NFL in broken tackles even though he didn't play in the first two games. On his 54-yard touchdown run, eight Packers defenders had a chance to bring him down, and he barreled through Desmond Bishop, Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields and A.J. Hawk within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, then pulled away from Erik Walden near the goal line.
After the Packers punted on the ensuing possession, Blount broke a couple more tackles on a 15-yard run that helped set up a short field goal by Barth that brought the Bucs within 14-10.
With Rodgers not nearly as sharp as he had been all season – and the last three weeks, in particular, when he had completed almost 80 percent of his passes with passer ratings of 140-plus in each game – the Buccaneers' defense made it a competitive game.
The Bucs had a touchdown taken off the board with their first possession of the third quarter when Kellen Winslow was flagged for a questionable pass interference penalty on his 4-yard touchdowns catch against Tramon Williams. Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal that made it 21-13 with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
After the Tampa Bay defense forced another punt, the Bucs' offense put together a 91-yard touchdown drive, with Josh Freeman's 9-yard scoring strike to Mike Williams coming on third-and-4. But the two-point conversion failed when Winslow dropped the ball in the end zone after beating linebacker Desmond Bishop. That kept the score 21-19 with 13:07 remaining.
Green Bay hadn't needed many clutch drives this season but got one on the ensuing possession. Starks' four runs and two receptions accounted for 60 yards, and three defensive penalties gave the Packers first downs, including pass interference on Donald Driver that made it first-and-goal at the 2. Kuhn finished the drive by getting a block from Scott Wells and plowing through a linebacker.
Rodgers' first interception since the St. Louis game let Tampa Bay back in the game, but Kuhn recovered a surprising onside kick. On third-and-4 from the Bucs' 40, Rodgers went deep to Nelson, whose stutter-step created separation against Myron Lewis for a 40-yard touchdown that made it a comfortable 35-26 with 2:55 remaining.
Rodgers finished with 299 yards and three touchdowns, extending his team record with at least two scoring tosses to 10 games.
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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.