Bucs Sink Pack's Opportunity

TAMPA, Fla. – Good news: Green Bay is still on top of the NFC's Central Division. Bad news: The Packers blew a golden opportunity to take a sizeable lead in the standings. And they have nobody but themselves to blame.

Despite another stellar performance by their defense, the Packers stumbled against the Buccaneers for the fourth straight time at Raymond James Stadium. Brett Favre's three interceptions didn't help. Penalties hurt the Packers, too. But some on the team feel it boiled down to mental toughness in their 14-10 loss to the Buccaneers Sunday.

"As a whole, everybody wasn't ready as a football team," said cornerback Tyrone Williams. "I think each guy has to look at himself in the mirror. They got to look at themselves in the mirror and see what's going on. I've got to look at myself, everybody.

"We've got a lot of potential, a lot of upside. I'm sick of hearing everybody just talking about it. When you come down here, you expect to win. You expect to play. You can't play good at home and go on the road and choke up. Can't do it."

The Packers (3-1) maintain a slight edge over the Buccaneers (2-1) and Chicago Bears (2-1) in the division standings, but it could have been a much bigger lead. Green Bay had Tampa Bay on the ropes for most of the afternoon as the hometown fans often booed the Bucs' pop-gun offense in the second half of their home opener.

But Tampa Bay snapped Green Bay's seven-game winning streak by driving a team record 95 yards for the winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Fullback Mike Alstott, taking the bulk of the carries for the injured Warrick Dunn, broke loose for a 39-yard run with 6:45 remaining to put the Buccaneers ahead 14-10.

It was Tampa Bay's only touchdown on offense in the game, and only the second of the season scored against Green Bay's top-ranked defense. The Bucs got their first when linebacker Shelton Quarles returned a Favre pass 98 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

In between, Green Bay shut down Tampa Bay, but wilted to the Bucs in the humid conditions by the end of the game.

Green Bay finished with 322 yards of total offense to Tampa Bay's 253. But Green Bay finished with three turnovers while Tampa Bay had one.

"We put a lot into this game, an awful lot into this game and looked forward to it," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "Believe it or not, you can get better as a football team even in a situation like this when you look at the mistakes you've made. I believe our guys never gave up hope that we were going to win the game. It came all the way down to the last play of the game. I'm sure that they were sitting on the edge of their seat as well wondering what was going to happen. They made a play at the end. We didn't, and they win. I'm going to take my hat off to Tampa Bay. They did a good job."

Still, the Packers had an opportunity to win the game on the last play. Favre, who passed for 258 yards, completed seven of eight passes as the Packers moved from their own 16 to Tampa Bay's 8 with 35 seconds remaining in the game. Tight end Bubba Franks was penalized for a false start, moving Green Bay back to the 13, and Favre was sacked on the next play by Anthony McFarland on the 18.

Favre threw incomplete on third down to the corner of the end zone toward wide receiver Corey Bradford on the next play with eight seconds left. With one play left, the Packers called a rollout play that they often practice.

"It's not exactly a Hail Mary, but sometimes a 10-yard pass is a Hail Mary in a situation like that," Favre said. "But throw it up and give your guys a chance. That's basically what it was." Favre rolled to his right and winged it in the direction of wide receiver Donald Driver, but safety John Lynch batted it down and the Packers lost again at Raymond James Stadium in front of 65,510 fans.

Alstott bulled his way around for 77 yards on 15 carries. Quarterback Brad Johnson completed 23 of 29 passes for 184 yards, but was sacked five times by Green Bay's defense, including three by pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Gbaja-Biamila raised his sack total to a league-high nine and the Packers have 20 as a team.

The two teams meet again Nov. 4 in Green Bay. Thanks to Green Bay's defense, the Packers entered halftime tied 7-7 with the Bucs. Green Bay outgained the Bucs in total yards 177 to 106 in the first two quarters, but the Bucs turned one of Favre's two interceptions into touchdowns and an early 7-0 lead.

Wide receiver Bill Schroeder and Favre combined for Green Bay's longest passing touchdown of the season – 67 yards – as the Packers tied the game, 7-7. On third and 10 from their own 33, Favre spotted Schroeder wide open along the right sideline. Schroeder caught the ball at the Bucs' 40, side-stepped safety Eric Vance at the 37 and ran untouched for his fourth touchdown of the season. Schroeder finished with four catches for 119 yards. Running back Ahman Green had seven catches for 65 yards. Green, the league's top rusher entering the game, finished with 59 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Quarles made the most of his second opportunity to pick off one of Favre's passes byintercepting Favre at the Bucs' 2 yard line and returning it 98 yards to give the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.

The Packers drove 74 yards and moved to the Bucs' 6 on Favre's 24-yard completion to tight end David Martin. Earlier in the drive Favre threw a pass in front of fullback William Henderson that hit Quarles right in the numbers, but Quarles didn't see the pass as he was about to tackle Henderson.

Quarles got his first interception of the season by stepping in front of the intended receiver, tight end Bubba Franks, at the 2 and returning it for the longest scoring play in Buccaneers history.

"It is a play they (Green Bay) run in practice and I ran across and made the play," said Quarles. "The last second I saw the ball and I just wanted to make contact so he couldn't get to it."

Said Favre, "I felt if I threw the ball out far enough in front of (Franks) ... I saw the guy covering him. The guy made a good play coming underneath Bubba. I don't think I threw the ball far enough. It was just a misjudgment on my part, a terrible misjudgment when you look at the result. Their guy made a good play, but I'm better than that, especially on that particular play."

The Buccaneers controlled the ball for 10:21 of the first quarter, but Green Bay's defense forced Tampa Bay to punt on their only two drives of the quarter.

Green Bay took a 10-7 lead on Ryan Longwell's 35-yard field goal with 4:20 left in the third quarter. Gbaja-Biamila sacked Johnson and forced him to fumble, and defensive end John Thierry recovered the ball at Tampa Bay's 22 to set up the field goal.

The Packers finished with four penalties for 26 yards. Tampa Bay was penalized seven times for 60 yards.

Packer Report Top Stories