The Buccaneers got it on first and 10 in the middle of the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott ran up the middle, broke a Santana Dotson tackle, then broke a couple more as he cut to the outside, and then, thanks to some hellacious blocking by Keyshawn Johnson of all people, rumbled 39 yards for the touchdown. It proved to be the game-winner.
Besides that lone run, it's hard to find fault with the Packers' defensive effort. It limited the Bucs to 253 total yards and sacked Brad Johnson five times with one of those sacks causing a fumble and consequent turnover.
Unfortunately, the Green Bay offense couldn't capitalize on the ensuing first and 10 from the Tampa 22. Three plays netted just five yards and the Pack was forced to settle for a Ryan Longwell field goal.
The Packer offense also missed out on a golden opportunity early in the final quarter. Facing a third and 10 from the Buccaneers 31 yard line, Green Bay went with a reverse to Antonio Freeman which was promptly kicked in the ear for a five-yard loss. In the meantime-in-between time Buc defensive lineman Steve White was busy doing the unsportsmanlike conduct thing. It was detected, called, and the penalty would have given the Pack a new set of downs in excellent field position. Now for the missed opportunity part. Bill Schroeder responded to White's extra-curriculars with some extra-curriculars of his own. Out comes another yellow flag and with it off-setting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Presto-chango, we go from 1st and ten to 4th and fifteen and here comes Josh Bidwell (who, by the way, is really kicking well) and the Packer punting unit.
It's hard not to retaliate in the heat of battle but you just can't. At least not in the fourth quarter of a very tight game. Bill knows it, wishes he hadn't, but what's done is done.
Tampa Bay has no less then 12 Pro Bowlers on its roster and is a very popular choice to not only win the NFC Central but to go all the way to the Super Bowl. That's nothing new, it seems like that's been S.O.P. for the prognosticators for a couple of seasons now. What is new is how the Packers played them at Raymond James.
As odd as it sounds after a loss, I thought Green Bay beat the Bucs down to down. By "down to down" I'm talking the general sense you get about a game over its long haul. Not what happened on a play here or a play there, as critical as they might be, but what happened the far majority of the time.
On that basis, you could make a pretty good case that Green Bay outplayed the Buccaneers. For instance, with Warren Sapp and three other talented first rounders up front, Tampa has one of the fiercest pass rushes in all of football. It's one of the things they hang their collective helmet on. The Packers held this outfit to a single sack. Sure there were some pressures along the way but not once did their pass rush become a consistent factor, or anything close to it. Green Bay was able to keep it under control and that hasn't always been the case.
Defensively, there was that Alstott run, but aside from it, there was no other side to the Buccaneer offense. I thought the true measure of the Packers' defensive mettle came with just 6:27 left in the game. Alstott had just put the Bucs in front and on Green Bay's next offensive play, Brett Favre's pass was intercepted by Dexter Jackson.
That could have been, and very well might have been, the ball game in past trips to Tampa Bay, but not this one. The Green Bay defenders took the field and promptly forced a three-and-out which set up the Packers' final offensive drive.
Perhaps the best indicator of what actually transpired "down to down" was the game's turnover ratio. In one of the few statistical categories that actually means anything, Green Bay lost 3-1. Three interceptions, against one of the NFL's anointed and chosen few, IN THEIR HOUSE, and yet the Packers were in position to win it with a second and five at the Buccaneer 8 with 35 seconds left.
Didn't get it done and Tampa Bay comes away with a 14-10 victory. Hats off to the Bucs, they earned it, but the Packers should come away knowing they're every bit as good, and, quite possibly better.