Ninety-eight-and-a-half yards. The Green Bay Packers took the starch out of the defending Super Bowl champs by running the ball down their throats with a fourth-quarter drive that highlighted Green Bay's first win in six tries in Raymond James Stadium Sunday.
Led by Ahman Green's 109 yards rushing and game-winning one-yard plunge, the Packers beat Tampa Bay 20-13 in a battle of two teams trying to keep their season alive. The victory helped the Packers (5-5) overcome a Monday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and move them to within a game of NFC North Division leading Minnesota Vikings, who lost to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Tampa Bay fell to 4-6, losing their third straight and for the fourth time on their home turf this season.
Brett Favre didn't have the best of days. And it didn't help that he banged his fractured right thumb on guard Mike Wahle's shoulder pads following through on a pass attempt with about six minutes left in the game. But the Packers, as they have most of the season, leaned on their rushing attack and finished with 190 yards on 38 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) against the 10th best rushing defense in the league.
Green Bay also got another solid game from its defense, which sacked Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson three times and got three take-aways. It wasn't until the last take-away - safety Darren Sharper's interception of Johnson's Hail Mary pass as time expired - before the Packers sealed the victory. The Packers also held the Bucs to 1 of 11 on third-down conversions.
"As I told the team a year ago here, I said 'We're not going to lose the next time we play them,' said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "The only objective today was to win the football game. Now, there was a method to how we had to win it, and that was be physical and get after them play after play after play."
The win served as sweet revenge for the Packers, who fell 21-7 to the Bucs at Raymond James on Nov. 24, 2002. That game stuck with the Packers throughout the off-season after Warren Sapp's blind-sided block on Chad Clifton ended the offensive tackle's season. While Clifton and other players throughout the week described that game as "ancient history", the Packers no doubt were looking for a little payback.
"This is a beautiful win to come in here and play like we did," said Sharper. Green Bay got it from an aggressive offensive line that paved the way for Green, who averaged 5.2 yards on 21 carries before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with leg cramps. Najeh Davenport had 70 yards on 13 carries and Tony Fisher 11 yards on four carries. Fisher also scored on a 5-yard shovel pass from Favre in the first quarter to give the Packers an early lead.
"Each year we've run the ball more effectively and have emphasized it more and more," Sherman said. "I thought we would get to this point that we would be able to run the ball pretty good. We're doing that now. You still have to be able to throw the football. You have to be balanced on offense. I would have liked to have been more balanced tonight, but certainly running the football is a great way to be a physical football team."
Favre completed 13 of 28 passes for 92 yards and one interception for a 51.5 passer rating, his second worst rating of the season. But he connected with wide receiver Robert Ferguson on two crucial third-down plays to highlight the team's 98-yard, 17-play drive that consumed 9 minutes, 42 seconds.
Green Bay began the drive inside its own 2 yard line, then literally pounded away at the Bucs' beat-up defense behind Green and Davenport. Favre's 23-yard pass on third-and-8 to Ferguson got the Packers out of a hole. A few plays later, Favre completed a 9-yard pass to Ferguson on third down for another first down. Davenport followed with a 27-yard run to the Bucs' 36. Green, Davenport and Fisher combined for 69 yards rushing in the drive.
The Packers did not allow a sack, the first time in four years the Buccaneers have not had at least one sack in a game, an NFL-record span of 69 games.
Thomas Jones, who rushed for 134 yards on 9 carries, opened the second half with a 51-yard run before getting tripped up by Sharper at the Packers' 14. Two plays later, Johnson drilled a four-yard pass to McCardell, who got inside of cornerback Mike McKenzie for a touchdown to tie the game at 13-13.
The Packers were three-for-three in third-down conversions and took a 7-0 lead on Fisher's five-yard touchdown catch with 7:31 left in the first quarter. Favre's 13-yard pass to wide receiver Donald Driver, who caught the ball while running a slant pattern, keyed the 47-yard drive, set up by Antonio Chatman's 26-yard punt return.
Green Bay's defense dominated in the early going, forcing the Bucs to punt on their first three posessions. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila then slapped the ball out of the hands of quarterback Brad Johnson, and Nick Barnett recovered on the Bucs' 22 to set up Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal that gave the Packers a 10-0 lead.
Martin Gramatica's 24-yard field goal with 10:36 left in the half sliced Green Bay's lead to 10-3. Jones' 61-yard run along the left sideline to the Packers' 9 set up the score.
Najeh Davenport took the ensuing kickoff 56 yards along the right sideline to set up Longwell's 33-yard field goal as the Packers went up, 13-3.
Barnett got his third interception of the season by picking off Johnson's pass at Green Bay's 24. But the Packers' offense, strong in the early going, was forced to punt for the second time in the final 3:49 of the half. Tampa Bay, starting at their own 49, moved to Green Bay's 29 with less than 14 seconds left in the half, and Gramatica made a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the half to close the Bucs to 13-6. Keyshawn Johnson had two catches for 21 yards as the Bucs moved quickly into scoring position.
Inactives: The following Packers players were not on the 45-man game day roster: cornerback Derek Combs, offensive tackles Brennan Curtin and Marcus Spriggs, safety Curtis Fuller, defensive end Jamal Reynolds, and linebackers T.J. Slaughter and Marcus Wilkins. Craig Nall was the designated third quarterback.
Extra points: Wide receiver Scottie Vines, who has been on the five-man practice squad for most of this season, traveled with the team to Tampa. Practice squad players normally do not travel with the team, but Vines has been so impressive in practice that coach and GM Mike Sherman rewarded the rookie by taking him to Tampa. ... Favre has now thrown a touchdown pass in 19 straight games. ... By making both of his field goal attempts, Ryan Longwell moved to within one of Chris Jacke's team record of 173 made field goals.