Despite Gaffes Packers Dominated

"We can't turn the ball over." How many times have you heard coaches and players list that as one of the keys to victory? Sunday's Packers game against the Buccaneers is a perfect example of why it's such a tried and true prerequisite to playing winning football.

Green Bay turned the ball over three times against Tampa Bay and the Bucs converted each possession into points.

Early in the second quarter, Donnie Abraham intercepted a Brett Favre pass. Seven plays later, Martin Gramatica kicked a 33-yard field goal.

Later in the second, Warren Sapp recovered an Ahman Green fumble. Seven plays later, Brad Johnson threw to Dave Moore for 11 yards and a touchdown, not to mention a 10-7 Buccaneer lead.

Early in the third quarter, Jamie Duncan snared another interception for Tampa Bay. Six plays later, it was Johnson finding Mike Alstott for 19 yards, a touchdown, and a very uncomfortable 17-7 Buccaneer lead.

Tampa Bay scored a total of 20 points, and 17 followed Packer turnovers. Mmm, is there a correlation? Methinks so. The halftime numbers were as interesting as they were distressing. The Packers had out-gained the Bucs 215-71 and yet trailed on the scoreboard 10-7. Of course they also trailed (or led depending on your perspective) in the turnover department 2-nothing.

Bottom line, the surgeon general warns that giving the ball to the other guys can be detrimental to your football health. It's like a pigskin Bermuda Triangle: You lose the ball, they get the ball, and with it comes a jump-start in the momentum department.

It's not something the Packers have made a habit of. Going into the Bucs' game they'd lost the ball just nine times all season, and that's only 2 off, least in the league pace. If the Tampa Bay game remains the exception and not the rule, folks ought to get used to the notion that the Packers are real-deal good, because aside from those turnovers, they flat-out dominated the Bucs.

The running game, as executed by both teams, is one illustration of that. The Packers rushed for 184 yards against a team that traditionally has been a tough nut for them to crack on the ground. Ahman Green was Ah-some, combining his speed with second effort to the tune of 169 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line (with William Henderson as an honorary member) did a fine job of getting him started by getting movement (as in backward) at the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.

On the flipside, the Bucs ran for just 61 yards, and 26 of those came on a Brad Johnson scramble. That means that Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, a pair of Pro Bowl running backs, averaged just 1.75 per carry against Green Bay. That's so microscopic I did the math twice. Chester Marcol would call it nothing short of "un-incredible." Whatever you call it, it can't get much better.

The Packers defensive M.O. was to attack. They blitzed early and often, got LeRoy Butler and Darren Sharper into the mix at the line of scrimmage, and swarmed to the ball. Nate Wayne was in on 10 tackles, Vonnie Holliday 9 (which is extraordinary for a defensive lineman), and Bernardo Harris had a hand, make that a shoulder, in 8. Gilbert Brown was credited with four tackles but he forced a whole bunch more by using up blockers and being virtually un-movable.

Green Bay also put the rush back in its pass rush and totalled 7 sacks against the Bucs. It was equal opportunity as 7 different players contributed to that total. And talk about an "attacking" game plan from Ed Donatell: Linebackers accounted for two of those sacks, while Tod McBride, a defensive back, came up with another. It was like the Packers just lined up and played "get the guy with the ball" defense, and that's exactly what they did.

Despite Green Bay's suffocating work at the L.O.S., this game was destined to go down to the wire thanks to those aforementioned turnovers and it did. The Packers didn't regain a lead they'd lost in the second quarter until there was just 3:17 left in regulation. That's when Allen Rossum injected some much-needed life in the Packers punt return game. He fielded a punt, got blocks from Donald Driver and David Martin among others, and stuck it right down the Bucs' collective throat for 55 yards, a touchdown, and a 21-20 Packer victory. Those return guys who can ring the bell, they're born, they're not made, and Rossum is one of 'em.

The Packers are sitting fairly pretty at 5-2, but I doubt they're going to be content to sit on anything. I've long felt that one of the keys to a successful season is to improve as it went along. Sounds incredibly simple but football is not rocket science and those who play in January get better, while those who don't, don't.

This was a better Packer team than the one that lost to the Buccaneers 14-10 in Tampa a month ago. The final score may say as much but not enough. In that one, the Packers had control, save a couple of big plays. In this one, they had domination, save a few turnovers.

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