Third time's a charm

Beating an opponent three times in a season is supposed to be a tough task. That may be more myth than matter-of-fact, however. The Packers, who meet the rival Vikings for the third time this season in Sunday's playoff game at Lambeau Field, have proven the possibility of the intra-division hat trick before.<p>

En route to Super Bowl XXXII, Green Bay had to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three times. Mike Holmgren's 1997 Packers came away victorious all three times, including the all-important NFC Divisional Playoff Jan. 4, 1998 at Lambeau Field.

Earlier that season, the Packers had taken the season series from their then-Central Division rivals. The Packers won 21-16 on Oct. 5 at Lambeau, then beat Tampa 17-6 in Green Bay's last visit to Houlihan Stadium on Dec. 7.

In the first meeting, Green Bay posted a 21-point second quarter then held on for the win. Highlights included Gabe Wilkins' 77-yard interception return for a touchdown, complete with an impressive hurdle move, against his future team. Antonio Freeman caught two touchdown passes from Brett Favre, for 31 and 6 yards. Dorsey Levens led both rushing (13-44) and receiving (8-61).

The rematch in Tampa featured a strong defensive performance by the Pack, holding the Buccaneers to a pair of Michael Husted field goals.

Levens again led the Pack in both rushing and receiving, and for the second time the running back had more yards through the air (8-64) than on the ground (22-54). this time Leens got into the end zone on an 8-yard TD strike from Favre. Robert Brooks also caught a 43-yard touchdown pass.

The Packers buried the Bucs in nearly every statistical category, but couldn't break the game wide open due to two lost fumbles and an interception.

Despite coming in as the reigning Super Bowl champion, the Packers may felt a little uneasy facing the Bucs a third time, especially since Tampa had held Green Bay to its second-lowest point total of the season a month earlier and the running game was since a Monday night game in Minnesota five weeks earlier.

Never fear - the warm-weather Bucs didn't warm up to the cold confines of Lambeau. Well-rested from their bye week, the Packers won 21-7. Again, it could have been a larger margin if not for three turnovers and a costly penalty that kept the Bucs a touchdown away from an upset even into the fourth quarter.

Favre's touchdown pass to tight end Mark Chmura and two Ryan Longwell field goals gave Green Bay a 13-0 lead at half-time. It looked to be 20-0 as the third quarter began and Freeman returned the kickoff 90 yards to the end zone, but a holding call across the field from Freeman's path brought it back. An interception led to a long Tampa touchdown drive. The Packers' lead was whittled to a slim six points.

Favre got back what he gave up -- and more. In the fourth quarter Favre led the Packers 54 yards in nine plays, culminating in Levens' two-yard touchdown run. Favre ran in the two-point conversion himself. It is Favre's (and the team's) only two-point conversion run.

Rookie kicker Longwell figured into all three victories, but not in the dramatic fashion he treated fans to this year. The Cal kicker who was brought in off waivers from San Francisco as camp fodder for draftee Brett Conway eventually won the job. He tallied six extra points and four field goals for 18 points over the trifecta over Tampa.

The third win over Tampa Bay that season came in Longwell's first career post-season appearance.

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