Gameday notebook

Packer Report editor Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook before today's game at Tampa Bay, including items on the Packers' third-down emphasis, the Bucs' pursuit of Favre and much, much more.

Time and again when he met with reporters in front of his locker on Wednesday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers harped on the significance of third down — citing his offense's struggles on the move-the-chains-or-punt down to explain why the Packers didn't run the ball well and the defense got worn down last week against Dallas.

"We were 50 percent coming in, and we went 4-for-14 (against Dallas)," Rodgers said. "Third downs is where you extend those drives, get one or two more run plays."

So, while third down was a focus this week, it all puts an emphasis on succeeding on first and second down, too. Obviously, it's easier to convert third-and-3 than third-and-8.

"I know I'm beating that up a little, but if you're not converting third downs, it's hard to get into a rhythm," Rodgers said. "We had four drives with three-and-outs. We've got to fix that up. Put ourselves in more third-and-manageable, third-and-7 or less. We were third-and-11-plus three or four times last week, and those are tough to convert."

Another sore spot last week was the Packers' red-zone play. They converted their first three treks inside the Dallas 20-yard line into field goals, not touchdowns. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, boasts the league's second-ranked red-zone defense.

"The red zone, we've got to finish those drives off with touchdowns," Rodgers said. "You've got to keep the defense off the field (by converting third downs). Trading three for seven is going to put you in a hole against a good team like Dallas."

Favre Bowl

For a while, it appeared the Packers would be taking on the Brett Favre-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, which would have reunited Favre with Bucs coach Jon Gruden, an assistant in Green Bay from 1992 to 1994.

Gruden said the Bucs "would have been foolish" not to explore acquiring Favre, and said the media in Tampa covered the trade rumors like they were a "life-threatening situation."

Gruden said spending time with Favre helped inspire him to become a head coach.

"I just liked the way those balls were flying off his hand, and we were scoring points and winning games, man," Gruden said. "That's what you shoot for, to have a stallion, a game-changer, a game-breaker, at that position. You get the right guy at that position, you can ride that horse for a long time."

State of the tight ends

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was asked if he was disappointed in the play of his tight ends, a pertinent question with Donald Lee, Tory Humphrey and rookie Jermichael Finley likely to play big roles today with the Packers likely to have just three available running backs.

Lee has 10 catches for 78 yards but Humphrey has just one catch for 7 yards despite significant playing time.

"I think Donald Lee has played at a very high level. He's done a much better job blocking this year than he did last year," McCarthy said. "You've got to look at the opportunities that they're given. Yeah, I'm pleased with the production of the tight ends. Our completion percentage wasn't where it needed to be Sunday night in that Dallas game, but other than that, I think based on, once again the opportunities they have been given, I am pleased with their production."

Back to Griese

Jeff Garcia led the Buccaneers to the NFC South title last year and was named to the Pro Bowl, but it took just one week for him to be benched in favor of journeyman Brian Griese.

Griese, who played for Gruden with the Bucs in 2004 and 2005, spent the last two seasons in Chicago. Griese, who beat the Bears last week by chucking a team-record 67 passes, sports a surprising 3-0 career record as a starter against the Packers.

"He understands what we want to do with the ball," Gruden said. "I think he's a really good passer. I think he's a lot better quarterback than maybe some people give him credit. He's got a nice won-loss record as a starter. He plays the situational game well. He understands red zone, 2-minute, he understands the clock. He just plays football. He can manage the protections. He's just a sharp guy and a very accurate pocket passer and a guy that's really had a lot of success here."

While it's not likely Griese will break his attempts record this week, Gruden didn't discount the possibility the Bucs go airborne against the Packers' injury-riddled secondary.

"Whatever it takes to win has kind of been our theme around here," Gruden said. "I think when you guys see Chicago, if they're still playing the way they were playing on Sunday, you can justify throwing the ball on every snap, in my opinion. Whether I'm right or wrong will be for the critics to determine."

Pass protection

Amazingly, despite all those dropbacks, Griese wasn't sacked last week against the Bears' powerful defense.

"I think they blitzed about 40 times," Gruden said of the Bears. "Although the Bears did get there a couple of times, I was really pleased with our pickups. Our assignments are one thing, but delivering the execution is another thing. We have the youngest line in football, and to go into that atmosphere with the crowd going crazy and not really having any mental or physical breakdowns, it's a credit to the guys."

Griese is one of the NFL's least-athletic quarterbacks, but the Packers know that doesn't mean they can be "licking their chops" to attack the quarterback.

"To do that, you've got to stop the run," defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. "It's no secret. If you don't stop the run, you won't be able to lick any chops. Until you take care of business, you can't look forward to seeing what they will have to do by passing the ball."

Noteworthy

In 1990 and 1991, McCarthy was a graduate assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh. When Pitt's receivers coach, Gruden, was hired by the Packers in 1992, McCarthy took the spot.

"Jon is a good man. We had a lot of fun of the year we spent together," McCarthy said, then adding after a pause: "I'm not going to tell any stories about him so don't ask."

Welcome, and welcome back

There's a "new" face in the Buccaneers backfield: Warrick Dunn.

Dunn spent his first five NFL seasons with the Buccaneers. His final year was 2001, when he gained 447 yards and averaged merely 2.8 yards per rush.

So, the Bucs parted ways with Dunn, and he responded with 5,981 yards and 30 touchdowns in six seasons in Atlanta. Dunn, 33, is back with the Bucs in a reserve role behind Earnest Graham. He has 134 yards on 26 attempts (5.2-yard average) and one touchdown and has added eight catches for 59 yards (7.4 average).

"I was the first to say, I was sick to lose Warrick back in '02 when I got here. We've had a hard time finding a guy like him," said Gruden, whose first year in Tampa Bay was 2002. "He's just really darned good, period. And he's a great guy and a tremendous leader. We need guys like that on our football team."

Meaningless stat of the week

The Buccaneers' defense ranks 26th in the 32-team NFL. That's bad, right? Hogwash, Gruden says. His defense has scored two touchdowns, recorded eight sacks and ranks second in the red zone.

"I think that's what the great defenses do," Gruden said. "Most people get caught up in yards allowed — where you rank in the yardage game — but I like defense that get off the field on third down. We've been better in the red zone in terms of not yielding touchdowns. And we've scored a couple touchdowns, and that's something to be excited about."

He said it, Part I

Rodgers, on the importance of bouncing back from a loss as part of his development: "You know what, it's just another game. I don't look too much into that. We want to win. Not to win to prove anybody wrong or to bounce back, but we want to win because we want to win every game."

He said it, Part II

Linebacker Brady Poppinga, on if he's more intense than Gruden: "I've got him by a mile. It depends. If I can't sleep the night before, I'm sure I'm just as intense as him. I know that's where his source of intensity comes from. He can't sleep at night, so what else is he going to do? He's going to get mad at himself because he's not sleeping. That's my opinion. He can't sleep at night. That's just torture."

He said it, Part III

Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has spent all 14 NFL seasons in Tampa Bay, says he has avoided Gruden's famous scowl. "No, I haven't given him a reason to. And the real big thing is, I don't play offense. That helps me, too."


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