Big Plays Save The Day

Allen Rossum's game-winning punt return and Ahman Green's long touchdown run made up for another lackluster performance by the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers, coming off a bye week and a poor performance against the Minnesota Vikings, committed three turnovers and fell behind 17-7 in the second half. With an offense struggling against one of the top defenses in the NFL, the Buccaneers were on their way toward winning for the first time in the state of Wisconsin since 1989.

But Green exploded through a gaping hole for a 63-yard touchdown and Rossum took a punt back 55 yards for a touchdown with 3 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the game to lift the Packers to a 21-20 victory over Tampa Bay before 59,861 sun-soaked fans.

When Darren Sharper batted down Brad Johnson's Hail Mary pass in the end zone on the final play, the Packers (5-2) escaped with a clutch victory and a chance to climb back into first place this Sunday against the Chicago Bears (6-1) at Soldier Field.

There was nothing pretty about the Packers' victory, Green Bay's ninth straight at Lambeau Field. The Packers committed three turnovers, usually a sure formula for a loss in the NFL, which led to all 17 points for the Bucs. Green Bay's defense, in its second superb outing in as many games this year against Tampa Bay, held the Bucs to 194 total yards of offense and sacked quarterback Brad Johnson seven times. And Rossum, who missed four games with leg injuries this season, notched his first-ever punt return for a touchdown.

The Packers also held off a late rally by the Bucs, who caught a break at the end of the game because of an official's inadvertent whistle. Instead of recovering a fumble from Johnson's botched spike, the Packers had to knock away Johnson's final two passes in the remaining nine seconds to preserve the win.

Asked if he'll miss playing Tampa Bay twice yearly when it moves to a different division due to re-alignment next year and Favre's answer was predictable: "No. Not unless they go back to orange uniforms and change their defense. I don't foresee that happening. It's easy to sit up here and smile after a game like this, but one thing I want the other guys to know is I have a tremendous amount of respect for 'em and their coaching staff."

Favre continued to struggle against Tampa Bay, which beat the Packers 14-10 on Oct. 7. He threw two interceptions, which raised his total to seven in the last three games against the Bucs, and nine for the season. Favre was held to 180 yards passing, but was only sacked once despite the loss of tackle Chad Clifton, who left the game during Green Bay's first series with a sprained left ankle. Favre was under pressure often.

"Brett Favre is not always going to be the hero," said Favre, whose quarterback rating dropped to 94.1. "That is fine with me. That's OK. To see Ahman (Green) run 62 yards or whatever and to see Allen Rossum return that punt, that's a great feeling."

Favre's second interception of the game allowed Tampa Bay to take a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter. Rolling to his right, Favre threw in the direction of fullback William Henderson but underthew into the hands of linebacker Jamie Duncan at the Packers' 44.

The Bucs Warrick Dunn took a screen on third-and-20 and came within inches of a first down to 35. Johnson used a quarterback sneak on the play for a first down. A few plays later the Bucs used a 19-yard screen on the right side to fullback Mike Alstott, who rambled in for a touchdown.

Two series later, Green closed the Packers to 17-14 with a 63-yard touchdown run with 4:40 left in the third. Green burst through the right side for his second longest run of the season. He broke loose for a 61-yard run against Minnesota and rambled 83 yards for a touchdown in the opener against Detroit.

"It was a basic downhill play for us – one of our bread-and-butter plays," said Green. "It was a play with what I call perfect blocking happening. All I had to do was to out-run the safeties to the end zone."

Green finished with a career-high 169 yards on 24 carries, his third 100-plus yard rushing output of the season.

Rossum gave the Packers the lead by taking Mark Royals line-drive punt and dashing through a huge hole en route to the end zone. "The hole opened so wide, I mean anybody could of ... you could have (ran it back)," said Rossum.

Meanwhile the Packers held Alstott to 30 yards on 17 carries and Dunn to five yards on three carries.

Tampa Bay took advantage of Green Bay's second turnover of the first half and took a 10-7 halftime lead on Johnson's 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dave Moore. Safety Dexter Jackson stripped the ball away from Green at the end of a 12-yard run and the Bucs recovered at Green Bay's 41.

Johnson's 21-yard run moved the Bucs to the 18. After linebacker Nate Wayne sacked Johnson for an 8-yard loss, Johnson fired a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the 4. But defensive end John Thierry sacked Johnson again, the Packers' fourth sack of the half, to the 11. Moore juked Wayne on the next play and caught a pass over the middle for a touchdown.

The Packers responded by driving from their own 20 to Tampa Bay's 8 with 10 seconds left in the half before self-destructing. Center Mike Flanagan's illegal chop block moved the Packers back to the 23. Then the struggling Ryan Longwell's was wide left on a 41-yard field goal attempt. It was Longwell's fourth straight miss and sixth miss of the season.

For the first time since their second game of the season against Washington, the Packers took an early lead. Favre's 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Freeman, the 54th time that the duo has hooked up for a score, gave the Packers a 7-0 lead. Favre ignited the drive with a 15-yard completion to Freeman to Tampa Bay's 42. The Packers then involved Green on the next four plays (three runs and a seven-yard pass). Freeman, lining up in the slot on the left side, beat cornerback Ronde Barber with a move off the line and caught a perfect pass from Favre in the end zone.

Martin Gramatica closed the Bucs to 7-3 with a 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Cornerback Donnie Abraham set up the score by intercepting a pass by Favre and returning it 46 yards to the Packers' 38. Guard Mike Wahle prevented Abraham from taking it all the way back with a clothesline tackle.

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