Bucs sweat one out
This time they made such a difficult defensive stand, everybody was having a heck of a time struggling to get back on their feet. When the fourth-down pass from Packers quarterback Brett Favre was batted away in the end zone as time expired, preserving the Bucs' gruelling 14-10 win against Green Bay on Sunday, players were scattered across the turf at Raymond James Stadium like broken beads of a necklace.
Warren Sapp remained face down for several minutes on the sideline near the Packers bench, gasping for air. John Lynch, who spiked away the pass from Packers receiver Donald Driver, limped off the field favouring his left leg, the result of a groin strain that forced him to come out of the game in the first half. Derrick Brooks, who pounded the turf with his fist in agony after the pass fell incomplete, needed the help of three trainers after spraining his left foot. "I felt relief. Battered. Beat up. It was a lot of emotions," Dexter Jackson said. "The main thing was we had the win."
The defense, which blew a fourth-quarter lead a week ago at Minnesota by allowing the Vikings to drive 96 yards for the winning touchdown, did not get its fingers caught in the door that it slammed shut Sunday. "Brett fired in there and I could've sworn it bounced off a receiver's chest or hands or something," Packers guard Marco Rivera said. "It looked like there was 100 guys in there."
Tampa Bay intercepted Favre three times, with linebacker Shelton Quarles returning the second one 98 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter -- the longest scoring play in team history. This time, with the Bucs trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, it was Tampa Bay that mounted an impressive, 95-yard, winning drive, capped by a 39-yard scoring run by Mike Alstott. It was the first touchdown since last Oct. 1 against the Redskins for Alstott, who started at running back in place of injured starter Warrick Dunn. Alstott finished with 77 yards on 15 carries.
The victory improved the Bucs to 2-1, leaving them a half game out of first place behind 3-1 Green Bay. "You don't want to sit there all week and talk about it, but everybody knew it was big for us," Alstott said. "We had already lost one (Central Division game). We're at home playing another (division) game. If they go 4-0, you never know what you can do. So we need to win every game at home. It was a big win and big win for our confidence."
Until Alstott's touchdown with 6:45 left, Green Bay's No. 1-ranked defense had not allowed a point in the second half this season. The Packers made life miserable for Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass. Johnson finished 23-of-29 passing for 184 yards. But he was sacked five times, three by defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the NFL leader with nine. Gbaja-Biamila mostly abused rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker, who had a rough day. Walker gave up two sacks, was called for holding, illegal procedure and a personal foul -- in the first-half alone. "They really came at me," Walker said. "This is the first time anyone did. You expect that as a rookie. When you go in the hole, you go in the hole and I went deep."
The Bucs offense went with him. For all the talk of Tampa Bay's problems in the red zone, it wasn't a factor Sunday because the Bucs never drove inside the 20. Green Bay took the lead 10-7 on a 35-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell in the third quarter. The play was set up when Johnson was sacked by Gbaja-Biamila and lost a fumble that was recovered John Thierry at the Tampa Bay 22. The Packers were looking for more when defensive end Simeon Rice turned in what might have been the play of the game, making a stop on Antonio Freeman for a 5-yard loss on a reverse on third and 10 at the Tampa Bay 31.
Green Bay punter Josh Bidwell pinned the Bucs at their 5-yard line, needing at least a field goal to tie with 11:24 left in the game. For an offense that had scored two touchdowns in 11 quarters, the prospect of driving the length of the field didn't look good. "That offense, it's not going to scare anybody, obviously," Packers safety LeRoy Butler said. "At the same time, it's designed not to make mistakes and keep your defense in the game and let them win it for you."
Johnson completed a 22-yard pass to Keyshawn Johnson for a first down and hit Reidel Anthony for another on a 16-yard gain. After Brad Johnson scrambled for a first down, Alstott took the handoff, hopped to his right, cut left and turned upfield behind Keyshawn Johnson, who took out two Packers defenders. "I love it for Mike," Bucs offensive co-ordinator Clyde Christensen said. "I was just thrilled for him and the unit to finish that drive like that. You couldn't ask for any more. To have guys keep grinding and keep the ball 95 yards in the fourth quarter for what ended up being the winning score is big."
Just as big was the defensive stand. It was accomplished against one of the NFL's best comeback quarterbacks. Taking over with 4:17 and two timeouts remaining, Favre drove Green Bay from his own 16-yard line to the Tampa Bay 8. A false-start penalty on Bubba Franks, coupled with Anthony McFarland's 5-yard sack on second down, melted the clock until Favre fired incomplete twice in the end zone. "I feel like if we're in that situation 10 times, we would score 10 times," Favre said. "You just have to tip your hat to Tampa."
Tony Dungy couldn't disagree. "If you pick guys to have the ball in their hands on the last play, he's probably right at the top of the list," Dungy said of Favre.
Sapp said he did not bother to look to see what happened on the final play. "No, I saw nothing," he said. "I was looking at him. When he dropped his head, I said, 'Yes.' Because he was looking. I was looking at his face, and when he dropped his head, I said, 'Thank Jesus."'