Butler: Big Win Could Turn Things Around

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If you're a fan of the Green Bay Packers, last weekend's win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was yet another example of how important it is to stay loyal to your team and not jump ship.

A few weeks back, the Packers had their backs against the wall and won in the Metrodome. Last week they had their backs against the wall and won at Raymond James Stadium.

Now, all of a sudden, the Packers are only one game behind Minnesota for first place in the NFC North, and all they need to do to make the post-season is keep from backing up against that wall again!

There are six games left in the regular season, and a lot can happen in that time, but the Packers look like a team that's on a mission.

To get to the playoffs, they're going to need the support of their many great fans, especially with a big home game coming up against the San Francisco 49ers.

Of course the way the Packers played last weekend, it looks like they could win any place, any time.

That 98-yard scoring drive to go ahead in the fourth quarter was one of the most impressive drives I've seen in years.

Broken thumb and all, Brett Favre was the master conductor, orchestrating big plays whenever they were needed.

Robert Ferguson's 23-yard catch on third-and-9 at the 3-yard line -- after a false start penalty had pushed the Packers back -- really got the drive going. It was a flawless pass by Favre, as was the 9-yard pass to Ferguson on third-and-8 later on.

But, as has been the norm this season, the scoring drive was led by an unstoppable rushing attack.

Ahman Green had another 100-yard game, and when he had to go to the sideline with leg cramps, Najeh Davenport was a force, bursting through holes and breaking arm tackles.

Both of those guys ran hard, but they were effective because of that outstanding offensive line.

I know I'm biased, but if I got to vote for NFL MVP right now, I'd name Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair No. 1, Green No. 2 and all five members of the Packers offensive line for my No. 3 pick.

How about Chad Clifton's performance!? Going back to the same field where he got leveled by Warren Sapp last season, Clifton locked up with the NFL sacks leader in Simeon Rice and shut him down.

In fact, the entire Tampa defense couldn't get a sack on the quarterback, snapping their amazing streak.

Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera continue to be punishing on the inside, totally neutralizing Sapp and Booger McFarland.

Mike Flanagan is not only the fastest center in the league, but he's also the smartest. And Mark "Buddy Lee" Tauscher sure isn't playing like a guy coming off a devastating knee injury!

Larry Beightol is probably the assistant coach of the year. His big boys always come ready to play and are as strong in the running game as they are in the passing game.

Favre didn't have to win the game with his arm Sunday night, but even though he threw his 12th interception of the season, he was very efficient overall.

That shovel pass to Tony Fisher made it 19 games in a row that Favre has thrown for a touchdown, which is a remarkable streak in this day and age.

And even though Favre's receivers were quiet for much of the night, their blocking downfield was a huge part of the Packers' success.

That group might be one of the best-coached in the league. They're unselfish to a man and the only numbers they care about are wins and losses.

On the other side of the ball, you can't help but feel encouraged by the defense's performance.

Take away two long runs by Thomas Jones and the Packers absolutely dominated the Buccaneers.

On one of the runs, the Packers over-pursued the play and Jones hit the crease coming back. On the other, Jones squeaked through a hole to get around a tackle, and you have to give the runner some credit for that.

You also have to give praise to Darren Sharper for showing the hustle to chase down Jones from behind and keep him from getting an easy 6 points.

Antuan Edwards had a chance to tackle Jones on one of those runs, but overall he played a very physical game.

In one instance he put a big hit on Keenan McCardell to keep the Bucs from converting on third down. And when the opposition goes 1-for-11 in third down situations, you know the secondary is playing well.

Same goes for the defensive line.

Between Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Cletidus Hunt, Grady Jackson, Aaron Kampman, Larry Smith and Gilbert Brown, the Packers were manhandling the Tampa front line. In fact, they so intimidated the Bucs that they caused numerous false starts, which would have pushed Tampa Bay back even farther had the end zone not been there to save them.

Guys like Nick Barnett and Na'il Diggs got the bulk of the tackles Sunday, but the D-line helped them out by neutralizing the Bucs' O-line.

The exciting thing is that the defensive line played its greatest game of the year without doing anything special in terms of schemes. For the most part, it was just straight-up football, and they won their 1-on-1 battles.

No defense is ever a finished product, but the Packers are getting better. And it's times like these that I love writing this column, because it gives me a chance to gloat about my boys.

I sure am proud of them!

Special teams has been a strength all season, and special teams coordinator John Bonamego added a new twist with Davenport and Ferguson returning kickoffs.

I think those guys can be a dangerous combination with their power and speed, and Antonio Chatman can continue to be elusive on punt returns.

Meanwhile, Josh Bidwell and Ryan Longwell are as automatic as any coach could ever expect a punter and kicker to be.

Bidwell had an uncharacteristic shank that helped the Bucs drive for a field goal, but otherwise he was flawless, with four punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including one at the 2-yard line.

Longwell twice answered the call with 33- and 31-yard field goals. And believe me when I tell you that kicking 30-yarders isn't as easy as Longwell makes it look.

As a team, the Packers played well from top to bottom and certainly increased their playoff chances with the win.

Of course, if they want last weekend to be a stepping stone for the final six games, the Packers need to remember what helped them be successful: limiting turnovers on offense and forcing them on defense.

If the Packers can continue to execute, I have no doubt that they'll be in the post-season.

But they can't afford to let the momentum of this win go to waste. And until they build a winning streak, the Packers still have a lot to prove.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*

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