Faced with a fourth-and-four at the Tampa Bay 37 during the first quarter, The Packers gambled on the arm of their gunslinging quarterback. The play netted an odds-defying jackpot, a 37-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Robert Ferguson.
"At that point in the game we needed to take that chance," head coach Mike Sherman said. "We took a shot."
While the Packers converted that improbable play in their 17-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the routine mistakes did them in front of 70, 518 observers at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The usually reliable Ryan Longwell missed an extra point and a 32-yard-field goal, 2004 Pro Bowl fullback William Henderson lost a fumble and Favre wishes he threw away his three interceptions.
"If we just correct one or two of these mistakes," Favre said, "We win."
The first mistake occurred on the game's opening drive. The Packers moved the ball from their 30-yard-line to the Tampa Bay 37. Wide receiver Robert Ferguson caught a 12-yard-slant and a nine-yard-pass off of a play-action fake. Then Buccaneers linebacker Shelton Quarles stripped Henderson of the ball, and Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber recovered it on the Tampa Bay 46.
"I don't make excuses. I didn't handle the ball well," Henderson said. "That created bad momentum for us in the first half."
Operating on a short field, the Buccaneers scored on 12-play, 54-yard drive, culminating in a 5-yard Joey Galloway touchdown reception.
The Packers again moved the ball efficiently on the next drive. Favre hit Donald Driver for 37 yards and Ferguson for a 37-yard touchdown. A 7-7 tie seemed like a lock, with Longwell attempting the extra point, but the snap was high, and punter B.J. Sander rushed the placement. Longwell, who entered the game as the NFL's fourth longest active streak with 156 in a row, slugged the kick to the left.
"I expect to make every one," Longwell said.
The franchise's all-time leading scorer was also wide left from 32 yards with 6:52 left in the third quarter. A successful kick would have made a one-point game.
"That's the way it is," Longwell said. "A kick can either win you the game or cost you the game."
Favre also accepted blame for the loss. While displaying uncanny accuracy and arm strength on touchdown passes to Ferguson and Antonio Chatman, he threw three interceptions on the day -- one to cornerback Brian Kelly and two others to safety Will Allen.
"You can't make mistakes," Favre said. "It starts with me."
Despite those mistakes the Packers had their best performance of the year. Their defense, in particular, played well. They limited the Buccaneers to 293 yards.
The intensity was obvious on both sides of the ball whether they were gang tackling running back Carnell Williams or Ahman Green churned for extra yardage.
"There are no moral victories by any stretch of the imagination," Sherman said. "I saw some toughness, some tenacity. I thought they worked hard in the game and played well together."
The Packers displayed that togetherness when flying to the ball especially Nick Barnett, who finished with 15 tackles. The Packers used that energy to force their first turnover of the year -- an Ahmad Carroll interception of a Brian Griese pass intended for Michael Pittman. Kampman said that could have served as a turning point.
"That's how close we are," Kampman said. "Hopefully those will go in our favor next week."
Some observers said the Packers should have had another turnover. With 1:09 left in the third quarter, defensive end Aaron Kampman sacked Griese, causing an apparent fumble, which defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila returned for a touchdown.
Sherman challenged the official's ruling of an incomplete pass. The referees reversed the call, declaring it a fumble but blew the play dead before Gbaja-Biamila's return.
"In spite of that, we still should have won," Sherman said.
That play could have accounted for the winning score. Instead the Packers now sit at 0-3 and in last place of the NFC North. The coaching staff praised the team's hard work during the game, but pledged to work even harder to earn their first win.
"The only way I know is to roll up your sleeves and get to work," Sherman said. "We've got to figure this thing out, and I'm confident we will."