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Game Review: Packers Can't Put Bucs Away, Fall In Tampa

TAMPA - Tampa Bay’s first three touchdowns on Sunday afternoon came courtesy of some big plays on special teams and an interception deep in Green Bay territory, but the Buccaneers were able to put together their lone sustained scoring drive when it mattered most. - More Packers-Buccaneers Game Center


TAMPA - Tampa Bay's first three touchdowns on Sunday afternoon came courtesy of some big plays on special teams and an interception deep in Green Bay territory, but the Buccaneers were able to put together their lone sustained scoring drive when it mattered most.

Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman led the Buccaneers on an eight-play, 72-yard drive to give Tampa Bay a 31-28 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game, a lead they would keep as the Buccaneers won their first game of the season, 38-28, over the Packers in front of 62,994 at Raymond James Stadium.

The loss dropped the Packers to 4-4 on the season, which ties them for second place in the NFC North, three games behind division-leading Minnesota at the midway point. Green Bay now returns to Lambeau Field for games against Dallas and San Francisco the next two Sundays.

"It was pretty frustrating," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of a game that saw the Packers outgain Tampa Bay in total yards, 404 to 279. "It was a different game today. Big play the second play of the game and then I come back and throw a pick. Their offense didn't do a whole lot, but I think our offense and special teams put our defense in a tough position.

"It was a frustrating game, very frustrating. Eight games in, we're 4-4. We've got two home games in a row. We've got to go home and get them both."

Sunday's game started off well for the Packers, with the defense forcing a three-and-out on Tampa Bay's opening possession of the game. After Green Bay took over at its own 20, wide receiver James Jones beat cornerback Elbert Mack down the right sideline on second down, Rodgers hit him in stride near midfield, and Jones took it the rest of the way for a 74-yard touchdown. It was the longest pass of Rodgers' career.

After the Packers forced another Tampa Bay punt, Mack redeemed himself, picking Rodgers' deep pass over the middle intended for wide receiver Donald Driver at the Green Bay 44 and returning it 36 yards to the Packers' 8. Freeman found running back Derrick Ward on a swing pass two plays later to even the score at 7.

Green Bay answered right back with an 11-play, 69-yard drive that was capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Ryan Grant. The series included a game-long 20-yard run from Grant and passes of 10 and 11 yards to wide receiver Greg Jennings and a 10-yard pass to running back Ahman Green.

Early in the second quarter, the Buccaneers evened the score with the first of a couple of key special teams plays. With Jeremy Kapinos punting from the Green Bay 41, linebacker Geno Hayes came up the middle untouched to block Kapinos' kick, and cornerback Ronde Barber scooped up the ball and returned it for a 31-yard touchdown. It was the first blocked punt the Packers had allowed since Dec. 23, 2007, at Chicago.

But once again, the Packers responded with a score, this time behind an eight-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers down the right sideline to Driver, who beat the veteran Barber. Even with the 21 points and 233 yards of total offense for Green Bay in the first half, the Packers would have two more possessions that began in Tampa Bay territory, one at the Buccaneers' 45 and one at the 46, and both times they went three-and-out as they were unable to add to their lead. It was a trend that would carry over into the second half.

Holding a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, Rodgers led the offense past midfield once again, highlighted by a 21-yard completion to Jennings on third down to put the ball at the Buccaneers' 42. But on the next play, Rodgers' deep pass down the middle to Jennings into coverage was picked off by cornerback Aqib Talib.

The defense continued to hold Tampa Bay's offense in check, allowing just one first down and no points in the third quarter, and early in the fourth quarter the offense was able to break through with another touchdown.

Starting out at the Green Bay 38, Rodgers hooked up with Driver on the left sideline for 16 yards on first down, and two plays later, Green posted a 26-yard run up the middle to Tampa Bay's 18. Facing a third-and-goal from the 12 after a 6-yard sack on second down, Rodgers scrambled left, put a nifty move on defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, and took it in for the touchdown to extend the Packers' lead to 28-17.

"A two-score lead, that's kind of what we were going for," said Rodgers, who finished the day 17-of-35 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and a season-high three interceptions. "I kind of felt like our defense would be able to play downhill, making them one-dimensional. Unfortunately we gave up the big kick return that kind of stole the momentum back."

Much like last week with momentum-shifting kickoff returns courtesy of Vikings rookie Percy Harvin, the Buccaneers answered with an 83-yard return from running back Clifton Smith to the Green Bay 17. Three plays later, Freeman found tight end Kellen Winslow in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, and although Tampa Bay's two-point conversion failed, the Bucs had trimmed the Packers lead to 28-23, and it only took them a minute and 20 seconds to do it.

"You've got to have all three phases working, offense, defense and special teams," Rodgers said. "I thought the defense played pretty well today but we gave them a short field a couple of times. Special teams gave them a short field. Mason (Crosby) had a couple of real nice touchbacks, but you can't expect him to touch it back every time. You've got to make a play and tackle him and get him down.

"I think we had a chance on the sidelines on him as well, even when he was about at the 50. Those are big momentum swings, especially when we had just taken an 11-point lead and felt good about where we were at in the fourth quarter. Then they kind of got the momentum back and we couldn't get another score to turn the momentum back to us."

{sportsad300}Green Bay picked up 25 yards on four carries to start its next possession, but Rodgers' pass over the middle on 3rd-and-5 intended for tight end Spencer Havner was broken up, giving Tampa Bay the ball back, and for the first time all day, the Bucs' offense responded with a long scoring drive.

Starting at his own 28, Freeman found Winslow for 22 yards on first down. Linebacker A.J. Hawk picked off Freeman's pass over the middle intended for Winslow on the next play, but was called for illegal contact, giving Tampa Bay a first down. Three plays later, wide receiver Michael Clayton came back on a deep pass from Freeman to make the grab over cornerback Al Harris for a 29-yard pickup.

The Packers forced Tampa Bay into a 4th-and-4 from the 7, but Freeman found wide receiver Sammie Stroughter on a fade route in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown, Freeman's third of the afternoon, and the two-point conversion gave the Buccaneers their first lead of the afternoon at 31-28. Freeman completed 14-of-31 passes for 205 yards on the afternoon with one interception.

Green Bay still had a chance to win the game, taking possession with over four minutes to go, but the drive got off to an auspicious start when Rodgers was sacked by defensive tackle Ryan Sims on first down for a 7-yard loss, one of six times on the afternoon that Rodgers was sacked, all of them coming in the second half.

"It has to stop," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "You can't sit here and keep taking sacks. I'm sure you're tired of asking the question; I'm tired of talking about it. That's a reflection of coaching and playing. It's something that's been coached, something that's been trained, and it keeps showing up on Sundays.

"You look at Tampa Bay's quotes all week, that's all they talked about was sacking the quarterback, and it happened again today."

After a holding penalty on guard Daryn Colledge wiped out a first-down run by Rodgers, the Packers were forced to punt. Green Bay's defense was able to get the ball back for the offense, forcing a three-and-out by Tampa Bay to give the Packers one final possession with just over a minute and a half remaining.

But it was not to be, as another sack forced the Packers into a 3rd-and-19 at their own 4, and Rodgers' fourth-down pass intended for Driver went high and off his hands into the arms of safety Tanard Jackson, who returned the pick 35 yards for the game-clinching score.

"It's not where we wanted to be," McCarthy said. "We wanted to be 5-3 coming into this one obviously at the halfway point. We're 4-4 and we have to make up some ground, but the reality and the focus will be one game at a time. We have two of the next three at home, good timing for us. We need to rebound.

"We've had two tough losses in a row here, and we need to handle the adversity that's in front of us. We didn't handle the adversity of the way the game went up and down as a team, and that starts with me. We've got to get to work as soon as possible on Dallas."

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