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Notebook: '03 Bucs Were Last Defending Champs Packers Faced

It’s been six years since the Green Bay Packers have faced the reigning Super Bowl champions the year following their title, but on Sunday in Pittsburgh the Packers would like to keep their modest winning streak in this area going. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 17

It's been six years since the Green Bay Packers have faced the reigning Super Bowl champions the year following their title, but on Sunday in Pittsburgh the Packers would like to keep their modest winning streak in this area going.

When the Packers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa back in 2003, it capped a three-game winning streak, in three straight years, of beating the defending champions. The Packers also had beaten the New England Patriots on the road in 2002 and the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field in 2001.

Prior to that, however, the Packers' fortunes against the reigning champs weren't worth much. They had been just 3-13 in the regular season and 4-15 including postseason contests against Super Bowl winners attempting to defend their crown. With the current three-game winning streak, those numbers are now improved to 6-13 and 7-15.

Beginning with a 1984 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders, the Packers dropped 10 of 11 games (including two in the postseason at Dallas in 1993 and 1994) against the defending Super Bowl champions. That run of futility was broken by one of the most notable victories during Green Bay's resurgence in the mid-1990s, a 27-17 upset of defending champion San Francisco in an NFC Divisional playoff game on the road during the 1995 postseason.

The other rather memorable win for the Packers against the defending champions came in 1983, a 48-47 shootout victory over the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field, a game that still ranks as the highest scoring affair in the history of Monday Night Football.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, aren't exactly playing like the Super Bowl champs of a year ago. They've lost five straight and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread at 6-7 in the AFC, with all five of the recent losses coming by a touchdown or less, including two in overtime.

But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week he isn't interested in a mantra of "hanging in there" for his team. In Tomlin's mind, there are two ways the champs played winning football a year ago, and they're simply not playing winning football now.

"We're interested in being dominant, and when we're not, we have to make timely plays, significant plays to win games, and the reality is here of late we haven't done either," Tomlin said. "We haven't been dominant, and there have been times in the past where we haven't been dominant, but we found ways to make significant plays at the end of games to secure victories. Really during this stretch specifically, that hasn't been the case."

The Packers would like to keep it that way, but they aren't counting on the Steelers to continue their struggling ways come Sunday.

"We expect the Super Bowl champs," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "That's what we expect. Their backs are against the wall, and they pretty much need to win all the games they have left. That's what we're expecting, their best ball, so we plan on playing our best ball."

Pickett on comeback trail

Pickett actually practiced on Thursday, albeit on a limited basis, for the first time since pulling his hamstring in the Monday night victory over Baltimore on Dec. 7.

Last week Pickett missed all three practices leading up to the Chicago trip, and he was a gameday scratch after working out for the medical staff before the game. Rookie B.J. Raji started in his place at nose tackle.

"It's a hamstring, so they're kind of tricky," Pickett said. "But I felt pretty good today."

As for his status for the Pittsburgh game, Pickett said he would have a better idea on Friday. Last week was just the third game Pickett has missed due to injury in his nine-year career.

"We're trying to bring him back in steps," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

{sportsad300}If Pickett can return, it would provide valuable reinforcements to the Packers' run defense. Sunday's matchup features the top two defenses in the league against the run - Pittsburgh No. 1, Green Bay No. 2 - and Pickett playing the nose on run downs has been a big reason for the Packers' lofty ranking.

Green Bay hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 3 in St. Louis (Steven Jackson), and since that game, the Packers have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league.

"That's been our main point every week," Pickett said. "We have to stop the run, and if we can make a team one-dimensional, we can kind of have our way with them then. That's our No. 1 thing going into every week, so we have to continue this week."

More injury updates

Linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) was upgraded to a full participant on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday with swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Initially, the plan was to have Barnett practice on a limited basis Thursday, but he felt strong enough to handle all of his reps.

McCarthy said Barnett, who also was on the injury report last week but still played the whole game in Chicago, is experiencing longer recovery time for his knee following games now, a normal occurrence for players only one year removed from reconstructive surgery. McCarthy said offensive tackle Mark Tauscher has been going through something similar, though he's not on the injury report this week.

Cornerback Charles Woodson was not at practice on Thursday to attend to a personal matter. McCarthy expects him back on Friday.

Defensive end Johnny Jolly (knee) remained limited, while cornerback Brandon Underwood (hip) sat out for the second straight day.

For the Steelers, receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) and defensive end Brett Keisel (neck) were upgraded to full participants, while center Justin Hartwig (knee) was upgraded to limited and linebacker James Farrior (not injury related) was removed from the report.

Guard Chris Kemoeatu (wrist) remained limited, while safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and receiver Limas Sweed (illness) both sat out for the second straight day.

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