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Packers Look To Show Bounce-Back Ability


DE Aaron Kampman

Possessing the second-best record in the NFL over the past 23 regular-season games, the Packers have not been forced to respond to a loss very often in recent memory, but the '08 team will get a chance to do just that at Tampa Bay this Sunday.

Including wins in the final four games of 2006, Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first season at the helm, and the 13-3 mark in '07, the Packers' 19-4 record since Dec. 10, 2006, is tops in the NFC and trails only the New England Patriots' 21-2 mark.

During that 23-game span the Packers have not lost back-to-back games either, a mark that is also second in the league to only New England's 26-game string.

That streak will be on the line as the Packers head down to Tampa Bay coming off their first loss of the season, a 27-16 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. Green Bay allowed 217 yards on the ground and was outgained 453 to 334 by the Cowboys in total yardage.

"You need to respond," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It's going to be a good test for our team. It's a young team. We faced a little bit of adversity against Dallas. We're still first in the division, but we're playing a big game against a good team that has won two in a row."

The Packers responded in a big way following their losses in '07, outscoring opponents 89-34 in the three games after defeats.

Green Bay does have the youngest team in the NFL (tied with Kansas City) for the third season in a row with an average age of 25.57 years. One would think the team's youth might provide for even more of a challenge as they look to bounce back from a defeat, but defensive end Aaron Kampman said that statistic can be deceiving.

"We're not young in experience," Kampman said. "We're a young age-wise team, but we've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. The reality is we're a team that's pretty resilient and hopefully we'll be able to see that on Sunday."

The Packers will be forced to show that resiliency even more because of several injuries in their defensive backfield. They will be without the services of one of their most experienced players on the roster as 11th-year cornerback Al Harris will be sidelined for the first time in his NFL career with a spleen injury. Second-year cornerback Tramon Williams will get the starting nod in Harris' place.

Starting strong safety Atari Bigby missed the Dallas game because of a hamstring injury and his status is unknown for Sunday, and starting free safety Nick Collins left the game early with a back bruise and has been limited thus far in practice this week. Aaron Rouse, who started for Bigby against Dallas, has a knee injury of his own, but did return to full participation on Thursday.

"I remember being in a situation where Vonnie Holliday went down, and it was a tremendous opportunity for me to come up and prove that I was capable of not having any letoffs," Kampman said. "I know that is the type of attitude our guys will take back there, and hopefully we'll be able to not experience any dropoff. I don't think we will."

Two of the areas that did have a dropoff in the Dallas game besides the struggles against the run were the offense's inefficiency on third down and in the red zone, strengths of the team during the two victories to open the season.

Against Minnesota and Detroit, the Packers converted on third down at a 50 percent clip (13-of-26), and on their seven red-zone possessions, came away with 38 points on five touchdowns and a field goal.

Last Sunday night, Green Bay got into the red-zone just three times, and when they did, only scored one touchdown to go along with two field goals.

"Third-down conversions were low," Rodgers said. "We need to get on the same page a little better on offense, especially in the pass game and be able to convert third downs and keep drives alive.

"Then in the red zone, we've got to finish those drives off with touchdowns because you've got to keep the defense off the field."

Keeping the defense off of the field will be more of a priority in a game where temperatures are expected to be in the upper-80s.

{sportsad300}Despite all of the injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Packers' ability to sustain longer drives should be aided by some players returning from injuries this week.

Center Scott Wells, who has yet to play this year because of a back injury, will return to the starting lineup, with Jason Spitz moving back to right guard. Wide receiver Ruvell Martin, who was sidelined the last two games with a finger injury, is also expected to be back on the field against the Buccaneers, a return that becomes more crucial with wide receiver James Jones' status unknown due to a knee injury.

Combine that with starting running back Ryan Grant's absence from the injury report for the first time this season, and the Packers hope to get into more manageable down-and-distances against Tampa Bay.

Grant's improving hamstring may also enable the Packers to commit to the run more as he has yet to post more than 15 carries in a game this season.

"The most important thing about running the football once again is attempts, in my view," McCarthy said following the loss on Sunday. "You have to get the attempts up. We really didn't do a very good job of sustaining drives.

"You can say whatever you want, the run game, the passing game. But the times we were able to commit to the runs throughout the series that was longer than three plays, I think it was productive. We need to do a better job of that."

Whether the Packers show improvement from last week will be evident come Sunday, but McCarthy noted that the coaching staff is looking for that in their preparation for the game as well.

"I think you measure your football team every time you compete," McCarthy said. "I measure it every time we go to practice. That's part of demanding from your football team that it's done right.

"We're here for a reason. We're here to win, and along the way we need to improve, and we did not improve from Week 2 to Week 3. We need to take the information that was learned on the film, and we're going to correct it as a football team, and we'll apply it to our work week for Tampa."

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