RB Thomas Jones ran for 134 yards on just nine carries, setting up two Buc scores with breakaway carries
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to take every game into the fourth quarter. And they continue to find new ways to lose.
The defending NFL champions are now 4-6 and in dire straits in the NFC playoff chase after a 17-play, 98-yard drive by the Green Bay Packers scuttled yet another Buccaneer comeback. Green Bay won for the first time in six tries at Raymond James Stadium, holding on for a 20-13 victory. The Packers improved to 5-5 and moved ahead of the Bucs in the crowded field of conference playoff hopefuls.
"I apologize to the Tampa Bay fans," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after the game. "That was not good enough. We've got six games to go. We've got mandatory work tomorrow and we expect every man to finish this season with authority."
The Buccaneers have not won a game in which they trailed by 10 or more points since 1999. However, for three consecutive weeks they have erased such a deficit only to lose in the final period. This time, Packer QB Brett Favre converted two third downs and a fourth down on the fateful drive, giving the visiting team a 20-13 lead with nine minutes to play.
For once, Tampa Bay's offense couldn't come back. Faced with the same field position that launched Green Bay's winning drive, the Bucs went three-and-out and punted with just over three minutes to play. The Packers, who rushed for 190 yards on the afternoon, ran off all but 25 seconds of the remaining time with six carries, gaining two first downs right into the teeth of the Buc defense.
In fact, both teams ran the ball very well, with the Bucs countering with 154 rushing yards. However, the Packers did so in a more methodical manner behind workhorse Ahman Green and bruising backup Najeh Davenport, while most of Tampa Bay's yards came on two big plays.
RB Thomas Jones, acquired in the offseason from Arizona in exchange for WR Marquise Walker, had a breakout day, his finest as a Buccaneer by far. Jones set up the Bucs' first field goal in the second quarter and their first touchdown in the third quarter with breakaway runs. The first covered 61 yards and the second 51 to make Jones the first player in franchise history with two 50-plus yard runs in the same game. He is the first Buc back to have two such runs in the same season since Warrick Dunn in 2000.
Jones finished with 134 yards on nine carries and added 11 yards on two catches. Michael Pittman, who had led the team in rushing in each of its first nine games, carried just eight times for 18 yards, though he did catch four passes for another 22 yards.
Both of Jones' long runs came on toss-sweeps around left end, as the Bucs tried to run away from the Packers' big tackles and around undersized end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who finished with two sacks. Jones' second carry looked as if it would be a 65-yard touchdown when the back bounced off Antuan Edwards' tackle attempt and got behind all the defenders, but S Darren Sharper dived and just clipped Jones' foot, dropping him at the 14.
The Bucs got in the end zone three plays, however, in very familiar fashion. WR Keenan McCardell caught a three-yard scoring pass, giving him a career-high eight touchdowns on the year (including one on a fumble recovery). McCardell, who has scored 10 touchdowns in 12 regular season games at Raymond James Stadium, is closing in on the team single-season record of nine receiving scores. He finished the game with a team-high five receptions for 55 yards.
His score would be the Bucs' only touchdown of the afternoon, however, in part because they couldn't get their hands on the ball. The Packers controlled nearly 35 of the game's 60 minutes, gaining 10 rushing first downs, while the Bucs failed on all but one of their 11 third-down tries. Favre, who has had some miserable outings in Raymond James, was held to 13 of 28 passing for 92 yards, but he committed just one turnover and wasn't sacked, or even hurried very often.
That brought the Bucs' NFL-record streak of consecutive games with at least one sack to an end. The streak, which started in 1999, had just reached the record mark of 69 games last weekend in Carolina.
QB Brad Johnson completed 17 of 28 passes for 149 yards, but he was sacked three times and had two desperation heaves intercepted. Johnson has 19 touchdown passes on the season, closing in on his 2002 team record of 22.
Throughout the week, Gruden had emphasized the importance of improving the team's field position, but the Bucs couldn't deliver, particularly in the early going. Green Bay started three of their first four drives at their own 49 or better, including two in Buccaneer territory. Those two drives resulted in a touchdown and a field goal, giving Green Bay a 10-point lead three minutes into the second quarter.
The Packers scored first on a 47-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, converting three third downs on three tries. The first two were quick slants against Buc cornerbacks who were playing off, and the third was a shovel pass to RB Tony Fisher that resulted in a five-yard touchdown and the game's first points.
Minutes later, the Bucs escaped a third-and-11 at their own one with a good punt and a defensive stop, but Johnson fumbled on the next play and the Packers turned the game's first turnover into Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal.
Jones appeared to swing the momentum back to the Bucs' side with his 61-yard carry around left end on the first play of the next drive, but Green Bay held, forcing a field goal and holding onto a seven-point lead. The visitors then answered immediately with a 24-yard field goal drive following Najeh Davenport's 56-yard kickoff return.
Tampa Bay cut the lead back to one touchdown just before halftime on Martin Gramatica's 47-yard field goal. The Bucs gained possession at the midfield stripe with 14 seconds left in the second quarter and completed two quick passes to WR Keyshawn Johnson over the middle to set up the score.
At halftime, Tampa Bay had actually out-gained Green Bay, 128 to 111 but had trouble sustaining drives thanks to a one-for-seven mark on third downs. That continued a disturbing trend of recent vintage, as the Bucs have converted five of 28 third-down tries in the first half over the last four games.
Penalties also continued to plague the Buccaneers. A 40-yard pass to TE Rickey Dudley was erased in the first quarter by a holding penalty on guard Kerry Jenkins, and consecutive false starts forced the Bucs into a first-and-20 to start another drive in the second quarter. After tying the game at 13-13 in the third quarter, the Bucs had another strong march going just into Packer territory when a personal foul on Kenyatta Walker and a holding penalty on Cornell Green killed it. In all, Tampa Bay was penalized eight times for 48 yards, in line with their season average of 8.2 for 82.7 coming into the game.
"Obviously, we had numerous penalties on the offensive line today," said Gruden. "Some were due to a lack of concentration. We had some technique errors and some critical penalties. Significant penalties once again knocked us backward."
The Bucs were led on defense by CB Ronde Barber, who had a game-high 13 tackles. CB Tim Wansley had five tackles and broke up two passes and rookie S Travaris Robinson, playing extensively in the nickel defense for the first time this season, recorded his first career interception.
The day had started with promise for the Buccaneers, who were playing at 4:15, after several of their likely NFC playoff chase competitors played at 1:00. At one point, St. Louis, New Orleans and Carolina were all losing late, but all three rallied for close victories. Thus, the Bucs fell behind eight other teams in the race, including the Packers.
Notes: K Michael Husted became the Buccaneers' all-time leading scorer with his 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. That kick pushed him past former K Michael Husted (502 points from 1993-98), and he continued on to get seven points on the day, for 508 on his five-year career. … The Bucs extended their rather lengthy streak of consecutive games with at least one takeaway to 51 when S Travaris Robinson picked off a Brett Favre pass in the second quarter. That streak is the longest current one and the second longest in the NFL since 1983; the longest is Philadelphia's 71 from 1985-90. … RB Thomas Jones' 61-yard breakaway in the second quarter was the longest run of his career, eclipsing a 58-yarder he had at Seattle last September 15 while a member of the Arizona Cardinals. It was also the sixth-longest run in Buccaneer history and the longest since a 70-yard touchdown run by RB Warrick Dunn's vs. Dallas on December 3, 2000. … Rookie guard Sean Mahan saw his first action on the offensive line, filling in for Kerry Jenkins at left guard beginning on the Bucs' first drive of the second quarter. … WR Joe Jurevicius made his first appearance in a game since September 14, when he tore a ligament in his right knee against Carolina. After missing seven games, Jurevicius returned on Sunday and contributed one catch for five yards … QB Brad Johnson's three-yard touchdown pass to WR Keenan McCardell set a team record. It marked the 10th consecutive game that Johnson has thrown at least one touchdown pass. The previous mark was nine, accomplished three times, but not since Steve DeBerg did it in 1984.
Injury Updates: CB Tim Wansley left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring pull. He did not return. RB Aaron Stecker sustained a bruised left hand in the fourth quarter.
Quarter Reports: During Sunday's game, Buccaneers.com provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.
First Quarter Update
The Bucs' hopes for a fast start to Sunday's game disappeared in a hurry, as Green Bay completely dominated the first quarter. Enjoying outstanding field position on their three drives, the Packers put together one touchdown drive and had the ball at the Bucs' 49 when the period ended. Tampa Bay went into the second quarter trailing, 7-0.
Green Bay won the toss and elected to receive, with WR Robert Ferguson deep to field the kick. S Travaris Robinson stopped Ferguson at the Packers' 26, and Green Bay's first pass was incomplete. QB Brett Favre rolled right on the play after a fake handoff, but LB Derrick Brooks tipped his pass away. RB Ahman Green's dive into the line picked up four yards to the 30, and S Dwight Smith, playing cornerback in the nickel situation, broke up Favre's pass to WR Donald Driver. Josh Bidwell's punt rolled to a stop at the Bucs' 18.
The Bucs put the ball on the ground to start their first drive, with RB Michael Pittman taking a toss around left end for a gain of seven. After RB Thomas Jones' carry up the middle picked up two yards, Pittman tried the middle and was stopped inches short of the sticks. The Bucs had to punt, and WR Antonio Chatman returned the kick over midfield to the Bucs' 47.
Green took a pitch around right corner on first down and picked his way to the Bucs' 39 for an eight-yard gain. A quick slant to Ferguson was thrown behind the receiver on second down, setting up third-and-two, but the same play worked on third down for nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 30.
A screen to Green picked up seven yards on first down, but RB Najeh Davenport was tripped up by CB Ronde Barber for no gain on second down. The Packers converted that one by throwing another quick slant, this one to Driver on the right side. The result was a first down at the Bucs' 12, though a false start on TE Bubba Franks pushed the Pack back five yards.
Green's carry on first-and-15 picked up six yards, and his next tote got six more. On third-and-three from the Bucs' five, Favre tossed an underneath shovel pass to RB Tony Fisher and the back easily pushed into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown.
Reggie Barlow got the ensuing kickoff back to the Bucs' 22. QB Brad Johnson's first pass was an eight-yard in to WR Keyshawn Johnson that was off target and incomplete. A short pass to Pittman got three yards, but B. Johnson was sacked by DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on third down for a loss of six.
After the punt, Green Bay started again at their own 38, and threw an incompletion in FB William Henderson's direction on first down. After a Green run off right guard got four yards, Favre threw under pressure to Henderson over the middle and the fullback couldn't make the diving catch. Unfortunately, Bidwell then hit a punt that landed at the three and bounced straight up, where it was downed by Green Bay.
Pittman got the first down carry and picked up a single yard off right tackle. A second-down pass to TE Rickey Dudley appeared to get the ball out to the 40, but a holding penalty on G Kerry Jenkins brought the ball back to the Bucs' two, and a false start cost the home team another yard. Jenkins then jumped off before the next snap, sliding the ball back to within a half-yard of the Bucs' goal-line, and Pittman barely got out of the end zone on a second-down run up the middle. A pass over the middle to Pittman bought the Bucs a few yards but they still had to punt form their own eight.
The punt went about as well as the Bucs could expect, but Green Bay still got to start its next drive at its own 49.
Green's first-down run up the middle picked up seven but DE Ellis Wyms stopped him for no gain on second down. A Packer false start then made it third-and-eight, and the first quarter came to an end with Green Bay at the Bucs' 49.
Second Quarter Update
The second quarter was a wash, as each team made two field goals. The result was a 13-6 lead by the Packers heading into halftime. Bad field position plagued the Buccaneers, who out-gained Green Bay, 128 total yards to 111, in the half but still came up on the short end of the scoreboard. In particular, Tampa Bay held QB Brett Favre in check, holding him to seven-of-18 passing for 45 yards.
Green Bay faced a third-and-eight at the Bucs' 49 when the second quarter began, and Brett Favre's pass went through RB Tony Fisher's hands. Fortunately, Josh Bidwell's punt went into the end zone this time, giving Tampa Bay a touchback.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay gave the ball right back. QB Brad Johnson took a short drop on first down, then tried to scramble up the middle, but DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila knocked the ball out of his hands after a gain of two and LB Nick Barnett recovered for Green Bay at the Bucs' 22.
A short pass to RB Ahman Green picked up seven yards, but DT Warren Sapp blew up QB Brett Favre's play-action pass attempt, forcing a throw out the back of the end zone. On third-and-three from the 15, Green tried to bounce his run around right end but was stopped a yard short by LB Shelton Quarles. Still, Green Bay capitalized with K Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal.
RB Thomas Jones got the Bucs' next drive started out the right way, taking a pitch around left end and finding an opening down the sideline, which he exploited for a 61-yard gain down to Green Bay's nine.
Jones' next carry lost two yards, but a short pass over the middle to WR Joe Jurevicius got the ball down to the six. Johnson tried to hit RB Michael Pittman over the middle, but his hard pass was incomplete. Tampa Bay settled for Martin Gramatica's 24-yard field goal, cutting Green Bay's lead to 10-3.
However, RB Najeh Davenport immediately broke off a 56-yard kickoff return to the Bucs' 39, and Green got around right corner for a gain of nine on first down. Green got seven more yards up the middle on the next snap, resulting in a first down at the Bucs' 23. The Packers kept handing it to Green, and he broke a tackle to get six more yards on the next play. Davenport got just one on second down, and CB Tim Wansley's admirably tight coverage on WR Donald Driver denied a third-down slant. The Packers answered with Longwell's second field goal of the period, a 33-yarder with eight minutes to play in the half.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 35…or at least it should have. Consecutive false starts on Keyshawn Johnson and Kenyatta Walker made it first-and-20 at the 25 before the Bucs could start, but B. Johnson completed passes of 13 yards to K. Johnson and six yards to WR Keenan McCardell to make it third-and-one. RB Michael Pittman then made a nice cut on a run up the middle to gain seven yards to the Packers' 49.
A quick pass to Pittman garnered eight more yards, and a short pass to FB Jameel Cook was good for four and a first down at the Packers' 37. A pitch to Pittman got nothing going around left end, and a short pass to Jones was incomplete, setting up third-and-10. Johnson nearly hit McCardell on a sideline pass on the left side on third down, but the receiver was hit hard by S Antuan Edwards and he couldn't hold on when he hit the ground. Tupa came on to punt the ball down to Green Bay's nine.
Green's first-down carry off right tackle got five yards, but a deep pass attempt to WR Javon Walker was well-covered by CB Tim Wansley and overthrown. On third-and-five, after a Packer timeout, Favre tried to throw a fade-stop to Driver but the pass was behind the receiver and incomplete.
The Bucs took over at their own 43 after the punt but lost 11 yards on Cletidus Hunt's first-down sack of Johnson. A delayed handoff to Jones lost another yard, and Green Bay called a timeout with 2:04 left on the clock. On third-and-22, Johnson threw up a prayer in Jurevicius' direction, but it was easily intercepted by LB Nick Barnett at the Packers' 24, effectively taking the place of a punt.
After a false start, a screen pass to Green gained just one yard and a pass to WR Robert Ferguson picked up eight. A pass down the right sideline to Ferguson was incomplete, and Josh Bidwell's short punt came to a rest at the 50, but there were only 14 seconds left in the half. A quick pass over the middle to K. Johnson gained 12 yards down to the 38, and Tampa Bay called a timeout with eight seconds left in the half. Another pass to K. Johnson at the right numbers got the ball down to the Packers' 29 with three seconds left, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt by Gramatica. Gramatica hit it down the middle to cut the Packers' halftime lead to 13-6.
Third Quarter Update
Tampa Bay controlled the third period and tied the game at 13-13 on the quarter's only score, but continued to kill its other drives with penalties. Just before the quarter ended, Green Bay escaped a difficult third down near their own goal line. By the time the fourth quarter started, Tampa Bay had out-gained the Packers, 243 yards to 166.
The Bucs got the first possession of the second half and started at their own 35 after a nice sideline return by Reggie Barlow.
RB Thomas Jones broke another long run on the first play of the half, finding a seam around left end, bouncing off a tackle by S Antuan Edwards and finding open field. Jones was behind the defense, but S Darren Sharper made a remarkable, touchdown-saving tackle at the Packers' 14, diving to just clip Jones' foot.
The Bucs got inside the five on the next play, an underneath pass to WR Keenan McCardell, picking up 11 yards. RB Michael Pittman got nothing on a first-down carry off right tackle, but McCardell scored on the next play. The receiver started out, then cut inside CB Mike McKenzie along the goal-line, catching Brad Johnson's quick pass for a three-yard touchdown.
The Packers started their next drive at their own 26 and got a quick first down on successive carries of six and eight yards by RB Ahman Green. Najeh Davenport got nothing on the next carry, thanks to a stop by DT Warren Sapp, but QB Brett Favre hit WR Javon Walker on a six-yard pass on second down. Walker tried to come back for a short pass along the right sideline on third-and-four, but CB Tim Wansley closed quickly to knock the ball out of his hands. Barlow fair caught the ensuing punt at the Bucs' 14.
The drive got off to a good start when Johnson hit TE Ken Dilger for a gain of 18, but the Bucs lost 10 yards on John Wade's tripping penalty. Three plays later, after a screen to Jones picked up seven yards, Johnson dropped back on third-and-13 and settled for a little out to Jones. The Bucs had to punt, and Green Bay took over at their own 28.
Green broke off a long run on first down, but the play was erased by a motion penalty on the Packers. On the next snap, Favre rolled right, avoided a blitz by S John Lynch and threw deep downfield to WR Donald Driver. However, S Travaris Robinson leaped in front of Driver to pick off the pass at the Bucs' 49, earning his first career interception.
The Bucs stayed with their successful running strategy, giving it to Jones for carries of nine and eight yards down to the Packers' 34. However, a holding penalty pushed the Bucs back to the 44 and made it first-and-20. Pittman didn't see a quick slant coming on first down, and a good gain on second down was erased by a personal foul on T Kenyatta Walker.
Facing a second-and-35 at their own 45, the Bucs threw a short pass to Pittman for a gain of four, but a pass over the middle to Keyshawn Johnson bounced before it got to him and the Bucs had to punt. Needing a spark on special teams, the Bucs got it when Tom Tupa's kick bounced along the sideline and spun out of bounds at Green Bay's three. A penalty on Green Bay put the ball on the two.
Backed up to their own end zone, the Packers tried to run Green up the middle but he barely got out of the end zone, losing a yard to the one. Green was more successful on second down, but still stopped at the five to make it third-and-six. A false start made it third-and-nine, but Favre hit Ferguson on a deep in and the receiver galloped through the middle of the defense to the Packers' 26.
A good tackle by LB Derrick Brooks kept Davenport's first-down catch to just one yard, but Davenport's run off left guard was good for seven more, setting up third-and-two. The third quarter came to an end before another play could be run.
Fourth Quarter Update
Green Bay scored the only points of the fourth quarter on a drive that began midway through the third. The Packers eventually finished off a 98-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run, and finished off the Bucs with a 20-13 win. It was the first victory for Green Bay in six tries in Raymond James Stadium.
The Packers faced a third-and-two at their own 34 when the fourth quarter began but quickly got the ball into Buccaneer territory. After RB Ahman Green converted the third down with a three-yard run off left guard, RB Najeh Davenport found a hole around right end and picked up 27 yards to the Bucs' 36.
QB Brett Favre's first pass of the quarter was incomplete, and Green's next carry picked up just two yards. However, Favre moved the sticks on the next play with a nine-yard pass to WR Robert Ferguson on the left sideline. Green got around right end again for eight more yards on first down but couldn't find a hole on the left side on second down, gaining nothing. On third-and-two, a short pass to WR Donald Driver picked up just a yard, prompting Green Bay to go for it. They converted on Davenport's five-yard dive over the middle.
Davenport made another nice play on the next snap, spinning back to the middle on sweep right and nearly getting to the end zone. He fell to the ground at the Bucs' four, setting up second-and-three. RB Tony Fisher got a first down with a hard run up the middle. Green powered over right guard on the next play to put the Packers up, 20-13 with nine minutes to play.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 22. QB Brad Johnson tried to scramble on first down but lost a yard, giving a sack to DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. WR Keenan McCardell picked up six yards on an out, but Johnson's pass to WR Joe Jurevicius was broken up at the last moment by CB Michael Hawthorne.
After the punt, Green Bay started up at their own 44. With the clock ticking under seven minutes, the Packers wisely stayed on the ground, giving it to Green on consecutive carries for gains of three and 10 yards. After a false start penalty, Favre was pressured into an incompletion and Green was stopped by DT Warren Sapp after a gain of just one. A shovel pass to Fisher got the Packers down to the Bucs' 40, from where P Josh Bidwell rolled it down to the Bucs' two.
Jones rushed around right end for a gain of five yards on first down, giving the Bucs some breathing room, but Pittman's run in the same direction got just three. On third-and-two, Johnson's primary receivers were covered and he was forced into a quick incompletion.
The Bucs' punt gave it back to Green Bay at its own 40. Davenport immediately bashed up the middle for a gain of 12, though he was stopped on the next carry for just one yard. The Bucs burned their second timeout with 2:24 to play. Davenport simply bulled up the middle on the next, earning another first down and forcing Tampa Bay to burn its last timeout just before the two-minute warning. Three more runs got the ball down to the Bucs' 30, and Green Bay punted with less than a minute remaining. The ball went into the end zone for a touchback with 25 seconds left.
Tampa Bay maintained a modicum of hope with a 29-yard pass to WR Keenan McCardell. However, an incomplete pass over the middle ran the clock down to 10 seconds. One last desperation pass was intercepted by S Darren Sharper at the Bucs' five.