K Matt Bryant's three field goals were an emotional lift for his teammates after a very tough week
Matt Bryant just had the worst week of his life. At least it ended on a small positive note — a 24-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rousing 30-21 win over the visiting Green Bay Packers.
Bryant's game-winning kick was huge for his team, as were his two other field goals earlier in the game. Personally, they probably did little to ease his grief over the sudden passing of his infant son, Tryson, on Wednesday. For his appreciative and supportive teammates, the victory was a cause for celebration; by beating the Packers, considered a prime Super Bowl candidate, the Buccaneers improved to 3-1 and stayed tied with Carolina for the lead in the NFC South.
"I can't say enough about Matt Bryant, what he's been through and what he did today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I think we all need to sit back, put ourselves in his shoes and recognize what a great performance he had under the circumstances. We gave him the game ball but there wasn't a lot to say to him. It's been a very, very hard week for Matt and our team.
"I think he needed the game today. He needed football today."
Greg White's streak of three consecutive games with a sack came to an end, and the Bucs couldn't be happier about it. White's hit on Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers on the second play after Bryant's field goal was just a half-second late to be a sack, but it did force Rodgers' throw to flutter down the field, where it was easily intercepted by DE Gaines Adams. Adams' second interception in as many weeks set up the game's final score, a one-yard Earnest Graham run after his own 47-yard scamper proved to be the back-breaker.
"We won a very important game today against a very good team," said Gruden. "I'm really proud of our football team. That's two weeks in a row we've showed a lot of grit coming from behind in the fourth quarter against two very good teams."
Buccaneers QB Brian Griese overcame three interceptions in Chicago a week ago by tossing an incredible 67 passes and racking up over 400 yards through the air, much of it during a stirring comeback in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Against another former NFC Central foe on Sunday, Griese's three interceptions were overcome by a swarming, turnover-creating defense.
The third of those picks was returned 62 yards for a touchdown by CB Charles Woodson, giving the Packers a one-point lead early in the final period. The Buccaneers rallied for the last 10 points, with Bryant's field goal coming off a short drive set up by rookie WR Dexter Jackson's 19-yard punt return.
Rodgers entered the game with no interceptions in his first 99 pass attempts of the season but was picked off three times by the Bucs' defense, with all of the turnovers leading to scores. He was briefly knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter, but returned for the drive that followed Bryant's go-ahead shot. After Adams' interception, Rodgers was once again replaced by Flynn. Rodgers finished the game with 14 completions in 27 attempts for 165 yards, two touchdowns, the three picks and a 55.9 passer rating.
Tampa Bay's defense was outstanding throughout the day, holding the Packers to 181 yards of offense, including just 28 on the ground. Seventy-three of those yards came on 25 and 48-yard touchdown catches by Greg Jennings, both on plays that looked like momentary breakdowns in the Bucs' secondary.
Green Bay RB Ryan Grant gained just 20 yards on 15 carries as the Bucs limited the Packers to 1.6 yards per carry. Rodgers, who had scrambled for 70 yards through the first three games, could rarely break containment, gaining just eight yard son two carries. He was also sacked three times, all in the first half.
Veteran LB Derrick Brooks led the Bucs' defensive chart. A balky hamstring and the emergence of several other defensive stars has meant a slow start to the 2008 season, statistically, for 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
Forget those numbers — 12 total tackles through the first three games — because on Sunday Brooks showed while he is still the heart of the Buccaneers' best-of-its-era defense. Brooks helped the Buccaneers build a 20-7 lead with an interception, a forced fumble, two key passes defensed and a tackle for loss at the Green Bay five that set up a short Tampa Bay field goal drive.
"What he played like today is the Derrick Brooks that everybody recognizes," said Gruden. "He made plays sideline to sideline and caused a couple turnovers. There's a lot of strength left in Derrick Brooks and we're going to need him the next 12 weeks."
Green Bay, led by Rodgers in his fourth game as Brett Favre's replacement, scored on its opening possess but the Bucs tied it early in the second quarter after Brooks' quick-handed interception off a pass that deflected off RB Ryan Grant. Griese hit TE Alex Smith for a nine-yard score to tie the game.
In the third quarter, Brooks forced a fumble by Grant that S Jermaine Phillips returned 40 yards for a touchdown, giving the Buccaneers three defensive scores in their first four games. That gave Tampa Bay its 13-point lead, which evaporated quickly in the face of Brian Griese's second and third interceptions of the day. The first, by Nick Collins, set up a 48-yard touchdown pass by Rodgers to Jennings. The second was returned 62 yards for a touchdown by CB Charles Woodson, giving Green Bay a 21-20 lead with 14 minutes to play.
The Bucs were able to rally, however, when the defense forced Green Bay to punt from its own 17. Jackson's return put the ball at the Packers' 36 and Graham converted a third-and-one to put the Bucs into field goal range. Griese's three-yard scramble on third-and-two put Bryant in range for his game-winner.
A week after throwing a franchise-record 67 passes, Griese presided over a more balanced attack that repeatedly took advantage of good field position. Tampa Bay's five scoring drives covered 32, 36, 27, 30 and 48 yards, and the last one took only two plays.
The game didn't start particularly well for the Buccaneers, as Will Blackmon ran the opening kickoff all the way out to Green Bay's 42. The Buccaneers did force the Packers into an early gamble, as June stopped Grant cold on a third-and-one run up the middle at midfield. However, Rodgers' QB sneak up the middle on fourth-down got just enough — by the nose of the football — for a first down. The Packers then converted a third-and-seven after picking up a big Buc blitz, with Rodgers hitting Jordy Nelson for a gain of 11 to the Bucs' 33. The Packers completed the 10-play scoring drive when Barber slipped at the snap on third-and-two, leaving Jennings wide open for an easy 25-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers.
Jackson gave the Bucs' a similarly good drive start by running Green Bay's first kickoff out of the end zone and out to the Bucs' 32-yard line. However, Tampa Bay failed to sustain its first drive and Bidwell had to punt it away. He helped the Bucs flip the field position, at least, blasting a 64-yarder that almost reached the opposite end zone on the fly.
After the touchback, the Packers got one first down but then had to punt after Brooks nearly intercepted one pass and heavy pressure on third down forced the next one to sail incomplete. Tampa Bay's second drive began at its own 23 after a 41-yard punt.
Griese had Dunn lined up for an easy 10-yard gain on first down but the umpire was unable to get out of the way and Griese's pass hit the official in the head. Fortunately, the officials threw a defensive holding flag two plays later and the Bucs got a first down anyway at their own 32. Graham's third-and-one run got the Bucs another first down at the 42, and then Griese took a shot downfield on a post route to Bryant. The play was well-covered and incomplete, however, and the Bucs had to punt three plays later.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay's defense got the ball back in Green Bay territory. Rodgers tried to dump a short pass over the middle to RB Brandon Jackson on third-and-18, but the ball bounced out of Jackson's hands and was snared by Brooks. Brooks then dangerously pitched the ball to June, who got the ball back to the Packers' 32.
An illegal contact penalty on Woodson gave the Bucs a first down at the 27, converting a third-and-10. Griese converted the next one himself by hitting Bryant on a quick slant that picked up 13 yards to the Packers' nine. The Bucs put it in the end zone on the next snap, a play-action rollout throw by Griese to Smith for the nine-yard, game-tying score.
A low-block penalty on Blackmon on the ensuing kickoff forced the Packers to start at their own 11. Brooks made another big play on first down, knifing through the line to drop Grant for a loss of six, then broke up a pass over the middle on second down, nearly getting another interception. The Packers had to punt after a third-down incompletion, and David Frost's kick was a short one, marked down at the Packers' 41.
Graham converted another third-and-one with a power run, then Dunn spun away from a tackler on a short catch and shot all the way down to the 11 for a gain of 17. The Bucs couldn't punch it in from there, but Bryant came on to kick a 23-yard field goal and put the Bucs up by three with 6:43 left in the half.
The Bucs had another scoring opportunity just minutes later thanks to another interception. This one was snared by LB Barrett Ruud, who picked off a pass thrown over Driver's head and got it back to the Packers' 45.
WR Ike Hilliard made an impressive leaping catch on a fade stop, getting the ball to the 32. WR Michael Clayton fought through tacklers for a 12-yard gain on third-and-13, leaving the ball a yard short at the Packers 23. The Bucs elected to go for it on fourth-and-one and Graham sliced over right guard for a two-yard gain. That play brought on the two-minute warning. The Bucs couldn't move the chains again, but Bryant converted another three-pointer, this one a 37-yarder, and the Bucs had a 13-7 lead with a minute left in the first half.
The Packers got close to midfield on their next drive but were driven back to the 36 by a sack by a blitzing Ruud. An 18-yard catch-and-run by Jackson put the ball at the Bucs' 45 and the Packers used their last timeout with 15 seconds left in the half. Two more incompletions, however, kept Green Bay from narrowing the Bucs' first-half lead.
Tampa Bay came flying out of the gates in the second half. After Jackson returned the opening kickoff to the Bucs' 45, Graham gained five and 19 yards on two straight carries. Dunn came on and contributed carries of six and seven yards and the Bucs found themselves at the Packer 18 with a first down.
Unfortunately, the drive produced no points because a short pass intended for Clayton deflected off the receiver's outstretched hand and went straight into the gut of Tramon Williams, the cornerback playing in place of the injured Al Harris. Williams' return got all the way back to the Packers' 44, though T Donald Penn was able to fight through several blockers to get Williams out of bounds there and prevent a long touchdown.
The Bucs' defense responded with a three-and-out — Adams stopped Grant cold on a third-and-one run attempt — and the ensuing punt went into the end zone for a touchback. The Bucs had to punt it back after a short drive, and Green Bay's next drive start at its own 39.
That drive went in the wrong direction for the Packers. On first down, Brooks met Grant head on around the left end and popped the football out of the back's grasp with his helmet. Phillips saw the ball lying on the turf at the 40, scooped it up on the run and easily out-raced Rodgers to the end zone. The Bucs' third defensive touchdown of the season — and their first fumble recovery of 2008 — gave the home team a 20-7 lead with six minutes to play in the third quarter.
An interception by S Nick Collins gave the Packers an golden scoring opportunity before the third quarter was over, and they quickly took advantage. Collins picked of a sideline pass intended for Antonio Bryant and got it back to the Bucs' 41. The Bucs ' defense forced Green Bay into a third-and-17 with two tackles for loss, but Rodgers found Jennings on a full-speed seam route and Jennings ran all the way to the end zone for a 48-yard score.
Woodson made his big play just minutes later, putting the Packers up by one when he stripped a pass away from Dunn and ran untouched down the Buccaneers' sideline.
A penalty on the next kickoff return pushed the Bucs back to their own 12. An incredible sack escape by Griese led to a 17-yard strike to Smith that put the ball near midfield, but the Bucs eventually had to punt.
Flynn came in to lead the next drive, which went nowhere. The Packers had to punt from their own 17 and Jackson weaved through traffic for a 19-yard return to the Green Bay 36.
Dunn sliced up the middle for a gain of seven on first down and Graham converted yet another third-and-one by running right for four yards. Two more Graham carries gained eight yards down to the 15. Griese dropped back to pass on third-and-two but eventually scrambled forward for a first down at the 12.
The Bucs kept it on the ground and ended up with a fourth-and-four at the six. Bryant gave the Bucs a 23-21 lead with a 24-yard field goal with two-and-half minutes to play.
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Green Bay a drive start of its own 40. Rodgers returned to lead the offense but was flushed out of the pocket and barely got off an incompletion on first down. On second down, White sprung free on Rodgers backside and hit the passer hard as he threw. The resulting floater was easily intercepted by Adams, who returned it 12 yards to the Packers' 48.
The Bucs' offense came on the field needing only a few first downs to run out the clock, and got much more on the very first snap. Graham's 47-yard burst over left guard — his third carry of 45 or more yards in just four games this year — set up his own one-yard touchdown run on the very next play. Graham actually lined up as a fullback in front of Dunn on the snap but took a quick underneath handoff from Griese and followed the surge up front into the end zone.
The Packers went back to Flynn for the next drive but the rookie couldn't produce a first down and the Bucs only had to kneel to end it.
With the victory, the Bucs improved to 3-1 and stayed tied with Carolina for first place in the NFC South. The Panthers beat the Atlanta Falcons, now 2-2, to improve to 3-1 also. The New Orleans Saints moved their record to 2-2 with a win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Packers dropped to 2-2 on the season, having lost their last two to Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers are now 20-29-1 all-time against Green Bay, including 13-12-1 at home. The Packers are 1-5 in their six trips to Raymond James Stadium. â€¦For the second straight year, the Buccaneers have finished the first "quarter" of the season with a 3-1 record. Just as they did in 2007, the Buccaneers lost their season-opener on the road and then followed with a three-game winning streak. The Buccaneers have gone on to qualify for the playoffs in six of the eight previous seasons in which they began the season with a 3-1 or better mark through four games. â€¦ During pregame introductions, the Buccaneers sent their offensive starters out one by one, then added one more player to the intros. K Matt Bryant, who was playing just four days after the unexpected death of his infant son, Tryson, ran out with the offense and received a huge ovation from the crowd. Bryant went on to make the tackle on the opening kickoff, then finished the game with 12 points on three-of-three field goal kicking and three extra points â€¦ P Josh Bidwell's 64-yard blast in the first quarter tied for the fifth-longest punt in team history. Tom Tupa and Frank Garcia (twice) also hit 64-yard punts in previous Buc seasons. â€¦ LB Derrick Brooks' interception off QB Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter was the first pick Rodgers had thrown this season. The turnover came on Rodgers' 109th pass of the year. â€¦ Brooks' interception was the 25th of his career. Only four players in team history, all defensive backs (in order, Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham, Cedric Brown and Mike Washington), have more career picks for the Buccaneers. â€¦ DE Jimmy Wilkerson's second-quarter sack of Rodgers was his first as a Buccaneer. â€¦ LB Barrett Ruud's second-quarter sack of Rodgers was the first of his four-year NFL career. ... Tampa Bay's first seven defensive takeaways of the season were interceptions, including two first-half picks on Sunday. The team's first fumble recovery of the year came in the third quarter, when S Jermaine Phillips returned a Ryan Grant fumble 40 yards for a score. â€¦ Phillips' touchdown was the first of his career.
Inactives: The Buccaneers named the following eight players inactive before Sunday's game: QB Josh Johnson, FB B.J. Askew, LB Matt McCoy, G Davin Joseph, T James Lee, WR Joey Galloway, DT Ryan Sims and designated third quarterback Jeff Garcia. Askew, Joseph, Galloway and Sims were out due to injury.
The Packers named the following eight players inactive: S Atari Bigby, RB Kregg Lumpkin, CB Al Harris, FB Korey Hall, T Breno Giacomini, WR James Jones, DE Jeremy Thompson and designated third quarterback Brian Brohm. Bigby, Lumpkin, Harris, Hall and Jones were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, two starting offensive lineman — Arron Sears and Jeremy Trueblood — briefly had to leave the game with unspecified injuries but both returned almost immediately. S Sabby Piscitelli suffered an elbow injury in the third quarter and did not return.
For the Packers, CB Will Blackmon suffered a quad injury in the second quarter but was able to return. QB Aaron Rodgers sustained a shoulder injury in the third quarter but did briefly return. DE Cullen Jenkins also hurt his shoulder in the fourth quarter and did not return. S Aaron Rouse was helped off the field with an injured knee in the fourth quarter and did not return.