The Tampa Bay Buccaneers headed into the visiting locker room with an 11-point deficit on Sunday at Lambeau Field, but with a sense that their quest to upset the undefeated Green Bay Packers was still very much alive.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw first-half touchdown passes to WR Jordy Nelson and TE Tom Crabtree and defensive tackle B.J. Raji added a third Green Bay score on a one-yard run. Green Bay took a 14-0 lead early in the second period but the Buccaneers' offense fought back hard, highlighted by RB LeGarrette Blount's stunning 54-yard touchdown run.
Tampa Bay closed the gap to 14-10 and tried to take control of the game with a surprise onside kick, but the Packers got the ball and used the short field to tack on seven more points. Tampa Bay answered with a two-minute drive into Green Bay territory but it ended on CB Tramon Williams' interception, the only turnover of the first half.
The Buccaneers actually out-gained the potent Packer offense, 217 yards to 209, in the first half, behind Blount's 79 yards and Josh Freeman's precise passing. Freeman completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards and made few mistakes, beside the scrambling throw near halftime that Williams picked off with a diving play.
While Green Bay still moved the ball effectively, as it has done all season en route to an NFL-best 320 points through the first nine games, the Bucs' defense showed renewed resolve after a tough game against Houston. Tampa Bay defenders swarmed to the football and allowed only 49 rushing yards in the first half. The Bucs caught a tough break early, however, after they stopped Green Bay's first possession but saw a busted punt turn into a first-down run by P Tim Masthay.
The Packers won the toss but deferred, so the Bucs got the ball first, starting at their own 23 after Sammie Stroughter's kickoff return. Two Blount runs were bottled up near the line, leaving the Bucs in a third-and-seven at the 26. Freeman converted that opening third down and got the ball to the 46 with a 20-yard completion to WR Preston Parker on a crossing route. A short out to TE Luke Stocker got just one yard but Freeman found WR Arrelious Benn near the left sideline for five yards on second down. Parker ran another crossing route in the other direction but the ball was tipped at the line. Parker did all he could do to reach back and keep CB Charles Woodson from intercepting the wobbling deflection, and the Bucs had to punt.
A fair catch at the 12 lined up Green Bay's first possession. Rodgers tried a play-action rollout right on the first play but the Bucs' defended both his short and deep options perfectly and he had to throw it away. Rodgers scrambled left and hit Jennings on second down but the play came back because G Josh Sitton was flagged for holding DT Albert Haynesworth. On the ensuing play, Rodgers threw a perfect back-shoulder pass to WR James Jones with CB E.J. Biggers in perfect coverage, but Jones couldn't quite hold on as he spun around. DE Adrian Clayborn and Haynesworth gave the Packers 10 yards back with consecutive neutral-zone infractions, but S Sean Jones came up to make an impressive open-field tackle on WR Donald Driver to deny the first down.
However, the Bucs were hit with a bit of bad luck when the Packers tried to punt. LB Jacob Cutrera came into the backfield unblocked and had a chance to block Masthay's punt. Masthay saw it in time and pulled the ball down, fumbling and recovering and then running around right end for a first down. Masthay also fumbled at the end of the play but it went out of bounds, giving Green Bay another first down at their 27. Three plays later, Rodgers faced a third-and-five and got that plus a lot more on a 34-yard strike down the right sideline to WR Jordy Nelson. That put the ball at the Bucs' 34, and RB James Starks got seven yards on a broken-play catch-and-run. Two plays later, Rodgers escaped pressure to his left and found Nelson for a first down at the Bucs' 19. Rodgers converted the next third down himself with one of his typical scrambles, making it first-and-goal at the six, and he ran it down to the one on the next play before taking a hard hit from CB Ronde Barber. The Packers brought in nose tackle B.J. Raji as a fullback on second-and-goal and actually gave it to him. The defender plowed up the middle for a one-yard touchdown and the game's first points.
Blount got the ball going left on first down on the Bucs' next possession but found no hole and lost three yards back to the Tampa Bay 13. Blount got two back on the next play but LB Desmond Bishop accidentally rolled up the back of T Jeremy Trueblood's legs and Trueblood had to leave the game, though he walked off on his own. A short pass under pressure to Benn lost a yard and the Bucs had to punt.
RB James Starks got the carry on first down from the midfield stripe to start the next drive but DE Da'Quan Bowers' quick penetration forced the back to cut back into a one-yard loss. A draw play to Starks on the next play gained just two as the defense swarmed to the right corner and didn't let him get around the end. The next play was the first snap of the second quarter, and Nelson made a dazzling catch down the left sideline for a gain of 26 and a first down at the Bucs' 22. After a Buccaneer timeout, the Packers ran a screen to Starks perfectly and he rumbled down to the Bucs' five. On the next play, TE Tom Crabtree released off the right end of the line and found himself wide open in the end zone for an easy touchdown.
The Bucs got their next drive started off quickly with Benn catching a 28-yard pass on a fade-stop down the left sideline. Blount did the rest with his career-long 54-yard run, breaking or bouncing off six potential tacklers along the way. Four of those potential tacklers hit Blount within the first 10 yards of the run, and a well-timed block by G Davin Joseph helped knock one of them off. That trimmed the Packers' lead to 14-7 with 13 minutes left in the half.
Rodgers got away from Clayborn on first down and was able to fire a 12-yard sideline dart to Rodgers for a first down at the Packers' 29. Clayborn got him on the next play, however, dropping the Packers quarterback for a four-yard sack. After Rodgers scrambled for seven yards on second down, another encroachment penalty made it third-and-two instead of third-and-seven. Jones had great coverage on TE Jermichael Finley on a third-down pass and Finley couldn't quite pull in an over-the-shoulder grab. Masthay's punt sailed all the way to the opposite end zone for a touchback.
Erik Walden dropped Freeman for a three-yard sack on first down but Blount pounded for five more on second down. Freeman's third-down-converting pass to Parker was called back due to offsetting penalties but he did it again on the next snap, avoiding a sack, scrambling forward and throwing on the run to TE Kellen Winslow for 13. A Benn end-around for nine yards and a six-yard run by Blount moved the chains, followed by a 10-yard catch by FB Erik Lorig to the Green Bay 40. Another Blount pinball run got 15 more. A simple fade to a leaping Mike Williams tacked on 15 more down to the Green Bay 10, but Bishop came in untouched on the next play to meet Blount three yards in the backfield. After an incompletion, a nice rollout pass to RB Kregg Lumpkin had a chance to work but the Packers were able to stop Lumpkin at the five. Connor Barth was able to turn the drive into three points with a 23-yard field goal, making it 14-10 with four minutes left in the half.
Head Coach Raheem Morris got aggressive after that score, attempting a surprise onside kick. The Bucs appeared to recover it after a loose-ball scramble, but P Michael Koenen was flagged for illegally touching the ball before it had gone 10 yards and that gave possession to the Packers at Tampa Bay's 38 with four minutes to play in the half.
The Packers cost themselves 10 yards on Finley's offensive pass interference to start the drive but Finley got it back moments later with a 21-yard catch. Randall Cobb's 11-yarder took the ball down to the Bucs' five and Rodgers found Nelson on the next play for a TD and a 21-10 lead with two minutes remaining in the half.
As they have quite often this year, the Bucs moved well in their two-minute drill behind Freeman's decisive passing. Consecutive passes to Winslow down the middle got the ball across midfield to the Green Bay 43, where Freeman called a timeout with 45 seconds left. However, two plays later Freeman escaped a collapsing pocket and rolled right, eventually trying to hit Mike Williams, and Tramon Williams dived into the picture to get the interception.
From the Packer 28 with 32 seconds left, Rodgers scrambled for 11 yards and got out of bounds with 25 seconds to play. Rodgers tried to throw down the right sideline to Finley on the next play but Jones broke it up and Finley was hurt on the play. That forced the Packers to use their third timeout with 20 seconds left. CB Aqib Talib made a fine open-field tackle on a short pass to Jennings on the next play and the Packers let the last 10 seconds run off the clock.