LB Shelton Quarles' 98-yard interception return was the longest scoring play in team history
In one tense afternoon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded both the longest single scoring play and – several quarters later – the longest scoring drive in team history.
Amazingly, it almost wasn't enough.
Not until DT Anthony McFarland sacked Green Bay QB Brett Favre at the Bucs' 18 and forced the Packers into two desperate incompletions in the final seconds did the Bucs close out a thrilling, 14-10 victory over their archrivals.
The win elevates Tampa Bay's 2001 record to 2-1 and puts them just one-half game behind the first-place Packers (3-1). It also gives the Bucs four victories in four tries over Green Bay in Raymond James Stadium.
The Buccaneers' home opener, already almost a month later than was originally intended, started slowly when neither team scored in the first quarter. That changed in a hurry as the second period began, however.
Opening the quarter on the Bucs' six-yard line, Favre tried to throw a flare pass to TE David Martin, who was running parallel to the goal line. LB Shelton Quarles, in close pursuit, jumped the route, picked the ball off at the Bucs' two and began his way downfield. Martin chased him for 30 yards and dove at Quarles feet, nearly tripping him up, but the linebacker kept his feet and used an escort by CB Ronde Barber to rumble 98 yards for a touchdown.
"He made a great play to catch the ball," said Head Coach Tony Dungy of the longest scoring play of any kind in team history. "They ran a lot of crossing routes and had success with a lot of them, but that's one that went our way."
That was one of three interceptions by the Bucs' defense, who made a prophet out of S John Lynch, who missed various portions of the game with a groin strain suffered early in the first quarter. In the week prior to the game, Lynch praised Favre but indicated that the quarterback's wide-open style would give the Bucs' defense a chance for turnovers.
Green Bay evened the score later in the quarter with a 76-yard touchdown drive, most of it on a 67-yard pass to WR Bill Schroeder. Lynch was on the sideline for that play, and substitute S Eric Vance broke just a bit too late to get Schroeder out of bounds at the 40-yard line. The receiver ran untouched the rest of the way for the tying score.
The Bucs won the game's turnover battle for the third straight week, but the one Tampa Bay giveaway did result in the Packers' go-ahead score in the third quarter. One of five sacks suffered by Bucs QB Brad Johnson led to a fumble that DE John Thierry recovered at the Bucs' 22. Though the Bucs' defense then held the Packers to just five yards on three plays, K Ryan Longwell capitalized with a 25-yard field goal.
The sack that caused a fumble was one of three recorded by situational rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Incredibly, Gbaja-Biamila already has nine sacks through four games to lead the National Football League.
Longwell's field goal put the Bucs in a 10-7 hole, a seemingly difficult predicament for a Buccaneers' offense that had not put together a drive of more than 45 yards through the first three quarters.
The situation appeared to worsen when a Josh Bidwell punt pinned Tampa Bay at its own five-yard line with 11:24 remaining in the game. Remarkably, the Bucs responded with a 95-yard touchdown drive, the longest scoring march in Tampa Bay's 26-year history.
WR Keyshawn Johnson, who finished the game with a game-high nine receptions for 82 yards, got the drive going with a 22-yard reception out to the Bucs' 28. Johnson suffered a shoulder injury on the play and collapsed while trying to get to the sideline. However, he returned two plays later and finished the drive.
That was fortunate for the Buccaneers because, on the drive's eighth play, Johnson provided a key block and what became a 39-yard scoring run by FB Mike Alstott, the second-longest touchdown of Alstott's career. Alstott started the run up the middle on a delayed handoff and broke one tackle at the line of scrimmage, then veered suddenly to the left. Johnson was in that vicinity, and he cleared out the last two Packers with a hard block, allowing Alstott to take it down the sideline for the winning score.
The Packers got the ball back for the first time with 6:45 remaining and tried to get back on top immediately, with Favre heaving one down the left sideline for WR Corey Bradford. S Dexter Jackson had deep containment on that side, and he reached the play in time to intercept the pass at the Bucs' 32.
However, a three-and-out by the Bucs' offense gave Green Bay another shot with 4:17 remaining, and Favre was able to move them down to the Bucs' eight in the last minute. The big play of the drive was eerily reminiscent of last week, when Minnesota TE Byron Chamberlain's 37-yard sideline catch in the closing minutes set up the Vikings' winning score. Green took a screen pass down the same sideline, weaving in and out of Buc tacklers, before LB Jamie Duncan knocked him down at the 13.
McFarland's sack came two plays later, and two throws by Favre into the back of the end zone were barely incomplete. Bucs LB Derrick Brooks, appeared to be injured on that final play, though no report was available by the end of the game.
"Any time you've got Brett Favre, you're in for a 60-minute show," said Dungy. "Fortunately, we were able to get some interceptions and some turnovers, but it went down to the last play."
Johnson, known for his accuracy, eventually completed 23 of 29 passes for 184 yards, helping the Bucs convert six of 14 third downs. He mixed his targets well, hitting eight different players, including, for the first time this season, TE Dave Moore and WR Reidel Anthony. Anthony had three receptions for 40 yards, including a big third-down catch on the winning drive.
Strangely, Johnson still does not have a passing touchdown as a Buccaneer.
Alstott gained 77 yards on 15 carries as the Bucs as a team gained 99 yards on the ground and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
CB Donnie Abraham had the third Buc interception, picking off Favre's first pass of the day. That gives Abraham 26 interceptions on his career, just three shy of the team's all-time lead, held by Cedric Brown (29). Mike Washington had 28 picks as a Buccaneer.
Overall, the Bucs lost the yardage battle, 322-253, and again struggled defensively on third down, allowing eight conversions in 14 tries. The Packers, ranked third in the league in rushing coming into the game, gained just 69 yards on 22 carries.
Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter updates in the Gameday section during the contest, completely with descriptions of all the big plays. Those reviews follow to offer a closer look at the Bucs' much-needed victory.