LB Jamie Duncan, who had seven tackles against the Packers in November, says the Bucs have to get 11 men to the ball on Sunday
Before last Sunday's trip to Minneapolis, the Green Bay Packers had won just once in that city in the previous eight years. Even with the incomparable Brett Favre leading the way in each of those seasons and the Packers often ranking among the league's best teams, Green Bay couldn't unlock the mystery of the Metrodome.
But this year they had a secret weapon. And now the secret is out.
RB Ahman Green, who in his first two NFL seasons had a grand total of 329 rushing yards and three receptions, gashed the Vikings for 192 total yards on 25 carries and four receptions. Green routinely picked up large chunks of yardage by bursting quickly through the hole and bouncing to the outside, surprising the Vikings with his speed.
While Green has yet to build up the name recognition of some of the Bucs' more recent rushing opponents – Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk, for instance – his performance in Minnesota was that of a 'complete package,' a back in the mold of the Jets' Curtis Martin. The respectful Bucs will not be caught by surprise.
"He's a good back," said Lynch. "He's a strong guy who falls forward, and he also has the ability to go. He's a fast, fast guy, and he can take it. He's a good player, and he's doing it for them in both capacities, in the running and the passing game. That makes it tough when you have that double threat."
For a decade and a half, the Green Bay franchise couldn't find any back that could crack the 1,000-yard mark, failing to produce one such individual season from 1979 through 1994. Edgar Bennett broke that string in 1995, but it was Dorsey Levens who truly put the threat back into the Packers' running attack, making the Pro Bowl in 1997 with over 1,400 yards and following with another 1,000-yard campaign last year.
But, in 2000, when Levens struggled right from the start with injuries, the Packers turned to Green. Just like that, they found another 1,000-yard rusher. Green, who cost Green Bay just a sixth-round draft pick in a spring trade from Seattle, is seventh in the NFC with 1,101 rushing yards. He is now one of the first Packers for which an opponent must game-plan.
"I think everybody's recognizing him because he's done it now on a consistent basis," said Lynch. "I think his confidence is probably a lot stronger now, and their confidence in him is a lot stronger. That's everyone from the coaches to (quarterback) Brett (Favre). Brett uses him as an outlet much like he used to with Dorsey."
Green put up exactly 100 total yards against the Bucs on November 12, carrying 16 times for 65 yards and adding 35 yards on seven receptions. He has only become more significant in the Packers' attack since.
The Pack dropped to 4-6 after that loss in Tampa. At the time, Green had 539 rushing yards, 40 receptions and five touchdowns through the Packers' first 10 games. In the five games since, Green has exploded for 562 rushing yards, 24 receptions for 147 yards and six more scores. That's an average of 141.8 combined yards per game. Perhaps not coincidentally, Green Bay is 4-1 in that span and now suddenly back in playoff contention.
It is also no coincidence that Favre has, in the season's second half, re-emerged as one of the league's most dangerous players. In addition to regaining his health after struggling through his own nagging ailments, Favre also has found a runner to take some of the pressure off the passing game.
"I think Ahman Green has really helped Green Bay down the stretch, these last six or seven weeks," said Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy. "They're comfortable with their running game now and they're really well-balanced on offense. That makes Favre that much more difficult to defend. He's been playing great for them, but when they have that added threat of the run, and they're getting into a lot of second-and-threes and second-and-fours, I think that really helps them."
Green has had three 100-yard rushing games in the last five weeks and has only once been held below 4.4 yards per carry. In the two games he didn't hit triple digits, Green scored three touchdowns and caught 12 passes. His first two carries against Minnesota went for 12 and 10 yards, which instantly established the Packers' running game and opened up the field for Favre. Back in the form that made him a three-time league MVP, Favre then threw for 290 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Green Bay's rousing 33-28 victory.
"Brett's playing as well as I've seen him play and Ahman Green is their guy right now," said Barber. "He's a 1,000-yard rusher and he's leading their team in receiving. They've got some weapons and they use them to the best of their abilities.
"I think before, they were kind of waiting around for their running game, but now it's pretty much established. Like I said, Ahman Green's their guy – they're feeding it to him and he's getting the job done."
Which means the Buccaneers are going to have to make Green the number-one man in their defensive game plan. As usual, Tampa Bay endeavors to stop Green Bay's rushing attack first in order to force the Packers to pass. Even with Favre back in stride, the Bucs want their opponent passing in order to bring their ferocious pass rush.
"In order for us to stop them, we're definitely going to have to make them one-dimensional by stopping the run, and that's going to be a tough task," said Duncan, who also thinks highly of Green. "He's very quick, keeps his feet moving, accelerates through the hole and looks to cut back a lot of times. Like we did this past week, we have to get 11 guys to the ball, put a hat on him and make it a physical game for him."