Led by the NFL’s leading rusher, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to improve to 3-0 for the first time in five years when they visit Favre and the struggling Packers.
Tampa Bay is unbeaten after two games for the first time since 2000, when they started 3-0 and went to the playoffs, and Williams clearly has been the difference.
He rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s 19-3 victory over Buffalo, becoming the first rookie to begin his career with consecutive 100-yard performances since Indianapolis’ Edgerrin James in 1999.
The former Auburn star gained 148 yards on 27 carries in his pro debut against Minnesota, and has not only injected energy into the offense, but helped a resurgent defense shine by helping the Buccaneers control the ball.
“I would like to say that it’s somewhat surprising that he’s had this success, but we really felt that he was a great, great running back to be honest with you,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said.
“I think he’s proven to everybody what he’s all about. He’s a great running back, a tremendous competitor. He’s got great poise and stamina. We’re really excited, obviously.”
The Packers lost 26-24 to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Favre topped 50,000 yards passing and broke John Elway’s single-stadium touchdown record, but couldn’t prevent Green Bay from being embarrassed by the lowly Browns and starting 0-2 for just the second time since he took over for Don Majkowski 14 years ago.
”(Starting) 0-2 is not the way it’s supposed to be and it’s not acceptable,” Packers coach Mike Sherman said. “We’re not going to make it look pretty and say, ‘Well, we’ve been here before. Well, there’s 14 games— it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”’
Green Bay started 0-2 in 1992 before Favre, then in his second year, took over as starting quarterback in the fourth game. The Packers finished 9-7 that season.
Williams, the fifth pick in the draft, has made the same type of immediate impact for Tampa Bay.
After ranking 29th among 32 teams in rushing last season, The Buccaneers are averaging 168.5 yards per game on the ground. Tampa Bay controlled the ball for nearly 39 minutes against the Bills, keeping the Bucs’ defense fresh enough to hold the opposition without an offensive touchdown for the second straight week.
Green Bay has struggled on defense, allowing 43 points in two games.
Sherman was also disappointed with the running attack in Sunday’s game.
Take away Favre’s three carries for 19 yards and the Packers managed just 97 yards on 27 attempts.
“I think the linemen and the receivers can do a much better job of finishing and creating those opportunities for the backs,” Sherman said. “Then again, it’s also the backs as well. Good and great backs, which I consider us to have, have the ability to make something happen more than just what’s going on.”
Out of the 121 teams that have started 0-2 since the playoffs expanded to their current format in 1990, only 17 have reached the postseason.
“Right now, we’re in a deep hole,” said Green Bay wide receiver Donald Driver, who caught a pass in his 50th straight game Sunday. “We have to find a way to get out of it.”
Two teams that opened 0-2 went on to win the Super Bowl—the New England Patriots in 2001 and the Dallas Cowboys in 1993. If Green Bay loses Sunday, the numbers get worse. Only three of 75 teams have started 0-3 and rebounded to reach the playoffs since 1990.