TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Green Bay had Tampa Bay’s once-vaunted defense on the verge of collapse, so coach Mike Sherman was determined to finish them off.
Facing fourth-and-1 from the Buccaneers 16 in a tie game, the Packers sent Najeh Davenport barreling up the middle for 5 yards instead of going for a go-ahead field goal. Three plays later, Ahman Green scored from the 1 to finish a 98-yard march that gave the Packers a 20-13 victory Sunday.
“It was such a beautiful drive, I just hated to let it go to a kicker. I thought we had to finish it off,” Sherman said.
“I think everyone, including some of our players, expected us to kick a field goal,” quarterback Brett Favre added. “But we just wanted to make a statement at that point, and I think we did.”
Playing with a broken right thumb and shrugging off five years of futility at Raymond James Stadium, Favre fueled the nearly 10-minute winning drive with a 23-yard completion to Robert Ferguson on third-and-9 from the Green Bay 3.
The victory moved the Packers (5-5) within one game of reeling Minnesota atop the NFC North, while the Bucs (4-6) fell four games behind Carolina in the NFC South with their third straight loss.
The Super Bowl champions concede they may be facing a near-impossible task of getting back to the playoffs.
“We expect every man to finish this season with authority. … Certainly we have our work cut out for us,” coach Jon Gruden said.
“I haven’t been in this position in a long time,” receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. “It’s demoralizing.”
Green finished with his seventh 100-yard game of the season, gaining 109 on 21 carries despite sitting out part of the nearly 10-minute winning drive while getting his left ankle taped. Davenport filled in admirably in his absence, gaining 39 of his 70 yards.
Favre completed 13 of 28 passes for just 92 yards, but threw a TD pass for the 18th straight game, a 5-yard shovel pass to Tony Fisher for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The three-time NFL MVP was intercepted once, but was not sacked—ending Tampa Bay’s league-record streak of 69 consecutive games with at least one sack.
The victory was Favre’s 120th as a starter, moving him ahead of Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas into sole possession of fourth on the career list behind John Elway (148), Dan Marino (147) and Fran Tarkenton (125).
It was his first, though, in Tampa since 1997, the year before the Bucs moved into Raymond James Stadium, where Favre was 0-5 before Sunday.
“I hate to lose anywhere,” Favre said. “Losing to Tampa Bay here the last five or six years is tough to take, but they’re a great defense.”
Brad Johnson rallied the Bucs from a 13-6 halftime deficit using a 51-yard run by Thomas Jones to set up a 3-yard TD pass to Keenan McCardell early in the third quarter. It was McCardell’s seventh scoring reception—and eighth TD overall—but Tampa Bay is 0-6 in the games in which the receiver has scored.
Martin Gramatica kicked field goals of 24 and 37 yards for the Bucs, one of them set up by Jones’ 61-yard run in the second quarter. The reserve running back finished with 134 yards on nine carries.
The Bucs’ defense yielded game-winning drives in the final two minutes of losses to NFC South rivals New Orleans and Carolina the previous two weeks. They buckled earlier this time, allowing the Packers to control the ball for 17 plays and burn 9:42 off the clock.
A sputtering offense has contributed to Tampa Bay’s woes, too, failing to score touchdowns in the first half of the last three games. Penalties were a problem again Sunday, including a comical sequence in which three straight flags were thrown on plays starting from inside the Bucs 4.
Johnson completed 17 of 28 passes for 149 yards. He was intercepted twiceand sacked three times.
The Packers beat the reigning Super Bowl champion for the third straight season. … The Packers are 20-2 when Green runs for 100 yards. … Favre needs two TD passes to tie Marino’s record of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 20. … Gramatica’s first field goal put him ahead of Michael Husted as Tampa Bay’s career scoring leader. He finished the day with 508 points. … Jones’ 61-yarder was the longest run of the former Arizona running back’s career. … Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicius (knee sprain) played for the first timesince the second game of the season. He had one catch for 5 yards.