TAMPA – It was a hero’s welcome for Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant, who returned to Tampa Bay on Sunday after burying his infant son, Matthew Tryson, in Texas on Saturday. Tryson passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday morning, and throughout the week it was uncertain as to whether Bryant would be available to kick on Sunday due to the tragedy.
But showing a tremendous amount of heart and determination, after being introduced with the offense to a standing ovation from the 64,122 fans in attendance at Raymond James Stadium, Bryant went a fitting three-of-three on field goals – the last of which, a 24-yarder, gave Tampa Bay a 21-20 lead with 2:26 left in regulation that allowed the Bucs to beat the visiting Green Bay Packers, 30-21, and improve to 3-1 on the season.
“I didn’t want to have a bad game today,” said Bryant, who felt Tryson’s presence with him throughout the game. “I wanted this to be the focus and to put Tryson in the spotlight. I was going to go 3-for-3 today.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had plenty of praise for both Bryant and the team after being the Packers, who fell to 2-2 on the season after losing their second-straight game.
“I can’t say enough about Matt Bryant and what he’s been through and what he did today,” Gruden said. “I think we all need to kind of just sit back and put ourselves in his shoes and recognize what a great performance he did under the circumstances.
“Our team has shown a lot of grit coming from behind in the fourth quarter to win against two very difficult teams. There are plenty of things we can talk about and clean up, but at the end of the day to beat the Green Bay Packers at home is a huge win for us.”
For the fourth time this season, the Buccaneers owned a halftime lead over their opponents thanks to Bryant’s field goals of 23 and 36 yards. And for the second-straight week, Tampa Bay lost its lead in the second half and had to fight back to reach victory. After scoring the game’s final 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Bucs claimed their third straight win of the season.
But the win didn’t come easy as Tampa Bay had to weather three interceptions from Bucs quarterback Brian Griese for the second consecutive game, the last of which came in the fourth quarter when Packers cornerback Charles Woodson stepped in front of running back Warrick Dunn and returned an interception 62 yards to give the Packers a 21-20 lead with 13:43 left in the game. Griese finished the game 15-of-30 for 149 yards with one touchdown, in addition to his three turnovers.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, their defense was able to force three interceptions from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who entered the game with a streak of 157 passes without a pick – the third-longest streak in Packers history. Rodgers’ streak came to an end when Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted him on the first play of the second quarter to help set up a field goal that gave Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead. For good measure, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud tacked on another one later in the second quarter – his second interception in as many weeks. That led to another Bryant field goal that increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 13-7 at the half.
In the second half, the Bucs increased their lead when Brooks forced a fumble by drilling running back Ryan Grant. Grant coughed up the ball on the Green Bay 38 and strong safety Jermaine Phillips scooped and scored to build Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-7 midway through the third quarter. The Bucs have now scored a defensive touchdown in three of their first four games of the 2008 season.
But Tampa Bay’s lead would be short-lived after wide receiver Greg Jennings caught his second touchdown of the game on a 48-yard pass from Rodgers, followed by Woodson’s 62-yard interception return for a touchdown. Jennings finished the game with 109 yards on six carries and was Green Bay’s lone offensive weapon on Sunday as Tampa Bay’s defense stuffed Grant all day, holding him to only 20 yards on 15 carries.
While Green Bay compiled only 28 yards rushing on 18 carries (1.6 avg.) on Sunday, Tampa Bay’s 14th-ranked running game continued to roll, amassing 178 yards on 41 carries (4.3 avg.), led by Earnest Graham’s 111 yards on 20 carries (5.6 avg.). Graham had a game-high 47-yard jaunt after Rodgers’ third pick of the game, which was intercepted by defensive end Gaines Adams, who recorded his first NFL pick last week at Chicago. Graham scored his second touchdown of the year on the next play to give Tampa Bay a 30-21 lead, which would be the final score.
Green Bay looked sharp on its opening drive, as it marched 58 yards in 10 plays. Facing a fourth-and-1 on its own 49 yards, Rodgers did a quarterback sneak and picked up the first down. Then on third-and-7 at the Tampa Bay 45, rookie receiver Jordy Nelson picked up 11 yards down to the Tampa Bay 33. Grant rushed for 17 yards on five carries on the drive, setting up a third-and-2 at the Bucs 25 where Jennings beat cornerback Ronde Barber, who slipped in coverage, for a 25-yard touchdown catch. Safety Tanard Jackson was late coming over in pass defense. With 10:24 left in the first quarter, Green Bay jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
On the first play of the second quarter, facing a third-and-18 from the Green Bay 27, Rodgers threw his first interception of the season when his pass for running back Brandon Jackson bounced off his hands and into the arms of Brooks at the 30. Brooks then lateralled the ball to linebacker Cato June, who lost two yards, but set up Tampa Bay with great field position.
The Bucs picked up two key third downs on the drive, the first of which came from an illegal contact penalty on Woodson on third-and-10 at the 32. The second third down conversion was on a third-and-6 situation where Griese hit Antonio Bryant for a 13-yard gain down to the Green Bay 9. On the next play, Griese used play action to hit tight end Alex Smith in the left flat with 9-yard touchdown pass. Smith beat defensive end Michael Montgomery in coverage. The Bucs’ scoring drive covered 32 yards in six plays. With 12:09 left in the second quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
Tampa Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out thanks to a 6-yard tackle for loss by Brooks that backed the Packers up to their 6-yard line after first down. The Bucs took over with great field position once again at the Green Bay 41. Warrick Dunn accounted for 10 yards rushing on the drive, but it was a 17-yard catch that drove the Bucs deep into the red zone down to the Packers 11. But on third-and-5 from the 6-yard line, Griese’s pass for tight end Jerramy Stevens in the end zone was broken up. Bryant’s 23-yard field goal with 6:43 left before halftime gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead.
After getting sacked by defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, Rodgers threw his second interception of the game, this time to Ruud at the Tampa Bay 45. The Bucs middle linebacker returned the pick 10 yards to the Green Bay 45 where the offense set up shop.
Passes from Griese to Ike Hilliard (13 yards) and Michael Clayton (11) helped move the chains, but two batted passes at the line on second and third down from the Green Bay 18 forced the Bucs to attempt another field goal. After moving 27 yards in 10 plays, Bryant’s 37-yard field goal with 1:07 left before halftime increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 13-7.
The Bucs had great field position to start the second half with a 45-yard kick return by Dexter Jackson, who averaged 33.3 yards per kick return on Sunday. Packers cornerback Will Blackmon made the tackle to prevent a touchdown. Graham ripped off runs of four and 18 yards to move inside Green Bay territory. Dunn followed suit with a pair of 7-yard runs. But on second-and-9 from the 17, Griese’s pass to Clayton bounced off his hands and into the arms of cornerback Tramon Williams at the 5-yard line. Williams returned the interception 39 yards to the Green Bay 44. Tampa Bay’s defense held Green Bay to a three-and-out and forced a punt.
After the Bucs’ offense sputtered, Green Bay took over on its 40-yard line. On first down, Grant ran to the right and was tackled by Brooks, who put his helmet on the ball to force a fumble. Phillips swooped in, scooped up the ball and raced 38 yards untouched for a touchdown. With six minutes left in the third quarter, the Bucs increased their lead to 20-7.
The Packers hung tough in the third quarter, with Griese’s pass intended for Stevens picked off by safety Nick Collins at the Tampa Bay 41. On third-and-16 from the Tampa Bay 48, Rodgers found Jennings open down the seam for a 48-yard touchdown. Jennings beat Phillips for the score. With 1:46 left in the third quarter, Green Bay cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-14.
Griese would get revenge on Collins on the next drive as he was flagged for a 33-yard on second-and-13 situation from the Tampa Bay 19. Collins bumped Bryant in pass coverage and the Bucs took over at the Green Bay 48. But a holding call on tight end John Gilmore pushed Tampa Bay back 10 yards to its own 42-yard line. Yet later in the drive, Griese would throw his third – and costliest – interception of the game on third-and-3 from the 41. Woodson stepped in front Dunn at the Green Bay 38 to pick off a pass and return it 62 yards for a touchdown. With 13:43 left in the fourth quarter, the Packers took a 21-20 lead.
Tampa Bay’s next offensive possession sputtered, but when Green Bay took over at its own 20, Rodgers was out with a shoulder injury and rookie Matt Flynn was in at quarterback. Without the threat of the pass, the Bucs defense loaded up to stop the run and the Packers lost three yards on the drive and had to punt after going three-and-out.
The Bucs took over at their own 36, thanks to an inspired 19-yard punt return by Jackson midway through the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay drove 30 yards in 10 plays behind the legs of Dunn and Graham, who combined for 25 yards on the series down. Tampa Bay reclaimed the lead with 2:26 left in the game on a 24-yard field goal by Bryant, his third of the day.
With Green Bay needing only a field goal to retake the lead, Bryant’s pooch kickoff went out of bounds, which gave Green Bay excellent starting field position at its own 40. But the Bucs averted disaster on second-and-10, when White drilled Rodgers, who re-entered the game after his injury, and forced an errant throw that was picked off by Adams, who dropped into coverage in the middle of the field.
The Bucs took over on their 48-yard line and Graham ripped off a 47-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, taking the ball down to the Green Bay 1. Graham’s 1-yard touchdown run on the next play gave Tampa Bay a 30-21 lead with 1:56 remaining in regulation.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME It’s only fitting to honor two key performances in Tampa Bay’s 30-21 victory over Green Bay. The first of which came from kicker Matt Bryant, who overcame the tragic death of his infant son, Matthew Tryson, earlier in the week to kick for the Buccaneers on Sunday. Bryant was a perfect 3-of-3 on his field goal attempts in a tribute to his deceased baby boy. The Bucs defense had Bryant’s back and bailed him out after an errant pooch kick went out of bounds late in the fourth quarter, giving the Packers the ball at their 40-yard line and needing only a field goal to take the lead. After the game, Bryant was given the game ball by the team.
Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks also had a phenomenal game that harkened back to the 2002 season when he was forcing turnovers on almost a weekly basis en route to winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Against the Packers, Brooks had a key interception in the second quarter that keyed a field goal drive that produced a 10-7 lead for the Bucs. Brooks also forced Ryan Grant to fumble the ball with a huge hit in the third quarter. Strong safety Jermaine Phillips scooped and scored from 38 yards out to give Tampa Bay a 20-7 lead at the time. Brooks finished the game with three tackles – two of which were for a loss – and had two pass breakups in addition to his INT and his forced fumble. Brooks almost had two interceptions on both of those pass breakups.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… After Matt Bryant’s pooch kick went out of bounds with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Packers took over at their own 40-yard line, trailing 23-21. But on second-and-10 from the 40, defensive end Greg White came off the edge untouched and drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw an errant pass down the middle of the field right into the arms of defensive end Gaines Adams, who dropped into coverage, at the Tampa Bay 48. On the next play, running back Earnest Graham ripped off a 47-yard run down to the Green Bay 1-yard line and scored a touchdown on the next play to give the Bucs a 30-21 lead with 1:56 left in regulation.
STATS THAT COUNT Defensive end Kevin Carter recorded a sack in the first quarter, his second of the season and his first full sack of 2008. Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson recorded his first sack as a Buccaneer and his first full sack of his NFL career. … Linebacker Derrick Brooks recorded the 25th interception of his career when he picked off Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter. … For the second straight week, Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud recorded an interception. Ruud now leads the team with two. Ruud also recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday. … Defensive end Gaines Adams recorded his second interception in as many weeks. … Cornerback Ronde Barber led the Bucs with six tackles and moved into third place on the Bucs’ all-time tackles list. He now has 990 stops in his career. … Tampa Bay had a season-high seven tackles for loss. … Rookie return man Dexter Jackson had career-high 45-yard kick return and a personal-best 19-yard punt return in the second half against Chicago. … Running back Earnest Graham led all rushers with 111 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries (5.6 avg.), followed by Warrick Dunn, who had 63 yards on 16 carries. … Wide receiver Antonio Bryant led Tampa Bay with four catches for 39 yards. … For the second straight game, Tampa Bay’s offensive line did not give up a sack. … The Bucs outgained the Packers 327 yards to 181 yards and owned a 36:50 to 23:10 time of possession advantage. … Tampa Bay had eight penalties for 70 yards on Sunday.
STANDING OVATION FOR BRYANT The Buccaneers announced their starting offense and kicker Matt Bryant at the beginning of the game. Bryant, who buried his infant son Matthew Tryson on Saturday after his passing on Wednesday morning, received a loud, standing ovation from the Buccaneers fans in attendance. It was an incredibly classy move by the organization.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Antonio Bryant LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C Jeff Faine RG Jeremy Zuttah RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith WR Michael Clayton FB Byron Storer RB Earnest Graham QB Brian Griese
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Kevin Carter NT Chris Hovan UT Jovan Haye RE Gaines Adams SLB Cato June MLB Barrett Ruud WLB Derrick Brooks LCB Phillip Buchanon RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Jermaine Phillips
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay’s inactives for the Bucs game:
WR Joey Galloway FB B.J. Askew DT Ryan Sims OL James Lee LB Matt McCoy G Davin Joseph QB Jeff Garcia (emergency quarterback) QB Josh Johnson
BUCS INJURIES Tampa Bay left guard Arron Sears was shaken up in the first quarter and was replaced momentarily by Sean Mahan. Sears returned later in the second quarter. Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was injured midway through the third quarter and was replaced by Anthony Davis. Trueblood returned a couple plays later. Safety Sabby Piscitelli injured his right arm in the fourth quarter and did not return to the game.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Packers game at Raymond James Stadium was 64,122. The temperature at kickoff was 81 degrees with 58 percent humidity under partly sunny cloudy.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (3-1) travel to Denver to face the Broncos (3-1) on Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]