Records and streaks are meant to be broken, and Sunday’s Battle of the Bays contest between the Buccaneers and Packers certainly had its fair share of record- and streak-breaking. For starters, Tampa Bay escaped Wisconsin with a 17-16 win over Green Bay, its first road win vs. the Packers since 1989.
Not only did the Bucs snap their 13-game losing streak in Wisconsin, rookie running back, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams drove into NFL record books Sunday, becoming the first rookie to start his career with three straight 100-yard games.
Although Tampa Bay’s ground game didn’t see much success early, Williams put on a clinic in the fourth quarter, rushing for 79 yards, including 46 yards on six carries on the final drive of the game to secure Tampa Bay’s win and 3-0 start to the season, its best since 2000.
Williams, who entered this contest with a sprained foot, rushed a career-high 37 times for 158 yards (4.3 avg.). Williams broke former Baltimore Colts RB Alan Ameche’s NFL record for most yards (1955 – 410 yards) in his first three NFL contests by rushing 88 times for 434 yards (4.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. The fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft currently leads the NFL in rushing yards.
The rookie tailback carried the ball eight times for 24 yards on Tampa Bay’s first offensive drive of the game, which started at its own 45-yard line after middle linebacker Shelton Quarles caused Packers fullback Williams Henderson to fumble. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber scooped up the loose ball, which ended Green Bay’s first dive of the game.
It didn’t take long for the Bucs to capitalize on that turnover. Bucs quarterback Brian Griese found wide receiver Michael Clayton open on a slant for a 21-yard gain to Green Bay’s 19-yard line. Griese capped off that 12-play, 54-yard drive a few plays later by play-actioning and rolling out to his right before finding WR Joey Galloway wide open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter. That score, along with kicker Matt Bryant’s extra point attempt, put the Bucs up 7-0.
The Brett Favre-led Packers quickly responded on the ensuing drive by taking advantage of mistakes made by Tampa Bay’s defensive backs. Packers WR Donald Driver beat Bucs CB Brian Kelly down the right side of the field, and Favre hit his receiver for a 36-yard completion, which put Green Bay on Tampa Bay’s 44-yard line.
The Bucs defense made a tough stand from there, forcing fourth-and-5 from the 37-yard line. But winless Green Bay opted to go for it, and that decision paid off after Favre threw a perfect strike down the left sideline to a wide open Robert Ferguson, who had beat Bucs CB Juran Bolden, for a score. That touchdown was the first Tampa Bay’s defense had allowed this season. It capped of a five-play, 80-yard drive by the Packers.
However, the Packers failed to tie the score after the snap on the extra point went off the mark and caused kicker Ryan Longwell to miss the kick wide left. That kept the Bucs ahead 7-6 with 2:06 remaining in the first quarter.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Tampa Bay’s defense forced the Packers to go three-and-out. Mark Jones returned a punt 12 yards to Green Bay’s 45-yard line, which helped to set up Tampa Bay’s next score.
Griese once again hooked up with Galloway on a slant for a 15-yard gain. A few plays later, Griese was hit late by Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman, which drew a personal foul penalty and moved the Bucs up to the Packers’ 24-yard line. Griese capped off that seven-play, 55-yard drive by hitting Galloway, who beat Packers LB Nick Barnett to the back of the end zone for a 10-yard score, which put the Bucs up 14-6 with 10:35 remaining in the second quarter.
Green Bay’s next drive didn’t last long after Kelly intercepted an errant pass intended for Driver. That pick was Kelly’s third of the season and gave the Bucs the ball on Green Bay’s 38-yard line. The Bucs moved 13 yards into field goal territory on seven plays, which set up K Matt Bryant’s 42-yard kick, which was good. That field goal gave the Bucs a 17-6 lead with 6:48 remaining in the first half.
With the Packers desperate to stop the bleeding, Favre threw a pass deep down the right sideline intended for Chatman. Although it appeared that he made a clean breakup on the ball, Kelly was flagged for his second pass interference penalty of the game. To make matters worse, head coach Jon Gruden, who clearly disagreed with the call, lost his composure on the sideline, which drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Both of those infractions gave the Packers the ball at the Bucs’ 9-yard line. Favre capitalized on those penalties by throwing a 20-yard strike to Chatman in the back of the end zone, which capped off a four-play, 73-yard drive and made it a 17-13 ball game with 4:27 to go in the second quarter.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. While eight penalties for 65 yards plagued the Packers offense in the first half, those same types of mistakes hindered the Bucs’ ability to sustain drives and/or start off with good field position in the second half.
Although it converted 8-of-16 (50 percent) of its third down attempts, Tampa Bay was penalized eight times for 103 yards vs. Green Bay. But the Bucs managed to overcome some of those mistakes and awful field position by not allowing Green Bay’s ground game to take off. Packers RB Ahman Green was held to 58 yards on 19 carries (3.1 avg.). The Packers did, however, drive down the field on the Bucs defense in the third quarter just to watch Longwell miss a 42-yard field goal attempt.
In the fourth quarter, Favre attempted to test Tampa Bay’s secondary again by throwing deep to Driver, but free safety Will Allen, who had replaced Dexter Jackson (hamstring) near the end of the first half, leaped up and intercepted the pass, which was thrown into triple coverage. Favre’s mistake and Allen’s great play gave the Bucs the ball on their own 35-yard line and some much-needed momentum.
After a 26-yard run by Williams, Tampa Bay drove all the way down to Green Bay’s 35-yard line. But the Griese’s pass intended for RB Michael Pittman in the flat was bobbled, which allowed Packers CB Ahmad Carroll to intercept it from the ground. Carroll, who wasn’t ruled down by contact, got up and raced down to Tampa Bay’s 32-yard line before being tackled by Bucs tackle Kenyatta Walker.
After a critical pass breakup by Quarles on third-and-5, the Packers settled for a 32-yard field goal by Longwell, which capped off a five-play, 18-yard drive and pulled Green Bay within one point of the visiting Buccaneers with 7:18 remaining in the contest.
Tampa Bay’s ensuring offensive drive was practically stalled before it started after an illegal block on Pittman forced the Bucs offense to start the drive at their own 10-yard line. Tampa Bay would wind up punting from its own end zone, and Green Bay started its final drive of the game just short of midfield.
Favre once again decided to test Tampa Bay’s secondary deep, but that decision backfired on him again when his deep pass down the left sideline was deflected by Bolden. Before the pass could hit the ground, Allen came in out of nowhere and snatched it for the interception in Tampa Bay’s red zone. Allen, who had not been downed by contact, got up and ran the ball back to Tampa Bay’s 30-yard line with five minutes remaining in the game.
Griese, who completed 17-of-28 passes for 139 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception vs. Green Bay, made a critical throw to WR Ike Hilliard on third-and-3 to get the first down and put the Bucs on the Packers’ 46-yard line.
Williams’ ability to run the ball with authority and keep the chains moving in the fourth quarter helped to give Tampa Bay a 34:22 to 25:38 time of possession advantage and iced the win for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay is 3-0 on the season and currently holds a one game lead over the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South division. The Bucs, who join the Bengals (3-0), Colts (3-0), Chiefs (2-0) and Redskins (2-0) as the only undefeated teams in the NFL, host the 1-1 Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium next Sunday. Detroit will be looking for a big road win coming off a bye week while Tampa Bay will be attempting to start off 4-0 for the first time since 1997.
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