Taking his turn
It's no secret tight ends have become part of Tampa Bay's formula for offensive success. And each week, a different one seems to rise to the forefront. Sunday was Alex Smith's turn.
Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, quarterback Brian Griese went to work at the Green Bay 32 following an interception by Derrick Brooks. Six plays later, on first and goal from the Packers 9, Griese rolled to his left and tossed to the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Smith, who slipped a tackle and coasted in for the touchdown — one of two catches he made Sunday.
"It was just a bootleg that we'd installed earlier in the week, and I thought we had the opportunity to sell the run a little bit. And luckily, I was able to pop free," Smith said. "The end tried to get me, but after that, there was nobody there. I think a lot of people ran with (fellow tight end Jerramy Stevens) to the corner. So it was just a matter of staying on my feet and getting into the end zone."
Ronde Barber: I'll be back
After his forgettable outing last week in Chicago, it was the last thing Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber wanted to experience Sunday.
But on the opening drive, the 12-year veteran found himself reliving the frustration and disbelief. On third and 2 from the Tampa Bay 25, receiver Greg Jennings started on a deep route down the left sideline. Barber turned to run with him but lost his footing on his first stride and fell.
A moment later, Aaron Rodgers floated the ball to the uncovered Jennings for the score and a 7-0 lead just 4:36 in.
"Greg gave me a great move. He's shifty as heck on the line of scrimmage," said Barber, who was burned for a touchdown and two-point conversion against the Bears.
"I didn't get my foot back on the ground good enough to turn and run with him. But give him credit. And it was a great throw. They had us in man coverage on third and 2. Generally, you don't think they're going to take it up top, but they did."
Barber was philosophical about his recent troubles.
"My team will rally with me," he said. "I've put in a lot of work here. They know how I play. This is a tough time, no doubt. I'm struggling the past three weeks. … (But) all you can do is get up and do your job next time. I love that challenge. I'm a gritty dude, and I don't mind the challenge and opportunity. And I look forward to it.
"I'm not in the business of giving up big plays. It's just not what I do. The fact that I've given up three of them in four games is something I'll slap myself over, day in and day out. But again, I like to work. I'll be all right. I'll get better."
A step forward
Rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson has had a mixed bag of results this season and lately has been sharing return duties with veterans such as Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. But Sunday, the 5-foot-9, 182-pounder from Appalachian State took a step forward in his return game. There were the three kickoffs he ran back for 100 yards, including a 45-yarder to open the second half.
But the return that made the biggest impact occurred on a punt in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay had regained the momentum, taking a 21-20 lead on Charles Woodson's 62-yard interception return with 13:43 to play. Suddenly, the Bucs were backpedaling, punting the ball back to the Pack 3:52 later.
But Tampa Bay's defense clamped down and forced Green Bay into a fourth and 13 from its 17. Packer punter Derrick Frost hit the ball poorly, sending it 38 yards to the Bucs 45.
Jackson was waiting. He fielded the ball, scooted down the right sideline and shook off several tacklers for a 19-yard return. That put Tampa Bay's offense at the Packers 36, setting the stage for Matt Bryant's go-ahead 24-yard field goal with 2:26 to play.
"Basically, I noticed his punts were coming kind of short," Jackson said. "The last two were bouncing in front of me. So I moved up, made a play, trusted my blocks and just tried to get all I could get to set up a field goal and win the game."
The confidence is starting to come, says Jackson: "I'm just trying to do my best and learn from the last few weeks. I want to show everybody I can be successful."