The Packers' chances had just gone from slim to practically none when the Bucs forced the game's fourth turnover, a Gaines Adams interception with 2:11 left.
Whatever Packers hope remained — with the Bucs at the Packers 48 protecting a two-point lead — was trampled by RB Earnest Graham. He took a handoff on first down and stampeded 47 yards to the Packers 1 then dove in for the score one play later.
Runs that once seemed uncharacteristic for Graham seem to be the norm now. He has runs of 46, 68 and 47 yards, even though last season he never had a run longer than 28 yards.
What's the difference?
"Last year, there were Fridays where I couldn't even practice," Graham said. "(Cadillac Williams) got hurt, but I was hurt as well. My ankle was really torn up last year, but I just had to go. So, I didn't have that explosiveness at all. I just made it a point last year to try to get those tough yards. But I'm feeling good now."
It shows, though perhaps not everyone sees it.
"I hope somebody recognizes, maybe one of these fancy cable channels, that we have one hell of a back here," coach Jon Gruden said.
How about an assist?
Bucs S Jermaine Phillips probably owes LB Derrick Brooks a beer.
Touchdowns don't come any easier than Phillips' 38-yard fumble return in the third quarter, made possible when Brooks forced RB Ryan Grant to fumble.
"It was a zone coverage, and Brooks made a good hit," Phillips said. "I was just coming in to cap off, because that's what we're taught to do. … (The ball) was on the ground, so I just said, 'Let me just pick this up and go the other way.' "
Six points, the easy way. The Bucs have scored three defensive touchdowns this season. Could it be just the beginning?
"We've been practicing it all offseason: score, score, score," Phillips said. "And you definitely practice how you play. … Our job is to score or get the ball back."
No more Ruud teases
Barrett Ruud was relieved he wouldn't have to hear it anymore. He had been a starting middle linebacker for a year and a half and still didn't have a sack. His first was no masterstroke, but it would squash all those snide remarks. And the interception — his second in two weeks and fourth of his career — was pretty much the same deal. Ruud, covering the deep middle as the Packers faced second and 18 from their 34, easily snagged an Aaron Rodgers pass when the quarterback threw off his back foot under pressure and led WR Donald Driver too far. "(CB) Ronde (Barber) did a good job taking away that underneath ball, and (Rodgers) tried to sort of squeeze one in and overthrew it. I was really just kind of in the right place at the right time," Ruud said. Rodgers concurred: "I made a below-average throw and gave Barrett Ruud an early Christmas present." And Ruud credited Barber with enabling his first career sack with 29 seconds left in the first half and the Packers near midfield. "It's a blitz. Usually that's the one that Ronde tends to come free on, but they actually slid everything to Ronde, and they kind of just missed me," he said of the sack for a 9-yard loss.
Brian Griese, below, finished with an abysmal 36 quarterback rating after going 15-of-30 for 149 yards and three interceptions. He threw three picks last week at Chicago, but the Bucs won that game, too. That doesn't necessarily appease coach Jon Gruden, who again listed Jeff Garcia as the third (inactive) quarterback. "As good as he's played at times, those are six plays he's got to eliminate," Gruden said. Griese called CB Charles Woodson's interception for a touchdown a "great play," S Nick Collins' a "good play" and a third by CB Tramon Williams "not good recognition by me." "I can't make those mistakes, and I have to eliminate those things for us to continue to win," Griese said.
Never a dull moment
It was an eventful day, even by cornerback standards, for four-time Pro Bowl selection Charles Woodson, left. He was twice called for illegal contact — one that prolonged an eventual Bucs touchdown drive — swatted down a pass at the line and later jumped in front of a swing pass bound for RB Warrick Dunn for his third interception (and second touchdown) in three games. Woodson, who has been slowed by a broken toe, was targeted often by the Bucs and was whistled for impeding WR Michael Clayton on third and 10 at the Packers 32 less than a minute into the second quarter. "I had good position, and there is no question about that," Woodson said. "But he made the call." Four plays later, QB Brian Griese found TE Alex Smith for a 9-yard touchdown that tied it at 7. Woodson generated what appeared to be a key change in momentum less than two minutes into the fourth quarter in bringing a Griese pass back 62 yards for a score. The Packer offense had become increasingly stagnant, QB Aaron Rodgers was indefinitely out with a shoulder injury, but the defensive score helped give Green Bay a 21-20 lead.
So close, but so far
There's nothing like an impressive touchdown drive to start the second half, one that would have left the visiting opponent on the ropes. The Bucs seemed on the verge of putting the finishing touches on such a drive when it disintegrated. On second and 9 from the Packers 17, QB Brian Griese dropped back looking for WR Michael Clayton, who was open for a millisecond. Griese found him, but Clayton bobbled the pass, and CB Tramon Williams snatched the ball out of midair at the 5 and rumbled 39 yards. "It was a little away from me," Clayton said. "I tried to put a glove on it. I had a glove on it for a minute, but in the traffic, it popped out. It happens when you're trying to make plays." Tough break, coach Jon Gruden said. "Anybody that tries to throw against Green Bay is going to struggle."
That was quick
Games don't change much faster than this one did at a pivotal juncture late in the third quarter. The Bucs, protecting a 20-7 lead, opted to throw on consecutive first down plays. Coach Jon Gruden said the idea was to use the element of surprise. "You can't just run it on every first down," he said. Problem was, on the second attempt, Brian Griese was intercepted by Nick Collins, setting up the Packers at the Bucs 42. Three plays later, on a third and 16, Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a skinny post route for a 48-yard touchdown, instantly changing the complexion of the game. "Nick Collins makes an unbelievable play," Gruden said. "You have an open receiver (Antonio Bryant). I don't think Brian Griese in his career has seen a middle safety break like Collins did in that particular situation."
Hey, ump! Duck!
Umpire Bruce Stritesky didn't show up in the box score, but unofficially he had a pass defensed and an assisted tackle. He likely would have felt better without either. The umpire, stationed just behind the defensive line at the snap, took a Brian Griese pass off the face with 5:51 remaining in the first quarter, caught between the quarterback and intended receiver Warrick Dunn. He continued without so much as rubbing his nose. Ten plays later, however, Stritesky was decked when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hit TE Donald Lee for a 6-yard gain over the middle and LB Barrett Ruud and S Jermaine Phillips swarmed in for the tackle.
Right spot, right time
For the second straight week, DE Gaines Adams had an interception. Adams, who returned one for a TD against the Bears last week, chose the best time for his pick Sunday. With just more than two minutes left and the Packers trailing 23-21, DE Greg White hit Packers QB Aaron Rodgers as he attempted a pass to WR Donald Driver. But Adams dropped back into coverage and intercepted. "I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time again," he said. "I've got to give it up to Greg White on the pass rush — without that, I wouldn't have my interception. I just kept keying the ball, just seeing the ball come out since I was looking out at the receiver. Fortunately, I turned around at the right time."
Stuck in neutral
For the second time in three weeks, the Bucs defense stifled an opponent's running attack. The Packers were held to 28 yards rushing (Ryan Grant had 15 carries for 20 yards), 87 yards below their average and just 1.6 yards per carry. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who had his first three interceptions of the season, pointed out that the lack of a running game put them in few "third- and-manageable" situations (the Packers were 4-for-13 on third down). "It's always No. 1, stop the run, make them one-dimensional," LB Barrett Ruud said. "They're a good running team, and they've been gashing people pretty good. It's a credit to our scheme and everybody playing our gaps. The (defensive) line, when they do that, it lets the linebackers read the ball and fall back and basically just be the running back on the other side of the ball."
• LB Cato June had one thought — "end zone" — when Derrick Brooks intercepted a pass at the Packer 31 early in the second quarter. He raced to join the veteran and provide an escort up the sideline. And when Brooks lateraled the ball to June, the thought didn't change. "Everybody's racing to get a block and set up a wall and get in the end zone," June said. "And hey, if you get an opportunity, give it to the next man because we're all playing together." June gained a yard before being tackled.
• CB Ronde Barber is fourth on the Bucs career games list at 165. He moved past former S John Lynch on Sunday.
• RB Earnest Graham entered as the only player in the NFL with two runs of 45 or more this season, and he had a 47-yarder against the Packers.
• Josh Bidwell's 64-yard punt in the first quarter was the longest by a Buc since Tom Tupa (also 64) on Sept. 29, 2002, against Chicago.
• Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, above, made 157 consecutive pass attempts without an interception — third-longest in franchise history — before throwing two in the second quarter. He finished with three.
• Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli, above, left in the third quarter with an injury to his right elbow. Piscitelli, who had his elbow wrapped in a sleeve after the game, said he didn't remember when the injury occurred and won't know the severity until today.
• Packers QB Aaron Rodgers missed two series in the fourth quarter because of a right shoulder injury suffered on a third-quarter scramble. Although Packers coach Mike McCarthy labeled it a "bruise," Rodgers said he was in "some pretty intense pain" and isn't sure if he'll be ready to play next week against Atlanta.