Pack is sacked
They left footballs lying all over the field, like money falling out of the Green Bay Packers' pockets. All the Buccaneers had to do was pick it up and cash in. Trent Dilfer cashed in the Packers' eighth fumble of the game by capping a game-clinching touchdown march with his 11-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter as the Bucs upset Green Bay 24-22 on their first Monday Night Football appearance in Tampa in 15 years.

Dilfer, who had won just once over the Packers in eight starts, threw touchdowns of 64 and 62 yards in the first half. The victory not only mercifully ended a six-game losing streak to the Packers. It also officially entered the Bucs into the pillow fight for the final NFC Wildcard spot, tying them at 6-7 with the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. "We knew our defense was going to play great," Dilfer said. "We had to score points and that's something we haven't been able do against them until tonight."

The Bucs defense forced a team-record eight fumbles - even if they recovered just two - and sacked Packers quarterback Brett Favre eight times. Fittingly, the game ended with Favre buried at midfield under defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Brad Culpepper. The Bucs nearly blew a 17-3 lead in the second half. An interception by Tyrone Williams led a field goal and Favre fired a 3- yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Chmura to leave the Packers within a two-point conversion of tying the game.

But following a procedure penalty, Derrick Mayes lost the handle on a pass from Favre at the goal line and the Bucs clung to their lead. Ronde Barber provided what might have been the play of the night, stripping Mayes of the ball at midfield. It was the eighth fumble of the game for the Packers and this one was recovered by cornerback Donnie Abraham at the Green Bay 47.

The then put together an 11-play march behind the running of tailback Warrick Dunn. On third-and-goal at the 6, Dilfer dropped back to pass but quickly decided to sprint through a gap in the middle of the Packers defense and went untouched to the end zone.

Of course, Favre still had some magic left. He methodically drove the Packers 80 yards for a touchdown, capped by his 1-yard toss to Mark Chmura. It conjured up memories of how the Bucs were unable to grind out a first down to protect a lead at Jacksonville.

It's hard to fathom the Bucs defense creating more opportunities than they did in the first half against the Packers. They sacked Favre six times and forced six fumbles - five of them by the three- time MVP. Unfortunately, the Bucs managed to recover just one of them and that went for naught when Husted missed a 38-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. Favre was without his favorite targets. Receiver Antonio Freeman, who broke his jaw last week in a win over Philadelphia, remained in Green Bay. And Robert Brooks aggravated a pulled hamstring in the first half and did not return. His replacement, Corey Bradford, pulled a hamstring in the third quarter.

So it was not that much of a surprise that Favre did not complete a pass to a wide receiver in the first half. The Bucs defense appeared to use all their bullets on the first series of the game. They sacked Favre three times. They forced three fumbles. They recovered nada. The Packers were only able to muster a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell in the first quarter. But they were able to sit on the ball for about 10:30, taking some starch out of Tampa Bay's defense.

Green lined up wide right and drew man coverage on cornerback Rod Smith, then beat him on a post pattern. Dilfer hit Green in stride and Smith failed to make the tackle. After that, it was a footrace to the end zone that the fleet rookie from Florida wasn't going to lose. Ironically, it was Smith who was beaten for a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter while playing for Carolina earlier this season before he was claimed on waivers by the Packers.

Dilfer was just warming up. On the next possession, Bert Emanuel and Reidela Anthony lined up wide right. Anthony picked of cornerback Craig Newsome and Emaneul slipped underneath and took a pass from Dilfer before dashing 62 yards for a touchdown. The Packers appeared stunned to be trailing 14-3, a rarity for the Bucs who had trailed in the first quarter of five of their six defeats to the Packers.

The score might have stayed that way until halftime if not for cornerback Ronde Barber interfering with Packers receiver Bill Schroeder on third down. The penalty led to Ryan Longwell's 36-yard field goal to make it 14-6. Of the six Packers fumbles in the first half - five of them by Favre. The Bucs recovered just one, and they couldn't make that count.

Favre's last fumble came just 14 seconds before halftime when Regan Upshaw stripped him on the ball before his arm moved forward on a pass attempt. The ball was recovered by Marcus Jones and returned to the Packers 20 yard line. But Dilfer was unable to find an open receiver and burned all but five seconds off the clock scrambling before firing incomplete. Then place-kicker Husted hooked his 38-yard field goal wide left.

The errant field goal snapped Husted's streak of eight consecutive field goal attempts without a miss. The man's got lousy timing, eh? Husted quickly atoned by drilling a 45-yard field goal to extend the Bucs lead to 17-6 early in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, the third quarter turnovers have been a killer for the Bucs at home this season and Monday night was no exception. Dilfer misread a pattern by Emanuel and was intercepted by Tyrone Williams to give the Packers a great chance at the Tampa Bay 18. But the Bucs defense came up big again, stuffing Dorsey Levens for no gain on first down and forcing Favre into two wild incompletions. Longwell's 35-yard field goal cut the margin to 17-9.

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1998