Bucs catch Favre off-guard
The Tampa Bay defense took a trip back in time Sunday night and took Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre along as a passenger. Instead of the buzz-saw passer who carved Tampa Bay up just two weeks ago, Favre looked like the scatter-armed pro of two years ago who struggled to throw just one TD pass a game and threw drive-killing interceptions.

Rookie safety Melvin Johnson, making his first pro start, intercepted Favre in the end zone after the Packers took the opening kickoff and marched the length of the field. Favre finished 27-of-46 for 285 yards with just one TD and the interception. The defense held the Packers to 346 yards - including just 61 on the ground. Johnson's interception set the tone for the Bucs.

"We were in a cover three and I had the middle of the zone," Johnson said. "I just watched him and saw right where he was throwing it. I don't think he ever saw me. I think it set the tone. All week I had a lot of trouble with the defense. I think that interception gave the rest of the defense a lot of confidence in me."

After giving up more than 800 yards and six TD passes in the previous two games, Bucs defensive coordinator Rusty Tillman made a few lineup changes for Sunday. Gone was veteran free safety Thomas Everett for Johnson. Rookie defensive tackle Warren Sapp started in place of Santana Dotson.

After cornerback Martin Mayhew and safety John Lynch went down with sprained knees early in the first quarter, the Bucs were forced to play backups Tony Stargell and Tony Bouie. "We talked through the whole game and made it easy for them to know where to line up and play," Bucs linebacker Lonnie Marts said. "Me and Hardy (Nickerson) are out there telling them whether it's going to be a run or a pass. The defensive line wasn't getting sacks, but they were getting pressure and disrupting his timing."

Favre, the NFL's leading MVP candidate, was a hot quarterback, with 11 TDs and just one INT in his past three games. But the Packers didn't change much since their 35-13 rout over the Bucs at Green Bay. "If you ask me, it was a little disrespect to come out with the exact same game plan as they used the first game," Marts said. "(Favre) is the best quarterback in the league right now, and you always are excited to prove yourself against the best. I think we did that tonight."

Nickerson led the Bucs with 13 tackles. But a bigger contribution might have been making sure Johnson and Bouie were in the right spots. "We went back to the basics and I called a very simple game," Tillman said. "I called it almost like it was a preseason game. I've never been prouder of a group of players. They were just awesome."

Favre nearly led the Packers to a comeback win in the final seconds of regulation, but Chris Jacke's 45-yard field goal was wide left with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter. "We came out and tried to regain what we'd lost the last two weeks," cornerback Charles Dimry said. "We knew we were definitely capable of playing better. There's a lot of pride in this unit. We put it together tonight."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1995