Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 11/20/11
Say this much about the Tampa Bay Bucs: They showed up to play Sunday afternoon in the fabled land of the frozen tundra and managed to put the heat on the highly favored Green Bay Packers. That in itself was a noteworthy achievement. But when it was all over, the Bucs left Lambeau Field, where the game-time temperature was a bone-chilling 31 degrees, with their recently unraveling playoff hopes in a deep freeze. Considering they were down 14-0 and seemingly on the road to another disaster, the mere fact that they twice pulled within two points of the Packers in the fourth quarter was feat indeed. But moral victories and silver linings don't do them any good in the standings. In that respect, their hard-fought 35-26 loss to unbeaten Green Bay was all the more painful for them a game that wasn't supposed to be within reach, but wound up just beyond their grasp. In the end, it went down in the books as just one more loss: their fourth straight and fifth in six games. And it dropped them to 4-6 and well off the pace in the NFC South behind the 7-3 New Orleans Saints, who were on a bye, and the 6-4 Atlanta Falcons, who defeated Tennessee 23-17 Sunday. Head coach Raheem Morris had tried to get his team back in gear this past week with a tough week of practice in pads, following an embarrassing 37-9 blowout last week at home courtesy of the Houston Texans. And the heightened intensity clearly paid off Sunday. His Bucs played with a greater sense of urgency and battled their way to the brink of a potential season-changing victory. They outgained the Packers 455 to 378 in total yards and held the edge in time of possession, 31:21 to 28:39. For a team featuring the youngest roster in the NFL, and coming off its worst loss of the season, that was certainly a step in the right direction. For a team that had set its sights on winning the division this year, it was a tough defeat to swallow even if the Packers were two-touchdown favorites. "We came here to win the game make no mistakes about it and we didn't," Morris said. "So we're very disappointed in what happened there," At this stage of the game, they'll have to win all six of their remaining games simply to match last season's non-playoff mark of 10-6. Right now, it's simply going to be a struggle to break even, considering the challenging schedule ahead that features four road games starting this Sunday in Tennessee. And they'll have to find a way to cut back on penalties. The fourth most-penalized team was flagged nine times for 55 yards. "Penalties are what they are, they are judgment calls and the judgment went against us a lot of times," Morris said. "And it is what it is." The Packers, by contrast, were hardly on their A-game. They seemed a bit flat following a short week from their Monday Night Football win over Minnesota. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers kept the Bucs at bay with three touchdowns, including a 40-yarder to wide receiver Jordy Nelson with 2:55 left in the game to lift his team to its winning margin. Rodgers' clutch play in spite of a late interception that led to a Buc touchdown helped raise the record of the defending Super Bowl champions to 10-0 with their 16th straight victory. And it kept the Pack's hopes alive for becoming the first team since the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins to achieve a perfect season. His counterpart, Josh Freeman, did his part to keep the Bucs in the game. He completed 28 of 38 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. But the third-year pro also suffered a pair of interceptions. The first ended a potential scoring drive at the end of the first half; the second deflected off the hands of tight end Kellen Winslow with 2:47 to play, all but icing the win for Green Bay. He now has 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, a far cry from the 25 TDs and just six picks last season. The first came at the end of the second quarter, after tailback LeGarrette Blount's tackle-busting, career-best touchdown run of 54 yards had awakened his team and a Connor Barth field goal had gotten the Bucs into the game. Even with the interceptions, Freeman put the Bucs in position to win the game. He found nine different receivers, including Winslow nine times for 132 yards, slumping wideout Mike Williams eight times for 73 yards and Arrellious Benn five times for 75 yards. "We went out there and gave it all we had," Freeman said. "But all in all, we weren't sharp enough and didn't make enough big plays and didn't score enough points." His 9-yard scoring strike to Williams pulled the Bucs to within 21-19 with 13:11 to play, and Winslow couldn't hold on to a two-point conversation pass that would have tied the score. And after Tampa Bay cornerback Elbert Mack picked off Rodgers with 5:55 to play, Freeman completed five straight passes highlighted by a 37-yarder to Benn and a two-yarder to Dezmon Briscoe to pull the Bucs to within 28-26 with 4:41 remaining. That's when Morris, bent on taking an aggressive approach against potent Green Bay, called for his second onsides kick of the game. Neither one ended well for the Bucs, and each played a decisive role. In the second quarter, kickoff specialist Michael Koenen wasn't able to push his attempt the required 10 yards, but initial ruling on the field was that a Packer touched the ball before it was recovered by the Bucs, apparently giving them a first down at their 42. Replays clearly showed that Koenen had touched the illegally short kickoff first, however. The call was reversed and Green Bay took over at the Buc 38. Four plays later, Rodgers capitalized with a five-yard touchdown to Nelson to make it 21-10 at the half. Then came the second one, a far riskier maneuver with under five minutes to play. The Bucs had just intercepted Rodgers and had some momentum defensively and offensively with the score 28-26. Rather than kick off to the Packers and try to get the ball back, Morris turned again to the trickery and it backfired, with Green Bay recovering at the Bucs' 46 with 4:23 on the clock. Three plays later, Rodgers connected on the long TD to Nelson and the game was essentially over. "We wanted to get the ball and win," Morris said. "We are not going to apologize for being aggressive. When you play the Green Bay Packers, you've got to play aggressive, you've got to go out and make plays. (You've) got to steal possessions." Any lingering hopes for the Bucs ended moments later when Freeman's pass glanced off Winslow's hands and to cornerback Tramon Williams for his second interception of the game. It was that kind of day for Tampa Bay. There were noteworthy efforts, like Blount's 107 yards on 18 carries and breath-taking touchdown ramble (in which he broke seven tackles). The team as a whole turned in a much-improved effort as well. "We came out today and did a nice job of competing our heart out," Morris said. "We played fast. We played hard. We played smart. And we played physical." But all that remained was the stinging reality that a chance to stop their freefall had slipped away in the cold of Green Bay.
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