Packers put chill on Buccaneers Green Bay reaches third NFC title game in row with 21-7 win

January 05, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In case the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held any delusions about how this day would end, the folks who run the Lambeau Field scoreboard supplied a not-so-subtle reminder conditions here yesterday:

Temperature 29

Wind 15-25 mph

Wind chill 3

This was soon after the upstart Bucs finished off a 94-yard scoring drive to pull within six points of the Green Bay Packers, moments after they put second-half suspense in an otherwise drab NFC divisional playoff game.

It was time to collect the glass slippers. And there was nothing Trent Dilfer could do about it.

With all the emotion of punching a time clock, the Packers advanced to their third consecutive NFC championship game on the strength of a 21-7 victory that kept the Bucs winless in temperatures of 40 degrees or colder.

The Packers (14-3) will play the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday for the chance to go back to the Super Bowl. The Bucs (11-7) will retreat to sunny Florida to contemplate a better cold-weather verdict.

"This is the game everybody is looking for," Green Bay Pro Bowl safety LeRoy Butler said of the 49ers' matchup. "I've been thinking about it a long time. This is what America likes to see, two teams that don't like each other."

The Bucs and Packers weren't exactly on best terms yesterday. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp delivered play-by-play commentary to Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre most of the (( afternoon. Packers defensive tackle Santana Dotson was flagged for a roughness penalty when he went after guard Frank Middleton's knees in the second quarter.

But when push came to shove and the Bucs cut their deficit to 13-7 late in the third quarter, it wasn't the frosty weather conditions or the verbal jousting that turned the game.

It was Green Bay's defense.

And specifically a third-down pass rush that lured Dilfer into a big intentional-grounding penalty 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

"We were one play away from disaster," Packers defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur said of the ebbing momentum. "You can't pull back in that situation, you've got to stay aggressive."

So Shurmur sent Butler on a third-and-seven blitz at the Tampa Bay 38. Dilfer was able to elude defensive end Keith McKenzie, but when Butler showed up in the backfield, he dumped the ball.

The penalty and ensuing punt gave the Packers possession on their 46. Nine plays later, they had a clinching touchdown, courtesy of Dorsey Levens' 2-yard run.

Levens finished with a club playoff-record 112 rushing yards. His touchdown was set up by a spectacular 23-yard, third-down catch by Derrick Mayes, who had to retrieve the ball from the back of his right leg, where it rested momentarily.

But the Packers will need a lot more offense from Favre if they are to navigate a road trip to San Francisco and still reach San Diego, site of this year's Super Bowl.

Favre completed 15 of 28 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown, but kept Tampa Bay alive with two second-half interceptions.

"He ages me every day," Packers coach Mike Holmgren said playfully of Favre. "He also gives me great joy. He's kind of like one of my kids. But I'm glad he doesn't live with me."

Holmgren was grateful for the small favors he received from the Bucs. Three times in the first half, after driving to the 25 twice and 12 once, they lined up for makable field goals.

The Packers' Bob Kuberski blocked the first when Michael Husted launched a 43-yarder low into the line. The next time the Bucs tried a fake, but Steve Walsh's shovel pass to John Davis was swarmed under by the Packers' defense.

Finally, having reached the 12, a wild snap by Dave Moore ended in a third squandered scoring chance.

"We wanted nine [points] and got none," said Bucs coach Tony Dungy. "That was the story of the day."

Well, one of the stories.

Then there was Dilfer, who completed only 11 of 36 passes for 200 yards and two interceptions. He threw passes of 52 and 28 yards on the Bucs' scoring drive, but faced a constant barrage of third-down blitzes that took their toll.

"You try to mix up the dogs and blitzes, but sometimes he's going to have time to throw," Shurmur said. "What you want to do is try to prevent him from getting in a rhythm. He was 11-for-31. I'll take that to the bank anytime."

The bank will show that the Bucs are 0-17 in temperatures of 40 degrees or colder, and that in four cold-weather games this season, Dilfer has completed only 44 of 106 passes, a 42 percent success rate.

"We don't scare them [the Packers] offensively," Dilfer said. "That's the big difference."

The Bucs couldn't lean on their running game, either. Warrick Dunn, the NFL's offensive rookie of the year, gained just 64 yards on a 3.6-average carry. Fullback Mike Alstott rushed seven times for 21 yards.

Next up, the 49ers.

Butler said he feels the Packers hold the upper hand going into San Francisco because of their experience a year ago.

"We won the Super Bowl," he said. "We're very confident. Very, very confident. Almost overconfident."

NFL playoffs

Divisional games

Yesterday

G. Bay 21, T. Bay 7

Denver 14, Kansas City 10

Championship games

Sunday

Denver at Pittsburgh,

12: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4

Green Bay at San Fran.,

4 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Super Bowl

Jan. 25

At San Diego, 6 p.m.,

chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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