Out in the cold
Pack down Bucs in OT, miss playoffs with Saints loss
Updated: Monday December 25, 2000 12:27 PM
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Martin Gramatica knows what it's like to kick at Lambeau Field now.
The Pro Bowl kicker shanked a game-winning 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left Sunday, and Ryan Longwell kicked a 22-yarder with 8:29 left in overtime, giving the Packers a 17-14 victory against Tampa Bay.
"You have to hit it perfect in this climate," said Longwell, who was snubbed for the Pro Bowl despite having better numbers than Gramatica.
Gramatica was downcast, saying, "I let the team down when they needed me most."
The Packers (9-7) closed their injury-riddled season with a December sweep of their NFC Central foes despite the benching of wide receiver Antonio Freeman for missing team meetings Saturday.
But they also needed losses by St. Louis and Detroit to wiggle into the playoffs. The Lions obliged, but not the Rams.
Tampa Bay plays at Philadelphia next Sunday in a wild-card game.
Despite forcing four turnovers, the Buccaneers (10-6) failed to stop two streaks Sunday after Gramatica's miss spoiled what would have been their first victory at Lambeau Field since 1989.
The Buccaneers are 0-19 when the temperature at kickoff was 40 or below, and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre has never lost (27-0) at home when the reading was 34 or below.
"We'll take a chance on Gramatica anytime," Warren Sapp said. "He just missed the kick. He's human."
The Buccaneers didn't have to contend with Freeman, but they couldn't escape the cold -- or halfback Ahman Green, who caught nine passes for a career-best 78 yards and rushed 27 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers never needed Green, their leading rusher and receiver, more. Favre completed just 20 of 42 passes and with Freeman bundled up on the sideline, the three remaining receivers accounted for just five catches total.
"We all wanted Free to be there today," said Favre, who had no touchdown passes and two interceptions. "That's hard to comment on. I have a lot of respect for Antonio. He's a tremendous player. I think Mike Sherman did the right thing. Free is probably more angry right now. With himself, too. I don't know what Free is going through."
Sherman notified his players in their meeting Saturday night of his decision to bench Freeman, who missed two team meetings earlier that day.
They might have missed his production, but maybe not his presence.
"We have so much talent in this locker room, if you have one bad apple, it's not really beneficial anyway to have him around the team," Longwell said. "I'm not saying Free is that, but it's often better just to go with what you got."
The temperature at kickoff was 15 degrees with a wind chill of minus-15, the sixth-coldest game in Packers' history and the second-coldest the Bucs had experienced.
King had never even seen snow in his life. But he warmed up after the Bucs fell behind 14-0 and drove them on three second-half scoring drives to tie it, then set up Gramatica for the 40-yarder that he missed.
Freeman's replacement, Donald Driver, made difficult catches of 10 and 13 yards on a 48-yard drive that ended with Green running untouched through an enormous hole for a 3-yard TD on Green Bay's second series.
"He was like, `Go out there and play,'" Driver said of Freeman. "I didn't get a chance to talk to him, but I know in his heart that's what he was saying to me."
Driver dropped three passes after that, and neither team could muster anything until Green's spinning 2-yard run made it 14-0 in the third quarter.
The Buccaneers, who punted the first nine times they had the ball, converted a fourth-and-9 on their way to a 38-yarder by Gramatica. And their offense finally awakened out of a no-huddle attack, and King completed six passes in a row covering 84 yards, including an 18-yard TD toss to Keyshawn Johnson. The two-point conversion made it 14-11.
After John Lynch picked off Favre's pass at the Green Bay 35, Gramatica broke his team record with a 43-yarder, his 28th.
Notes: Green, who left the game with an ankle injury in overtime, finished with 1,175 yards rushing, the fourth-best season in team history. ... Freeman finished 88 yards shy of becoming the first receiver in the team's 82-year history to post four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. ... Twenty-seven tons of ice-melting material was scattered in the stands, the stadium concourse and the parking lot. ... Favre won his 100th NFL game.