Posted: Sunday December 26, 1999 09:46 PM
TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were back in their comfort zone in the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium.
Rebounding from the worst loss in franchise history, the Buccaneers converted four turnovers into 20 points and moved closer to their third division title in franchise history with a 29-10 rout of the the Green Bay Packers.
Tampa Bay (10-5) showed last week's embarrassing 45-0 defeat in Oakland was an abberation, blanking the Packers in the second half after trailing 10-9 at the intermission.
Obviously, this is a big win for our team," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said. "I was real proud of the way our guys bounced back after such a disappointing loss."
The Bucs tied a record for wins in a season, matching the 1979 and 1997 clubs, who went 10-6. Tampa Bay has won seven of its last eight.
"Beating Green Bay is big for us," Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Shaun King said. "From what I understand, those guys have knocked us out of the playoffs and been a major nemesis for us for a long time. It's nice to finally win a big game that possibly damages their playoff hopes."
The loss dropped Green Bay (7-8) under .500 but the Packers remained tied for the final NFC wild card spot with Dallas, the New York Giants and Carolina, who all lost this weekend.
"It's very frustrating," Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman said. "There is talent all over this locker room and we're not getting it done. There's always something wrong. I can't explain it."
After being held to three field goals by Martin Gramatica in the first half, the Buccaneers' offense came alive in the second half with 20 unanswered points.
King tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to running back Warrick Dunn in the third quarter following Bill Schroeder's fumble deep in Green Bay territory and fullback Mike Alstott added TD runs of five and 17 yards in the final period.
The Buccaneers (10-5) clinched their second playoff spot in three years earlier in the day and remained one game ahead of Minnesota in the NFC Central. They can wrap up their first division crown since 1981 with a win next week at Chicago.
"Everybody tried to step their game up this week," Alstott said.
After last week, how could you not step up your game? The guys did a great job all across the board. It's great to clinch a playoff spot in front of the home crowd."
Tampa Bay finished 7-1 at Raymond James Stadium, posting critical home wins over division rivals Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay in the last month.
"We wanted to go out, beat a division rival and get into the playoffs on a winning note," Dungy said. "We're happy to be in the playoffs, but we've got a lot on unfinished business left."
The Packers scored 10 points in the final 3:05 of the second period to take their one-point lead, but Tampa Bay's defense forced the crucial turnover early in the third quarter that turned around the game.
Safety Damien Robinson recovered Schoeder's fumble at the Green Bay 24 and the Bucs took advantage to go up 16-10 on King's TD pass to Dunn with 8:35 left in the period.
Robinson had two interceptions, a fumble recovery and four tackles for the Bucs, who gave up just 12 yards on the ground.
"I've been looking forward to making some interceptions and some big plays all year," Robinson said. "I couldn't have picked a bigger game to come out and make some plays. It's my first two interceptions in the NFL, so it feels pretty good."
King, who improved to 3-1 since replacing the injured Trent Dilfer, directed a ball-control offense, completing 17-of-30 passes for 133 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Green Bay, one of the NFL's glamour franchises over the last five years, is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1992, Mike Holmgren's first year as coach. The Packers have lost three straight and six of their last nine.
An angry Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler criticized the Packers' effort and questioned the team's toughness.
"Some of us fought, some of us didn't," he said. "We just died, like we have the last three weeks. It's nothing you can coach, some guys on this team are just not tough enough."
"We haven't gotten it done," Green Bay center Frank Winters added. "We can't blame anybody. The players have to take some of the blame."
The Bucs rushed for 124 yards after gaining just 75 yards in their last two games combined. Alstott led Tampa Bay with 79 yards on 19 carries while Dunn was held to just 25 yards on 13 carries.
"The season has really been great," Dunn said. "We have one more stop before the playoffs, so we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Chicago has been a consistent team all year and they are real dangerous in Chicago."
Gramatica, who broke Michael Husted's club record with his 25th field goal of the the season, converted kicks of 49, 28 and 33 yards to give the Bucs a 9-0 lead 7:54 into the second period.
Green Bay finally got on the board on Ryan Longwell's 46-yard field goal with 3:05 left in the first half and got a break when defensive back Tyrone Williams retuirn King's interception 12 yards to the Green Bay.
Brett Favre completed an eight-play, 55-yard drive with a 20-yard TD pass to Dorsey Levens that gave the Packers a 10-9 lead with 21 seconds left in the half.
But Green Bay collapsed in the second half and Favre could not solve Tampa Bay's tenacious defense, completing 25-of-48 passes for 234 yards with two interceptions. Levins was held to just four yards on the ground on 10 carries.
After King's TD pass put the Bucs ahead for good, Tampa Bay wore down Green Bay with a seven-minute scoring drive, taking a 22-10 lead on Alstott's five-yard TD run with 3:30 into the final period.
Robinson's 36-yard interception return set up Alstott's 17-yard TD run with 4:41 to play. The Bucs improved to 23-4 when Alstott scores a touchdown.
"The goal now," Dungy said, "is to go to Chicago and get a win and come home to Tampa as NFC Central Division champions."
"There would be no better feeling than sitting at home watching TV during the first week of the playoffs," Tampa Bay tackle Warren Sapp added.
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