A couple of minutes after nearly giving the game away, Brett Favre gave himself quite a birthday present.
Favre, who turned 30 on Sunday, led Green Bay on a last-minute, game-winning drive for the third time this season, hitting Antonio Freeman with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 1:05 left as the Packers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-23.
"We didn't think we'd have to do it again," said Favre, who re-injured his right thumb during the game. "Three times out of three, though that's not too bad."
The winning pass capped a six-play, 73-yard drive Favre directed in 40 seconds against the Buccaneers' top-ranked defense. The Packers racked up 452 yards of total offense against Tampa Bay but looked to be in trouble when Mike Alstott's 22-yard touchdown run with 1:45 to play put the Bucs up 23-19.
The Packers got the ball back at their 27 with 1:40 to play, and Favre hit Bill Schroeder with a 42-yard pass down the left sideline. Favre got up holding his right arm, but it didn't slow him down.
After a 10-yard draw by Dorsey Levens and a couple of incompletions, Favre saw the Buccaneers coming on an all-out blitz, and he exchanged a look with Freeman. Favre then threw a 21-yard bullet to Freeman, who caught the ball in the end zone while Ronde Barber tackled him.
"I saw the blitz, and my eyes got big," Freeman said. "I figured if I beat my man, I was getting the football."
It was the 13th come-from-behind win for Favre and the 16th time he led a game-winning drive. He broke the hearts of the Bucs, who were outplayed most of the night before losing their second straight game.
"I'd have bet my life we'have stopped them on that drive," said Warren Sapp, who had two of Tampa Bay's five sacks.
Favre was 22-of-40 for 390 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Corey Bradford with a 23-yard TD pass with 12 seconds to play in Green Bay's 23-20 win over Minnesota two weeks ago, and he won the season-opener against Oakland 28-24 by hitting Jeff Thomason with a 1-yard scoring pass with 11 seconds left.
The Packers (3-1) moved into first place in the NFC Central with the win, their eighth straight and 33rd in the last 34 games at Lambeau Field. Ryan Longwell kicked four field goals for the Packers.
The Buccaneers (2-3), who haven't won at Lambeau Field since 1989, were crippled by four turnovers. Trent Dilfer threw three interceptions, including one to Darren Sharper with 13 seconds to play that sealed Green Bay's win.
Favre's last-minute heroics erased an embarrassing miscue. With 4:48 to play, Packers defensive end Keith McKenzie sacked Dilfer, forced a fumble and recovered it at Tampa Bay's 19.
|Former Packer Reggie White waves to the crowd as his number was retired at a halftime ceremony.|
Tampa Bay then drove 65 yards, highlighted by Dilfer's 27-yard scramble, to Alstott's touchdown, but the Bucs left Favre too much time.
"It crushes you," said Alstott, who had 87 yards on 14 carries. "You're on top of the world one minute, and 1:45 later the game's over, and you lost. It's unbelievable."
Favre hit his two starting wide receivers early and often. Schroeder had seven catches for a career-high 158 yards and Freeman had seven for 152, giving Green Bay two 100-yard receiving games for the first time since 1994.
Schroeder caught a 51-yard pass from Favre on Green Bay's first play of the game, and Freeman caught a 19-yard touchdown pass moments later to cap a 77-yard drive.
The Buccaneers' much-maligned offense struggled, and one first-half drive died on a goal-line interception by Green Bay's Jermaine Smith. Martin Gramatica kicked three field goals for Tampa Bay.
Warrick Dunn, who was injurd late in the game, scored on a 16-yard pass from Dilfer on Tampa Bay's opening play of the second quarter, and Gramatica kicked a 36-yarder with 14:28 left in the half that tied it 16-16.
At halftime, the Packers retired former defensive end Reggie White's jersey.
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