Monday, December 4, 2017

Packers Don’t Fumble Opportunity Against Bucs

By Eric Goska

Mike Douglass, shown knocking the ball loose from Tampa Bay quarterback Jack Thompson in 1983, was the first Packers player to return a fumble for a TD against the Buccaneers. Sunday, Dean Lowry became the latest Packer to do so.

Just call him the Dean of the Green Bay Packers’ defense.

Dean Lowry is not the longest-tenured member of the unit. He doesn’t lead the team in tackles or sacks.

But Sunday, this former Northwestern Wildcat did enough on the field to be granted that title even if only for a day.

Lowry, a second-year defensive end, scored his first NFL touchdown as the Packers shaded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-20 in overtime at Lambeau Field. The 296-pound lineman returned a fumble 62 yards for a score and also came away with a sack to stymie a Buccaneers’ drive in the third quarter.

With Aaron Rodgers missing a sixth straight game, the Packers continue to welcome help from all corners. Against Tampa, Green Bay’s running game and defense provided a boost.

Jamaal Williams recorded his first 100-yard rushing day by gaining 113 yards on 21 carries. Aaron Jones zipped 20 yards to cap a 199-yard outburst and provide the game-winning TD.

Clay Matthews (2.5) and Kenny Clark (2.0) paced a defense that registered seven sacks. Five were laid down on drives that produced no points.

Certainly, Green Bay doesn’t win without those efforts. But Lowry’s contribution was just as important, a one-act play that garnered rave reviews.

Who can’t resist the sight of a behemoth lumbering downfield with a loose ball? Style points go out the window. The path to the end zone – sometimes a clumsy exercise in zigging and zagging – can blend elements of comedy with shortness of breath.

But Lowry didn’t generate laughter so much as excitement. His route was straightforward, turning the shortest distance between two points into a return that won’t soon be forgotten.

In the second quarter, Tampa Bay appeared ready to erase Green Bay’s 10-7 lead. The Buccaneers had moved 45 yards in four plays to earn a first down at the Packers’ 30-yard line.

Jameis Winston dropped back to pass. The Tampa quarterback couldn’t find anyone open.

Clark, who missed the Steelers’ game with an ankle injury, got past right guard J.R. Sweezy. The 314-pounder then initiated a tackle on Winston that resulted in an 8-yard sack.

Winston lost the ball before he hit the turf. It popped into the arms of Lowry who did a 180. Once pointed in the right direction, big No. 94 rumbled to the end zone with teammates Kyler Fackrell and Quinton Dial in tow.

Lowry, of course, attempted a Lambeau Leap. It might have been the only shot he’ll get at this highly coveted ritual.

Turning an opponent’s fumble into a touchdown is cause for celebration. Lowry became just the 50th Packers player to score via this route in a regular-season game.

Repeat performances are next to nonexistent. Mike Douglass (twice), LeRoy Butler (twice) and Keith McKenzie (three) are the only players to have experienced the thrill more than once.

Covering more than half the field to reach the end zone is also rare. Lowry’s return was the third longest in team history behind the 88-yarder of McKenzie (1998) and the 70-yarder of Mike Butler (1979).

A year ago, Lowry often didn’t take part in more than a handful of snaps. This season he has started 10 games, and eight times has participated in more than 40 percent of the defensive plays.

Against Tampa, he matched his career-high with four combined tackles. His 14-yard sack of Winston was the team’s longest tackle-for-loss this season.

All these numbers are in no way intended to turn Lowry into something he is not. The lineman didn’t even take the field as the Buccaneers mounted their final, four-play drive that came up empty with less than a minute left.

No, like many who rotate in and out of Dom Caper’s defense, Lowry is a role player. But Sunday, in a must-win game against an NFC opponent, he played his part well enough to earn some acclaim.

Life Begins at 50
Fifty players have returned or recovered an opponent’s fumble for a touchdown in the regular-season for the Packers. Listed below are the six who traveled 50 or more yards to do so.

Yards     Player                      Opponent        Date
    88       Keith McKenzie        Steelers            Nov. 9, 1998
    70       Mike Butler               Vikings             Nov. 11, 1979
    62       Dean Lowry              Buccaneers       Dec. 3, 2017
    60       Henry Jordan             Cowboys         Nov. 29, 1964
    57       Charles Woodson      Redskins          Oct. 14, 2007
    54       Jason Hunter             Bears               Nov. 16, 2008

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