TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Brian Kelly recorded two of the four Tampa Bay interceptions of Brett Favre Sunday as the Buccaneers downed the Green Bay Packers, 21-7, in a game that may end up determining home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Tampa Bay's superb defensive performance was overshadowed, however, by an ugly, obscenity-laced exchange between Warren Sapp, the Buccaneers' five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, and Mike Sherman, the Packers' third-year coach, as the two walked off the field after the game.
Sherman was upset with a crushing block Sapp put on tackle Chad Clifton during a 31-yard interception return by Kelly that set up Tampa Bay's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Sherman became particularly incensed that Sapp celebrated the hit while Clifton lay motionless on the field.
"I just went up to Warren (after the game) and I told him that I didn't appreciate the lick that he put on Clifton," Sherman said. "The joviality that existed after a guy's laying on the ground with numbness in his leg and fingers, I just thought that wasn't appropriate for any NFL player.
"I have a lot of respect for the game, and I just didn't think that was the place for that. Maybe it wasn't a (cheap) play and maybe I just overreacted, but I didn't think it was appropriate."
Sapp cursed at Sherman when the coach approached him on the field to complain about the block. At one point in the shouting match, Sapp screamed at Sherman, "If you think you're so tough, why don't you put on a jersey?"
Afterwards, Sapp made no apologies for his block of Clifton, who was not near Kelly when he was wiped out on the play. No penalty was called.
"I see a guy going at my man (Kelly) and I put a lick on him. What's the problem?" Sapp said. "I didn't clip him in the back, I didn't hit below the waist, there's no flag on the play."
Clifton lost feeling in his extremities for a short period of time and was strapped to a backboard. He was moving his arms and legs when he was taken off the field.
"Obviously, when a player comes off on a cart and has numbness, there's a lot of concern there by everyone," Sherman said. "I know he has a severely sprained hip, and we're going to investigate some other issues, as well."
Sapp had always engaged in a friendly rivalry with Favre whenever the former division rivals met twice a year. But Sapp was anything but friendly when talking about his incident with Sherman after the game.
"If I was 25 years old and didn't have a kid and a conscience, I would have given him (Sherman) a butt-kicking right there at the 30-yard line," Sapp said.
Unfortunately, the Sapp-Sherman incident became the story of the game rather than the play of the Tampa Bay defense, which picked off Favre four times in the second half and held Ahman Green to 56 yards on 18 carries.
"We knew if we could get after him (Favre) with our front four, we could just sit back there and have our pickings," said Kelly.
"We disguised our coverage well and were able to eliminate the big play which frustrates their offense," said Bucs safety Dexter Jackson, who set up a fourth-quarter touchdown with a 58-yard interception return.
The Bucs have allowed an NFL-low 10.5 points per game and lead the league with 25 interceptions. The defense has surrendered just 11 touchdowns in 12 games.
"I can't talk enough about the defense," Bucs Coach Jon Gruden said. "It really doesn't matter what you call it, whether it's an old-fashioned recipe or cover 2 or three-man front. We're playing it very well and very fast and physically."
A three-time Most Valuable Player, Favre has been picked off seven times over the last two games -- losses to Minnesota and Tampa Bay -- after throwing just four interceptions in Green Bay's first nine games.
The Packers (8-3) again squandered a chance to clinch the NFC North and slipped behind Tampa Bay (9-2) in the race for the conference's best record.
The win was the fourth in a row and ninth in 10 games for the Buccaneers, who are 9-2 for the first time in franchise history and own a 1 1/2 game lead over Atlanta in the NFC South.
"We realized this was another brick in the road to the Super Bowl that has to come through Tampa," Sapp said. "Next week we can put a couple more hard bricks in there."
"This was one of those types of games in a playoff atmosphere," Brad Johnson said. "Our defense gives us a chance to win every game."
With the Packers holding a 7-6 lead, Kelly intercepted a pass by Favre over the middle intended for Terry Glenn and returned it 31 yards to the Green Bay 18. Sapp launched himself into Clifton on the play and the game was delayed for a few minutes while medical personnel strapped the Packers' tackle to a backboard.
After three runs by fullback Mike Alstott for 14 yards, Johnson hit Jurevicius with a four-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the third quarter. The referee ruled that Jurevicius did not get both feet inbounds, but Gruden challenged the call and it was reversed.
Replays clearly showed that Jurevicius got his right foot down after catching the ball and tapped his left foot inbounds. Keyshawn Johnson caught the two-point conversion to give Tampa Bay a 14-7 lead.
Brad Johnson hit Dilger with a three-yard touchdown with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter following a 58-yard interception return by safety Dexter Jackson, increasing the lead to 21-7.
Martin Gramatica kicked field goals of 38 and 51 yards for Tampa Bay. The 38-yarder in the second quarter came after Brad Johnson hit Keyshawn with a 39-yard pass.
Favre hit Donald Driver with a four-yard pass with 5:44 left in the first quarter for Green Bay's only points. Linebacker Na'il Digs set up the score with a 29-yard interception return of a pass by Rob Johnson, who replaced Brad Johnson in the first quarter. Brad Johnson missed most of the quarter with an eye irritation, but returned in the second quarter.
Favre was 20 of 38 for 196 yards. His touchdown to Driver was his 20th of the season, giving him nine consecutive years with 20 or more -- one shy of the NFL record set by Dan Marino from 1983-92.
"I tip my hat to Tampa. They are a great team," Favre said. "Fortunately, we won't be coming back here for quite some time, maybe the playoffs. Maybe they'll come to see us. I'd like that."
The Packers have lost in their last five trips to Tampa Bay.