Packers Get Last Leap at Lambeau
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 4 December 2017|
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied from 10 points down to take a fourth-quarter lead at Lambeau Field on Sunday but the Green Bay Packers countered with a late field goal to send the game in overtime and then won, 26-20, on Aaron Jones' 20-yard touchdown run.
The Packers tied the game with two minutes left on Mason Crosby's 22-yard field goal at the end of one of Green Bay's few extended drives on the day. The Buccaneers held the Packers to 204 yards in regulation but Green Bay went 72 yards on the only possession of overtime to set up the winning score.
The Buccaneers finished with a 395-276 edge in total yards, possessed the ball for more than 37 of the 60 regulation minutes and converted on nine of 16 third downs but were hurt by two big miscues in the first half, each leading to a Green Bay touchdown. The Bucs also had two fumbles inside Green Bay's five-yard line, one on a botched handoff and one on a mistimed snap. Tampa Bay recovered both but the first miscue forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal.
It was an unusually balmy day at Lambeau Field on Sunday – 42 degrees at kickoff in early December – but nowhere was there more heat than in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield. The Packers sacked QB Jameis Winston seven times, one of which resulted in a 62-yard fumble-return touchdown, putting the only real blemish on a balanced and productive offensive outing in Winston's first start since Week 10. Playing with a reshuffled offensive line in the wake of injuries to Demar Dotson, Ali Marpet and Joe Hawley, the Bucs allowed their highest single-game sack total since 2014.
When he had time to throw, Winston was effective, completing 21 of 32 passes for 270 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Both of his scoring passes went to Brate, including a 28-yard one-handed grab to start the scoring in the fourth quarter and an 11-yard strike on third-and-goal that gave the Bucs' their short-lived fourth-quarter lead. After resting his injured throwing shoulder for three weeks, the third-year passer came back to compile a passer rating of 112.8 and also scrambled five times for 18 yards.
"Jameis played good," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "I though he did a good job except for that one play. We didn't protect Jameis nearly as well as we've protected this year. That was probably the worst protection game that we've had all year. Jameis was under duress but he did a great job of competing as he always does."
Ironically, the changes along the offensive line also resulted in some of the best run-blocking the Buccaneers have had this season, though second-year back Peyton Barber deserved plenty of the credit for a revitalized rushing attack. Making his first NFL start in place of the injured Doug Martin, Barber ran 23 times for 102 yards as the Buccaneers gained a season-high 165 yards on the ground. Barber also caught four passes for 41 yards and a trio of Buccaneer backs – Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims – accounted for 219 yards from scrimmage, much of it on screen passes.
The Buccaneers had planned to adjust to the losses of Marpet and Dotson by playing Joe Hawley at center, Evan Smith at left guard and Kevin Pamphile at right tackle. However, when Hawley fell sick on Saturday and still wasn't ready to play on Sunday, the Buccaneers adjusted again on Sunday, putting Smith at center and Caleb Benenoch at right tackle. Winston gave his blockers credit for leading the way to a productive afternoon.
"It all starts with the men up front," said Winston. "They dominated them the whole game and Peyton ran that football."
Sims had another 20-yard screen pass called back on an illegal block penalty, keeping the Bucs from mounting one final drive in regulation. The Bucs had the ball in a 20-20 game with two minutes to go but soon found themselves in a first-and-20 hole instead of at midfield and eventually had to play for overtime. Green Bay won the toss and Tampa Bay's offense never saw the ball again. The Buccaneers were flagged eight times for 74 yards in the game.
"That one ended up being about a 50-yard penalty," said Koetter. "It would have been a heck of a drive start there, then all of a sudden you're first-and-20, backed up, crowd's at its loudest right there. That was a tough call that went against us right there.'
The Buccaneers' other big miscue of the first half was on special teams, as a deflected Bryan Anger punt picked up zero yards and put the Packers in position for a short touchdown drive, ending in Jamaal Williams' one-yard touchdown run. Lowry's long return came just a few minutes later and gave the Packers a 10-point lead.
"Yep, those were two huge plays that didn't go our way in the first half," said Koetter.
Overall, the Bucs struggled on special teams, with repeated holding penalties on punt returns, the deflected punt and 121 yards allowed on four kickoff returns. Kicker Patrick Murray did continue his strong season by making both of his field goal tries, from 36 and 30 yards, and both extra point tries.
The Buccaneers' first turnover in three games was somewhat fluky and was also the difference in the first half. Green Bay led 17-10 at the intermission after a Winston fumble – he was trying to get off a pass as he was being sacked – flew directly to Lowry, who returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. Otherwise, the Buccaneers out-gained the packers, 188-141 in the first half, racked up 12 first downs and converted five of nine third downs. Tampa Bay also scored a touchdown on its opening drive for the first time this season.
In fact, he Buccaneers opened the game with one of their best drives of the year, a 75-yard touchdown march ending in Brate's 28-yard touchdown catch. That was the Bucs' second third-down conversion of the drive, as Brate got behind the defense, hauled in an over-the-top pass from Winston with one hand and then fell across the goal line as he was tackled. Tight ends Antony Auclair and Alan Cross each had receptions for first downs on the drive and Adam Humphries converted a third-and-eight with a well-run screen play just before Brate's touchdown.
Green Bay countered with a 14-play field goal drive, with Mason Crosby hitting on a 36-yard try. Williams ran six times for 34 yards on the drive and Hundley converted a pair of third downs with quick slants to Nelson and Adams. However, DE Will Gholston chased Hundley into a throw-away on second down and Hundley, with a blitz in his face, missed an open Geronimo Allison in the end zone on third down.
Both teams had to punt on their second possessions. The Bucs got across midfield on their third drive, thanks mostly to O.J. Howard's 17-yard catch, but a sack split by Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels pushed them back into their own territory and forced another punt. However, the Bucs got the ball right back when Hundley tried to hit Nelson on a very deep post and Evans slid over to pick it off. A penalty erased much of his return but the Bucs still got the ball back at their own 42. Winston nearly hooked up with Evans on a deep pass down the left sideline two plays later but Evans landed half on Davon House and half out of bounds to invalidate the catch.
Tampa Bay ended up punting and it went badly. Linebacker Kyler Fackrell broke free up the middle and deflected Bryan Anger's kick into, technically, a zero-yard punt and giving the ball back to Green Bay at Tampa Bay's 45. Two plays – a 25-yard run around the end by Williams and a 14-yard scramble by Hundley – led to a quick first-and-goal at the six. It took Williams three runs and a second-effort surge on third down to get it in from there and give Green Bay a 10-7 lead.
The Bucs' next drive started well, with a 34-yard screen pass to Barber, but it ended horribly. On first down from the Packers' 30, Winston slipped as he tried to plant for a throw, then tried to scramble and make a throw as he was being sacked. The ball slipped out of his grasp and directly into the hands of defensive end Dean Lowry. Lowry rumbled 62 yards for the Packers' second touchdown on what was ruled a fumble recovery.
The Bucs still managed to score again before the half was over. Winston hit Jackson on a 19-yard deep out and converted two third downs with a screen to Sims for 13 yards and a buttonhook to rookie WR Chris Godwin for seven to the Packers' 19. Winston nearly hit Brate on a scrambling pass near the goal line but CB Damarious Randall broke it up. The Bucs settled for Murray's 36-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the half.
The Packers got the ball first in the second half and got a nice start with a 33-yard kickoff return to the Green Bay 38. However, a third-down sack by Will Clarke forced a punt, with a penalty on the return pushing the Bucs back to their own 14. The Bucs took the ensuing drive into Packers territory on the strength of Barber's tough runs up the middle, but another protection break down led to a quick sack by Lowry on third-and-three. Anger punted it 52 yards down to the Green Bay six.
A second third-down sack by Clarke forced the Packers to punt it right back, though yet another holding call on the return got the ball all the way back to the Bucs' 29. Tampa Bay's offense kept it on the ground to get into the Packers' red zone, with Barber rushing it and Rodgers breaking off a 17-yarder down to the 19. On third-and-seven from the 14, Winston scrambled right to get away from pressure, then zipped a pass back across his body to Humphries at the three-yard line. A Barber run was stuffed and Winston was chased into an incompletion on second down. The Bucs never got off their third-down play, as the ball was snapped before Winston was ready and all the quarterback could do was chase it down and fall on it at the 12. Murray came on to hit a 30-yard field goal to make it 17-13 with 14:31 to play in regulation.
A three-yard tackle for a loss by Gerald McCoy on Williams and a third-down pass breakup by Ryan Smith forced a three-and-out, with the Packers punting it back to the Bucs' 22. Winston got the ensuing drive started with a 15-yard scramble, then dumped a screen pass to Sims, who dashed for 22 yards to the Green Bay 45. A play-action rollout on first down resulted in Evans' first catch of the game, a 17-yarder, and Winston converted a third-and-nine with a sharp comebacker to Humphries at the 16-yard line. A holding penalty cost the Bucs 10 yards, however, after which Evans made a 16-yard catch in traffic.
The Bucs troubles inside the five-yard line returned, this time with a botched exchange between Winston and Barber that led to a fumble plus a penalty on Winston for throwing past the line of scrimmage. However, Winston made up for it on third-and-goal from the 11 by firing an 11-yard touchdown strike to Brate just over the goal line. Murray's extra point gave the Bucs a three-point lead with six minutes to play.
Hundley converted a third-and-short near midfield with a 14-yard keeper into Buccaneers territory, and a 14-yard catch by Adams had a roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on the end, putting the ball at the 14. Justin Evans' hard tackle on a short pass to Nelson stopped the Packers from converting a third down at the five and Green Bay settled for Crosby's game-tying field goal.
Neither team did anything with one final possession in regulation so the game went to overtime and Green Bay won the toss. The Bucs nearly forced a three-and-out but Hundley escaped the pressure on third down and scrambled for a first down at Green Bay's 41. Hundley took a shot downfield to Nelson on the next play but it was well-covered by Smith. However, Hundley busted out another wide-open run on a zone-read keeper and sprinted 18 yards into Buccaneers territory. A Williams catch-and-run made it first-and-10 at the 20, and Jones bounced around left end for the winning score on the next play.