Bucs Swamp Rodgers, Packers in Battle of the Bays
Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers MVP-candidate quarterback, started his 2020 season with 153 consecutive passes without an incompletion. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed that in a hurry Sunday. Interceptions by Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards in a span of just three Rodgers passes helped the Bucs climb out of an early 10-0 hole and propelled them to a runaway 38-10 win over the previous-undefeated Green Bay Packers at Raymond James Stadium.
"I think it was very important to get a big win like this back at home, just keep the ball moving," said RB Ronald Jones II, who scored two touchdowns. "They're a great team, we'll see them down the line, but we needed this one."
The victory improved the Buccaneers to 3-0 at home in 2020 and 4-2 overall, allowing them to retake sole possession of first place in the very competitive NFC South. The Carolina Panthers lost to the Chicago Bears Sunday to fall to 3-3 while the New Orleans Saints remained at 3-2 after their Week Six bye. The Packers fell to 4-1.
Dean returned his interception two minutes into the second quarter 32 yards for a touchdown, marking just the third pick-six Rodgers has thrown in his career. On the ensuing possession, Edwards nabbed a ball deflected by Carlton Davis and ran it down to the Packers' two-yard line. Ronald Jones ran it in on the next play, putting the Bucs ahead for the first time. Tom Brady then conducted two extended touchdown drives before halftime and the Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points. The 28 points scored by Tampa Bay in the second period was the most the team has ever scored in a single quarter.
"The big turnaround was obviously [Dean's interception]," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "They came out with a pretty quick start and we kind of hung in there and then Dean made his play. That kind of changed the whole momentum, I thought, in the whole stadium."
The game was billed as a star-studded showdown between Brady and Rodgers, who have combined for five NFL MVP and five Super Bowl MVP awards. And Brady certainly had a strong outing, completing 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating. But it was Tampa Bay's defense that stole the show. The Packers came in averaging 38.0 points per game and had not committed a single turnover but Rodgers' two interceptions were part of a mistake-filled afternoon for the visiting team. Dean said the Buccaneers pressured Green Bay into those mistakes and came away with a "statement" win against a very strong opponent.
"We understood that he'd only been sacked three times [in 2020]," said Dean. "Being able to keep getting hit constantly, it could cause a little distress. Yes, it really is [a statement game], because everything that was said about Aaron Rodgers – I knew he was a great quarterback – so I felt like the intensity was different. I was like, 'I have to match that intensity if I want to be able to make plays on a quarterback like him."
Meanwhile, the Bucs played their cleanest game of the year. Tampa Bay committed zero penalties to the Packers six for 76 yards, won the turnover battle 2-0, recorded all five of the game's sacks and scored touchdowns on all four of their red zone possessions. All they needed was one big play, in this case by Dean, to swing the momentum and allow the Buccaneers to take over.
"Jamel made a hell of play," said Brady. "He did that to us in training camp a few times. That was a huge play, sparked us, then we got another turnover got the ball in, had a decent drive, got the ball in. It was good. I think not turning the ball over helped a lot. Not being behind on down and distance helped a lot. But certainly there are things we can do better than what we did today and we're going to keep working at it."
Tampa Bay's defense pressured Rodgers early but in the first quarter the heady quarterback consistently extended plays by moving out of the pocket and giving his targets time to get open. Green Bay built that 10-0 lead on 54 and 80 yards, the second one ending in Aaron Jones' one-yard touchdown run. Tampa Bay's offense barely touched the ball in that opening quarter, running just five plays.
Beginning with the second quarter, however, Buccaneer defenders began to get to Rodgers, hitting him 13 times in the game and recording those five sacks. Rodgers had only been sacked three times in the Packers' first four games. After taking that 10-0 lead, the Packers only gained four first downs on their next 10 drives. Down by four touchdowns with seven minutes to play, the Packers pulled Rodgers and put backup QB Tim Boyle under center. Rodgers finished the game with a season-low 160 yards on 16 of 35 passing, with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 35.4. Green Bay also came in averaging 150.8 rushing yards per game but only got 94 on Sunday, marking the 12th straight opponent Tampa Bay has held below 100 rushing yards.
"We were able to get after Aaron," said Arians. "Once we got the running game shut down it was just a matter of getting after him, and [Defensive Coordinator] Todd [Bowles] did a great job with multiple looks and coverages."
ILB Lavonte David had 1.5 of the Bucs' five sacks, marking the fifth time he's been involved in multiple sacks in a game in his career. David finished the game with eight tackles, two QB hits and two tackles for loss while fellow ILB Devin White led the team with 10 stops and added a sack, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Carlton Davis didn't get in on the pick party but he did break up four passes and contributed six tackles. One of his passes defensed was a near interception on a very deep pass intended for Marques Valdez-Scantling late in the first half as Rodgers tried to stem the Buccaneers tide and get Green Bay back in the game.
"Their speed shows up, over and over, sideline to sideline," said Arians of David and White. "But they're excellent blitzers. When you have Shaq [Barrett] and JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] out there it's hard to send them all the time but that's four really good blitzers."
Overall, Green Bay's explosive offense was limited to 201 yards of offense and 3.3 yards per play. The Packers came into the game averaging 455.5 yards per game and 3.3 yards per play.
Brady got most of his offensive weapons back after a couple of injury-plagued games, most notably wide receiver Chris Godwin, who caught five passes for 48 yards. Brady spread the ball around to nine different targets but favored his old buddy Rob Gronkowski for much of the night. Gronkowski had his biggest game yet with five catches for 78 yards. That included an acrobatic 12-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, marking the 79th time that Brady and Gronkowski have hooked up for scores in the regular season. That ties Miami's Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for the fourth-most prolific touchdown pass duo in NFL history.
"I thought Tom and Rob had great connections – crossing routes," said Arians. "We got the matchup we were looking for on the fade ball [touchdown]. Gronk did a heck of job of adjusting to that ball and getting the touchdown."
Brady was also supported by yet another strong outing from Ronald Jones, who ran for 113 yards. Jones eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third game in a row, becoming just the fourth back in team history to accomplish that feat. The most recent was Doug Martin in 2015. Jones averaged 4.9 yards a carry and scored twice in a game for the first time in his career, punching it in from two yards out in the first quarter and one yard in the third quarter. Rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn took over in the fourth quarter and added 42 yards on five carries.
"First and foremost, it was a great team win," said Jones. "Coach said it was going to take everybody, and that's what it was. We started off a little slow, then the defense picked us up and we just kept the momentum and kept riding with it. Great team win."
There was also a conspicuous zero on the Bucs' final stat sheet, and it represented a very welcome development. The Buccaneers came into the game with a league-high 42 penalties but did not have one accepted flag against them on Sunday. Meanwhile it was the usually mistake-free Packers who were the undisciplined team, drawing six flags, including two for having 12 men on the field on defense. Sunday's game marked just the second time the Buccaneers have played an entire game without committing a penalty, and the first time in 37 years. The last time was Dec. 18, 1983 against Detroit.
"I can't say that I've ever been in a ballgame with no penalties," said Arians. "We address it every single day and the guys addressed it in practice this week. Hopefully we can continue that trend."
The Packers got the ball to start the game and scored the game's first points. Carlton Davis sniffed out a screen to RB Jamal Williams on the second play and nearly intercepted it, putting Green Bay into a third-and-10. But Rodgers had too much time on third down and was able to slide to his right while Jones worked his way open over the middle for a gain of 20. Two catches by Adams accounted for 20 yards and put the ball at the Bucs' 35. However, the defense held just outside the red zone, as OLB Jason Pierre-Paul hit Rodgers as he threw on third-and-eight from the 21. Mason Crosby came on to drill a 39-yard field goal four-and-a-half minutes into the game.
Tampa Bay's first drive failed to produce a first down as LeSean McCoy's run up the middle on third-and-two was stopped a yard short. Bradley Pinion's first punt went out of bounds at the Packers' 20-yard line. A loss of two by Jones on a great open-field tackle by White put the Packers into third-and-seven but Rodgers but once again bought time and was able to find TE Robert Tonyan on the ground near the right sideline for a gain of 11.
After Williams broke free for 25 yards over right guard, Rodgers faked a handoff and zipped a hard slant pass to Adams down to the Bucs' 13. A holding penalty set the Packers back 10 yards but Rodgers overcame it with a 16-yard completion to WR Darrius Shepherd and his own run down to the one on third-and-four. Jones took it in on the next play for a 10-point Packers lead.
Godwin's first catch since Week Three picked up nine yards when he spun out of a tackle and turned upfield. The last play of the first quarter was Jones's four-yard run over right tackle for a first down at the 31. On the second play of the second quarter, Brady found Evans on the left sideline for a gain of 10 and a first down at the 43, but the drive fizzled out near midfield after a missed deep ball to Rob Gronkowski. Pinion's punt bounced sideways out of bounds at the 22.
The Buccaneers defense forced another long third down by chasing Rodgers into a pair of incompletions, and this time Rodgers wasn't able to convert. In fact, Dean zipped in front of Adams on the left sideline and picked Rodgers' pass off on the run, returning it 32 yards for a touchdown.
The Buccaneers won the next third down in a big way, too. On third-and-three from the Green Bay 32, Rodgers tried to hit Adams over the middle but Carlton Davis got his hand in front of the receiver to deflect the pass and Edwards nabbed it out of the air. Edwards got 37 yards down to the Packers' two-yard line. Jones ran it in on the next play, easily jogging through a big hole created by Godwin and right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
The Bucs' defense got a stop of the more typical variety on the next drive, with Rodgers pressed into a throwaway on third-and-10 by blitzing CB Sean Murphy-Bunting. Green Bay's first punt went out of bounds at the Bucs' 35. Two catches for 17 yards by Gronkowski and a personal foul facemask call against the Packers helped push the ball deep into Green Bay territory. Brady found McCoy for a gain of six on third-and-two to make it first-and-goal at the 10. Three plays later, on third down from the seven-yard line, Brady found Johnson in the left corner of the end zone for the rookie's first NFL touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
A third-down sack by the blitzing David ended Green Bay's next possession very quickly, giving the ball back to Brady with three minutes left in the half. A 25-yard downfield strike to Godwin got the Buccaneers back inside Green Bay's red zone and on third-and-six from the 12 Brady looked to his old friend Gronkowski, who made a dazzling, spinning touchdown catch just barely in bounds at the left edge of the end zone.
The Buccaneers got the ball first to start the second half and put together their fourth straight scoring drive, this one ending in Ryan Succop's 50-yard field goal and a 31-10 lead. It was another big play by Gronkowski that led to this score, as Brady hit him down the right side for a gain of 31. A third-and-eight catch by Scotty Miller came up two yards short but got Succop close enough for his first field goal of 50-plus yards as a Buccaneer.
Green Bay's first drive nearly died inside their own 20 after David and Pierre-Paul combined on an eight-yard sack. But Rodgers once again scrambled away from pressure on third-and-18 to find Adams right at the sticks. The Packers got to midfield but had to punt and the ball went out of bounds at the Bucs' 15.
Brady then directed a seven-play, 85-yard drive that once again got the Bucs in the end zone. Another big play by Gronkowski got the drive started with an 18-yard gain as Brady somehow dropped in a perfect pass between three defenders and the sideline. Jones broke free around the right end for 25 yards on the next play and then Miller drew a 40-yard pass-interference flag that put the ball at the two-yard line. Two plays later, Jones blasted up the middle for his second touchdown, giving the Bucs a 38-10 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay's defense followed with another three-and-out and the Bucs got the ball back with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. The ensuing drive didn't produce points but did produce 33 yards, 23 on three runs by Jones, and drained three-and-a-half minutes off the clock. The Packers ran the ball three times in the first five plays of the next drive and did get a first down but had to punt after White blitzed up the middle and dropped Rodgers for an 11-yard sack.
After one more stalled drive by the Packers the Buccaneers were able to run the last four minutes off the clock, with Vaughn picking up several first downs.
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 19 October 2020