Sports

Packers, Aaron Rodgers survive late rally by Bucs, Tom Brady

By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t going to let the Green Bay Packers run the ball. The Packers knew that. 

What worked a week ago, during a game in which Green Bay favored one running back over the other against Chicago, wasn’t going to work against one of the league’s most notorious run defenses. Green Bay tried more two-back sets to start the game, presumably to try to confuse Tampa Bay, to no avail. The Bucs’ defense wasn’t fooled. Green Bay ended up with just 67 rushing yards. 

Time for Plan B.

It was clear by them taking away the run that the Bucs were banking on Rodgers throwing the ball. But what they probably weren’t banking on was that it would work.

“Feel really blessed to still be here”

Tom Rinaldi caught up with Aaron Rodgers after Green Bay’s 14-12 victory at Tampa Bay. Rodgers talked about playing in what could be his last matchup against Tom Brady.

The Packers’ leading receiver in Week 2, Sammy Watkins, was put on injured reserve this week. Rookie Christian Watson was inactive. The Packers had zero offensive momentum through the air coming into this game. 

Until a first-year player had his coming out party for Green Bay.

Romeo Doubs grabbed the Packers’ first score of the game and the first score of his career on their first drive of the game. It was a drive he helped keep alive thanks to a 24-yard pickup that got the Packers into Bucs’ territory in the first place. 

Doubs caught all eight of the targets thrown his way Sunday, ending as the Packers’ leading receiver with 73 yards and a touchdown.

“Just repetition,” Doubs said of how he has been able to get acclimated to the NFL game and step up when his number was called. “Going over the plays, knowing how to run whatever route, working on the release, the block, weak side, front side. We just took a lot of reps. I’m just grateful for the staff that we have here. It feels good.”

Rodgers made the most of what was available to him in the first half, helping himself to an overall stat line of 27-for-35 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.9 passer rating. 

While de-facto No. 1 wide receiver Allen Lazard caught the second touchdown pass of the game in the second quarter, it was set up by a 23-yard catch and run by tight end Tyler Davis

Twelve-year veteran Randall Cobb was the team’s leading receiver going into halftime with just two catches: a 17-yarder followed by a 40-yarder. The latter helped set up another Green Bay goal-to-go situation before running back Aaron Jones was sandwiched between nose tackle Vita Vea and linebacker Lavonte David, coughing up the ball in the process. 

The Packers had takeaways of their own, though neither of the two fumbles they recovered resulted in points and in fact, resulted in three-and-outs each time. The defense did a good job shouldering the load and taking Tampa Bay’s offense off the field. 

The Bucs were just 2-for-11 on third down. They had just one rushing first down and 59 total yards on the ground. Brady was sacked three times. Nose tackle Kenny Clark was responsible for two of the three. Rashan Gary had the other on an inside move as Brady stepped up in the pocket, beating third-string tackle Brandon Walton in the process.

That all helped with the time of possession battle. While Green Bay didn’t spend a lot of their time running the ball, the Packers still managed a nearly seven-minute advantage over the Buccaneers given the extra possessions, running just two more plays than Tampa Bay on offense. That time-of-possession advantage has been a theme the last two weeks for the Packers.

The game began to deteriorate on both sides in the second half, though. Green Bay got the ball to start the third quarter after deferring the coin toss and punted that first possession away.

In fact, they ended up punting every possession from there except one … which was an interception. Bucs defensive back Logan Ryan nabbed the second interception off Rodgers this season and fourth in the last three matchups between these two teams.

It was the same story for the Bucs, to be fair, with neither team able to get anything going save for a field goal by Tampa Bay in the third quarter that made the score 14-6. There were 13 punts between the two teams, in all. 

It led Rodgers to taking his hat off to the special teams unit, or the “wefense”?

“To look at it as a whole, you have to feel great about the defense and that third category. The ‘wefense’ as we call it,” Rodgers said. “To have Pat [O’Donnell] punt the way that he punted and [Rudy] Ford be around the ball almost every time. Keisean [Nixon] to catch the ball on the one-yard line. Onside kick recovery. Kind of a phantom, looked like running-into-the-kicker penalty, but to have a special teams [unit] that’s at the bare minimum breaking even and today, I feel like we actually won the advantage, that’s nice.”

A failed two-point conversion is what ended up preserving Green Bay’s 14-12 lead. It was a battle of wills in the humid Florida climate.

Buccaneers’ two-point conversion denied

Tom Brady wasn’t able to connect with Russell Gage Jr. in the final seconds as the Bucs fell short.

“The sun […] that played a huge role in it,” said Lazard, who finished with four catches for 45 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. “In the first half, I maybe came out on five, seven plays. At that point, I was ready to give it up […] I remember I was like, ‘OK, I need to catch my breath here.’ I knew we needed to finish that drive the way that we did, and thankfully we were able to put points on the board.”

And while neither team’s play was anything to write home about, the feel-good story for Green Bay was the return of David Bakhtiari. The former All-Pro left tackle hasn’t seen much of the field in the last two years. The last time he played was in the team’s meaningless Week 17 loss to Detroit last season. Before that, Bakhtiari hadn’t played since December 27, 2020.

As a result, the nine-year NFL veteran was eased back in and put on a pitch count, alternating series with Yosh Nijman

“That was the first time for me,” Bakhtiari said of the rotation. “At the end of the day, we trusted the head coach, and me and Yosh just bought in. It was something that, full disclosure, we weren’t the biggest fans of, but give credit where credit is due. 

“Coach stuck to his guns and he called it. Yosh and I looked at each other and said we want to make the most of this and I think it was a positive for both of us […] The win was to get me out there.”

“The Packers’ defense was the story of the game”

Greg Olsen and Kevin Burkhardt react to the Packers’ win at Tampa Bay.

Bakhtiari, qualifying that he was “pumped with adrenaline” after the game, said he felt pretty good afterward but it would probably be a better question for the coming days.

This wasn’t a pretty win for Green Bay. The fumbles, punts and penalties were plentiful. But a win is a win, no matter how you slice it. And a win against a team in an environment that had plagued Rodgers in recent years is particularly valuable. 

Leaning on their defense, the Packers are still finding ways to win while trying to find their offensive identity. And that’s enough for right now.

“It is Week 3,” said Rodgers after the game. “Feels good, for sure. There could be some tie-breaker stuff down the line when you beat a team like this, but it’s just Week 3. The Bears won, the Vikings won, so there’s three 2-1 teams in the NFC North. That’s the focus. But big win for us.”

The Packers now sit in a three-way tie for the division at 2-1 with both Minnesota and Chicago.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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