Congratulations on making it to the end of the week, everyone. Gameday is a mere two nights of sleep away. Has anyone else spent most of their time this week consumed with thoughts about the Green Bay Packers taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday? Good, I’m not alone.
I have no reservations about this Packers offense, no reason to pause and worry. The 38-10 loss in Tampa Bay back in October means as much as the New Orleans Saints’ two wins against the Bucs did entering last weekend. I’m positive we will not see a carbon copy performance from the Packers’ offense this time around against the Buccaneers. They will be fine, which leads us to this: Sunday’s game against Tom Brady and Co. will be the biggest test yet for Mike Pettine and this Packers defense.
It sounds odd, but the Packers defense has been playing extraordinary football the last couple of months, yet there’s that spot in the back of our minds wondering if it is valid or if it will crumble like in years past. They’ve done everything that could’ve been asked down the stretch run. They completely shut down a Tennessee Titans offense that came into Lambeau Field in December with momentum. They wiped out a Chicago Bears offense that, to their credit, had been scoring left and right the three games before Week 17 — the Packers went into Soldier Field and held them to 16 total points. And most recently, a Los Angeles Rams offense that had pieced together a worthy performance against the Seattle Seahawks the week before was limited to just 18 points by the Packers defense.
They have done exactly what we have all hoped for. They’re playing with other-worldly confidence, numerous guys (Darnell Savage, Rashan Gary, Krys Barnes, etc.) have taken big leaps in progression from the start of the year to now they seem to have figured things out.
Enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom Brady was nothing short of great this year. He thought it would be cool to throw for 40 touchdowns and 4,633 yards at the ripe age of 43. He is the definition of the boogeyman you don’t want knocking on your door. It’s a tad annoying what he pieced together at his age. He has an assortment of weapons starting with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin that trickles down to Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, and Leonard Fournette (Antonio Brown is out Sunday). Tampa Bay has put an embarrassment of riches around the ageless wonder.
That’s what Green Bay’s defense is tasked with on Sunday.
It’s an offense that was second in passing yards and passing touchdowns. An offense that was fourth in red-zone touchdowns and fourth in overall touchdowns. An offense that struggled to run the ball and sometimes abandoned it but had no trouble doing so against Green Bay in October (Ronald Jones had 23 carries, 113 yards, and two touchdowns). It’s also an offense that, quite frankly, didn’t have to do jack you-know-what last week. The Buccaneers had three touchdown drives against the New Orleans Saints: All three came off Saints turnovers, and all three were drives of 40 yards or less. The Packers offense isn’t going to shoot themselves in the foot at that rate or anywhere close to it.
If they hold the Buccaneers to 24 or less, the Packers will win this game. I can not see a scenario where this Packers offense will be held to less than 24, given how they have played lately. It’s a tall task for this defense, and I’m not suggesting that the Buccaneers win if they score more than 24, just that it appears to be a doable number for a defense that wants to prove its legitimacy even more.
If the Packers do it, you won’t hear a single peep the rest of the way from this guy wondering if it’s somewhat of a mirage with the defense. We want to believe it’s real, but it’s hard not to be reminded of the nightmarish performances in the past by the defense in the playoffs. It’s important to remind ourselves that this year’s defense has nothing to do with those in past seasons. That’s the logic I’m going with anyway, so my mind isn’t twisted into a pretzel.
It only fits that for this Packers team to reach the Super Bowl, it must right a wrong against a team that dominated them earlier in the year. Green Bay only lost three times this season, but the other two were single-digit affairs. Tampa Bay scored 38 unanswered in a runaway. The offense will almost certainly do its part, and it’s about time this defense shuts the rest of us up who hold even a shred of doubt in our minds. Please don’t hurt us, Mike Pettine. We are far too invested at this point.