We knew this one wasn’t going to win any style points. We knew that both teams entered the game with a strong defense and many question marks on offense. We didn’t know how the Pack would respond on the road, in the stifling heat, against a Super Bowl contender.
What we were surprised to learn was that the Green Bay Packers would move the ball effortlessly down the field the first three times they had the ball; that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite having virtually no healthy accomplished receivers, would only run the ball 14 times all day, and that the Pack’s special teams would be a legitimate strength on a day when the offense stalled and punted six times in the second half alone.
It was just the fourth time in the Aaron Rodgers era that the Packers won a game scoring just 14 points. The game swung on the Aaron Jones fumble in the end zone, with the Pack poised to jump out to a likely insurmountable lead. So often in the recent past, we’ve seen this team fold on a play like that. And for sure, DC DeMeco Ryans took advantage of that play, made some serious adjustments at halftime, and the Pack’s offense went into hibernation the rest of the day against the Bucs’ talented defense.
But the Packers’ defense was up to the challenge on this day. Yes, of course, it helps when Tom Brady is down his top three receivers and throwing to guys who were either just signed or live on the edge of the roster depth chart. But it’s still Brady, and he’s made a living throwing to receivers no one’s ever heard of. You figured the Pack needed to win on third downs, considering the mostly backups that were on the field — and they did just that, only allowing two conversions in 11 attempts.
This was the Packers defense we expect to see this season. This was De’Vondre Campbell making tackles all over the field. This was Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary showing they are among the best out there at their respective positions. And this was a unit with questionable depth, losing Jaire Alexander to a groin injury in the first series but demonstrating that special teams ace Keisean Nixon was more than up to the challenge of filling in. Nixon played 57 snaps on defense, 16 on special teams, and made several huge plays. I’m not sure the Pack wins this game without him.
With Sammy Watkins and Christian Watson, the Pack’s offense lost its ability to stretch the field. Still, Matt LaFleur called a great game in the first half, mixing up the run and pass and featuring rookie Romeo Doubs, who stepped up and made the most of his first opportunity to be featured in the passing game. He caught all eight of his targets and gave us the first glimpse at why everyone who watched him in training camp was salivating at what he might become. Rodgers said then that he saw some Davante Adams in his game. That’s a ridiculously high bar, but Adams didn’t really look like Adams until his third season.
The offense had to get a massive jolt with the return of David Bakhtiari, who was on a pitch count and alternated series with Yosh Nijman. Sounds like he was a bit salty about not being allowed to play the whole game, but in those conditions against that defense, it seems like the wise move, with the hope being that he can get through the season and still be out there in January. The Bucs only sacked Rodgers once, a far cry from the nine or ten times he was planted in the two 2020 matchups.
A game like this can turn on a special teams play, something we’ve watched unfold all too often in recent years. How nice it was to see punter Pat O’Donnell consistently pin the Bucs deep (48-yard average) and see the coverage unit do its job, led by key offseason pickups/gunners Nixon and Rudy Ford.
Was it a perfect game? Of course not. For the second straight week, the Packers offense was non-existent in the second half. The defense allowed Brady to march down the field pretty effortlessly in the closing moments to give his team a shot to force overtime.
But on this day, the Pack was able to make the game-saving play, reportedly thanks to a tip from Rodgers, who saw something on the Jumbotron that helped the defense foil the two-point conversion attempt. They went down to Florida, knocked off Brady, and made sure that on this day, the Bucs stop here.