Packers hold on to beat TB Buccaneers

If there was ever a game where both teams deserved to tie, it was this one.

The Green Bay Packers, now winners of two of their last seven games, managed to win the Battle of the Bays by the score of 26-20 in overtime at Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon, keeping their razor-thin playoff aspirations alive for at least another week.

It is their second overtime victory this season.

The defense managed seven sacks (most in a game since 2004), returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown and held the Buccaneers in check on two of their three red-zone possessions. The special teams played their part with a blocked punt by linebacker Kyler Fackrell and Mason Crosby added two field goals, the last one to tie the game at 20 with only a few minutes remaining in regulation. This is exactly what the team needs to consistently to win without Aaron Rodgers.

Add all this with the Packers’ offense up against statistically the worst total defense in the league (allowing 395.5 yards per game coming in), the worst pass defense (284.6 per game), and the worst at rushing the passer (15 sacks), and you’d think this game should have been a blow out; the kind of blowout this team desperately needed after suffering a heart breaking loss to the Steelers last week. Instead, the Green and Gold made it a nail-biter, and added an extra dash of spice at the end.

“I would definitely classify that as a grind-it-out victory,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy following the game. “I think it speaks volume to the character of our football team.”

Their character is one that makes no sense whatsoever. After putting up the best numbers of his career against the third best pass defense in the league last week,  quarterback Brett Hundley was held to a season-low 84 yards passing on 13 of 22 passes with an interception. His 48.3 passer rating is not only the fourth time in seven games he has been held to a rating below 50, it’s his fourth best rating this season. It is also the fewest passing yards by a Packers’ quarterback in a victory since Brett Favre threw for 82 yards in a win over the Bears in 1994.

“I’d be fine throwing for [84] yards if we win them all,” Hundley said. “I promise you that. I’d be perfectly fine if we win them all. I’d throw for 50 yards.”

He still has a knack for missing wide open receivers. On their opening possession he missed a wide open Geronimo Allison in the corner of the end zone, forcing them to settle for a field goal. He also threw a terrible interception when targeting Davante Adams in the middle of the field after not checking off the safety. And with 14:31 left in the game with the Packers leading 17-13, the Packers had just 47 total passing yards against the worst pass defense. Red flag.

He has thrown zero touchdowns to five interceptions at home this season. It is blatantly obvious Ted Thompson will have to do some quarterback shopping the offseason.

Wide receiver Jordy Nelson may have caught five balls but for just 17 yards. He now has gone seven straight games without a touchdown catch after leading the league with six after week five.  He is on pace for his lowest yardage total since 2010 and the first season since 2009 where he never eclipsed the century mark in a game.

And speaking of former stars not playing to their standard, Randall Cobb, who ended a six-game touchdown draught last week against Pittsburgh, did not record a single reception.

While the offense couldn’t put a dent in the Buccaneers inept pass defense, it focused on the ground game, churning out 199 yards. They road on the back of rookie running back Jamaal Williams, who carried the ball a season-high 21 times for 113 yards and a score.

“We worked hard for it,” said Williams. “Each week we’re trying to get there, and we finally got it today. It feels good, but we still got a lot more football to go.”

Over the first several games, Williams never had a run over eight yards, but on Sunday he averaged a season-best 5.4 yards per carry with a season-high 25-yard run on their fourth possession. He seems to have figured things out, and with Hundley not being a consistent play maker with his arm, the team is going to need every yard Williams can get.

“Whether you need a run or a pass, I’ve always felt that you need to do both and frankly since Aaron was injured, whether it was the day of or the day after, I made it clear that all three phases need to play better or play different and that was the difference today,” McCarthy said. “And at the end of the day, we did what we had to do to win the game.”

Hundley, who also ran for season-high 66 yards on just seven attempts, was able to make plays with his legs after plays broke down (mostly from not pulling the trigger), but it was McCarthy digging out some read option plays that allowed the Packers to tie the game and win it in overtime.

When the Packers won the overtime coin toss, they immediately went to work, running the ball on six of their eight plays. Running back Aaron Jones, who has missed the last two games due to an MCL sprain he suffered against the Bears, made sure his only carry of the night would be a memorable one, as it was his 20-yard touchdown run in overtime that put the dagger into the heart of the Buccaneers.

“We called a power play and the defense jut jammed everybody inside,” said Jones when asked to describe the play. “The safety was coming in the B-gap and he just shut it down. I saw it (the open space outside) from there. The receiver (Jordy Nelson) made a great block and it just sprung me.”

The secret to staying loose just in case your number is called? “Riding the bike, staying close to the heaters and continue to stretch; and know when your number is called you got to make the most of it.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston made his first appearance since spraining his AC joint in his shoulder on November 5th, and while his team didn’t “eat a W”,  he completed 21 of 32 passes for 270 yards, two touchdowns and a 112.8 passer rating, the second highest of the season for him. Their offense showed consistency in the running game (165 yards), but they shot themselves in the foot on bone-headed mistakes that resulted in lost opportunities. Winston did just even to keep them in the game.

The Packers pass rush, which came into Sunday’s game with just 22 sacks (23rd in league) took advantage of Tampa Bay’s offensive line missing their starting right tackle Demar Dotson and center Ali Marpet. Former Packers’ center Evan Smith was put in at center, with Caleb Benenoch at tackle.

Smith had a miserable afternoon, being called for a hold, a block in the back and had a premature snap on third-and-goal in the third quarter that killed a touchdown opportunity.

Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews, the team’s all time leader in sacks, had a season-best 2.5 sacks as he disrupted the Buccaneer backfield all game. His 2.5 sacks are his most in a game since the last time these two teams met back in 2014. He now has six on the season after recording just five last year.

But the real MVP of the defense was defensive end Dean Lowry, who returned a Winston fumble for a touchdown to make it 17-7 in the second quarter, and added a sack on third down that killed the Buc’s first possession of the second half.

“We always preach that when you have that opportunity to make a play, you make the play,” said Lowry who had his best game as a pro. “I think today on that sack and fumble recovery touchdown, I think whenever you can make that happens it’s huge for the team. We always talk about momentum as a team, as a defense, I think to have big plays like that is huge for our team going forward.”

It should be, given their seven sacks makes up 31% of their season total entering Sunday.

And while the pass rush flourished, the secondary was able to hold their own, with occasional road bumps along the way. Davon House, the Packers’ number one corner, was able to keep All-Pro receiver Mike Evans in check for most of the game, limiting him to just two catches for 33 yards, the second fewest receiving yards this season for him in a game. But with rookie corner Kevin King being out, Jermaine Whitehead was put in as the dimeback for the Packers on third down. He was burned on a post-route by tight end Cameron Brate for a touchdown on the first possession of the game.

Their achilles heel continues to be wide receiver screens. The Bucs used it consistently in order to avoid the never-ending pressure being applied, and they persistently picked up solid chunks of yardage. Dom Capers must find a remedy fast if they want to transfer this defensive performance into next week’s game.

The Packers statistically were outperformed on nearly every offensive statistic. Losing the time of possession battle, 37:17 to 26:44 will do that. They went three-and-out on their first three second half possessions, allowing the Bucs to take a three point lead with 7:02 remaining.

They then had two opportunities to take the lead twice in the final two minutes of regulation. They managed to tie the game on a field goal on their first attempt after a quick out pattern by Nelson was stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1. Their second try went down in smoke as they started at their own 38-yardline with 0:44 remaining.

Aaron Rodgers may have practiced for the first time on Saturday after being designated to return off injured reserve, but since the Packers have won only two of their last seven games and with the NFC competition being far superior in terms of playoff contention than the AFC, winning 10 games may not even be enough for a wildcard spot. The key for their playoff hopes to remain alive would be for them to win out and pray for the Panthers, Seahawks and Falcons to lose. They only can control one of those (aside from playing Carolina on Dec. 17), so grinding-out the victories and letting the dice roll is their only option.

“We understood very much where we’re at in the season and unfortunately we put ourselves in this situation,” said Clay Matthews. “We recognize it as a five-game season and we had the playoff mentality, similar to last year, so we had to get this win. Took more than 60 minutes, but we got it and we’re right on path. We have Cleveland next week, so onto Cleveland and hopefully get ourselves another one.”

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