Defense wins championships. A long used axiom in the NFL that proved true again on Sunday in Tampa as the Packer defense did just enough to turn away the Buccaneers’ final two point conversion in the final minute of the fourth quarter, preserving the Packers 14-12 victory Sunday afternoon.
The Tampa Bay defense was getting all the hype pregame. Leading the league in multiple statistics, including touchdowns allowed. Against the best defense in the NFL, you want to bring all your playmakers. The Packers were down two wide receivers (Watkins and Watson) and early in this game lost Jaire Alexander to a groin injury. When you factor in Tom Brady, the weather, and the recent Aaron Rodgers history with the Tampa Defense, you could understand how Packer fans might be lacking confidence.
To win this game, Packer rookie Romeo Doubs would have to come up big. How do eight receptions on eight targets for 73 yards and a touchdown rank for rookie wideout games? Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Devante Adams and James Jones never had an eight catch game as a rookie. Only Jordy Nelson and Jennings had games where they caught every targeted throw as a rookie, with Nelson having the high catch number of five. In a clutch situation against what was touted pregame as the best defense in the league, Doubs had a historic rookie performance for the Packers. And they needed every catch. The Green and Gold also were rewarded by the gutsy performance of Allen Lazard. Nursing a bad ankle all week had to impact his conditioning. Lazard was solid in the blocking game, laying out Carlton Davis III to Davis’ chagrin, and also made 4 clutch catches including a touchdown. After the touchdown, Lazard was caught vomiting on the sideline in the first half. He never missed a snap, trotting out for the next possession. A couple of nit-picky penalties while blocking were the only down moments for the gutty WR room leader.
But this win must be credited to the defense. Holding Tom Brady and the Bucs offense to twelve points, capped off by De’Vondre Campbell’s deflection of Brady’s last second two point conversion would be enough for that honor. But the defense came up big all day. The Packers have had trouble righting the ship once the momentum turns against them. In the NFC championship game, Mercedes’ Lewis’ fumble took the wind out the Packer’s sails. In Tampa, Aaron’s Jones fumble at the goal line could have been that game turner. Jone’s fumble literally ended the success for the offense. Rodgers and company could not find the magic that propelled them to 14 early points on two long drives converting 5 third downs on 22 combined plays. But the defense continued to rise to the occasion. Quay Walker still has a lot to learn but on Sunday he earned his paycheck when he punched the ball away from Breshad Perriman. That fumble erased a promising drive by Tampa and kept the lead at eleven points going into the half.
The second half turned into a defensive battle. The Packers forced the first second half turnover, a nice forced fumble by Keisean Nixon that was recovered by Jarran Reed. Nixon had an impressive game, stepping in for Alexander totaling seven tackles to go along with the turnover. Unfortunately, the Packers went three and out in the next series. Both offenses struggled to score as second half defensive adjustments were effective. The Packers gave the Bucs their best opportunity when Rodgers was picked off, but again the defense rose to the occasion, holding Tampa to a field goal. Four more times the Packers would posses the football and four more times they would punt, asking the defense to hold the line. Three times the defense answered the call but in the heat, as the last drive by Brady gained momentum, the defense seemed to wither. The one factor in the Packers favor was the home team needed 8 points to tie, not seven, and that proved the difference. That, and a HUGE penalty by Tampa’s center not getting the play off before the clock expired, backing Brady back to the seven yard line. That break gave the defense enough room and enough hope to pull out a thrilling victory against one of the all-time great quarterbacks. Rodgers statistically outplayed Brady (103.9 rating; (27-35/255yrds/2TD’s- 98.4 rating; 31-42/271 yards/1 TD) and got his second win in five games against his rival. While these stat comparisons are often debated, in the end, every Sunday, it’s about winning. The Packers made sure their plane ride home will be a happy one. And the defense should now be in the conversation when pundits discuss good NFL defenses. And David Bakhtiari played on multiple drives which hopefully bodes well for his and the Packer’s 2022 future. Let’s hope this defensive swagger continues in New England.