TAMPA – David Bakhtiari's journey back to the field took a massive step in the right direction Sunday.
The Packers' left tackle made his highly anticipated return to the field during a hard-fought 14-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
It was the first time Bakhtiari has played since a 27-snap outing in last year's regular-season finale in Detroit, which marked his only appearance in 2021.
The five-time All-Pro originally injured his knee in practice on Dec. 31, 2020, beginning a 1½-year odyssey for Bakhtiari that saw the veteran undergo three surgeries on the knee.
"I think it was what I expected on a lot of things, from conditioning, level of play, the talent out there against that good defense," Bakhtiari said. "Overall, I think no matter what, regardless of what was going to go on out there, I'm just happy. The win was to get me out there and get me through."
Green Bay was mindful of Bakhtiari's workload against the Bucs, opting to have the veteran alternate series with Yosh Nijman throughout the game. Citing cohesion, Bakhtiari said the offensive line was somewhat leery about the decision at first, but he and Nijman bought in.
While it was a first for Bakhtiari, it is something the Packers have done before under Head Coach Matt LaFleur. In 2019, Green Bay had then-rookie Elgton Jenkins platoon with Lane Taylor at left guard for the first two games before Taylor was lost for the season with a biceps injury.
"Give credit to Coach. He stuck to his guns. He called it," Bakhtiari said. "We looked at each other and said we're going to make the most of it. I think it was positive on both of us."
Bakhtiari commended Nijman for how he handled not only the unique arrangement Sunday but also periodically filling in protecting Aaron Rodgers' blindside over the past two seasons.
As it turned out, the Packers mounted back-to-back scoring drives with both left tackles to start Sunday's game. With Bakhtiari starting, Green Bay opened with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs.
When Nijman relieved Bakhtiari, the Packers found the end zone again on a 12-play, 71-yard series in the second quarter.
"It was something to get accustomed to," said Nijman, referring to his history as a swing tackle. "Moving forward, I'm just going to have to stay ready every game and work accordingly. Whatever is up for that week, just get ready for that."
Bakhtiari felt good afterwards but admitted to still feeling the adrenaline high of playing in his first game in nine months.
Bakhtiari said he "absolutely" cherishes football even more after his long journey back. He still plans to take everything one day at a time, but getting a road win felt sensational.
"Three surgeries, a lot of questions on it and the ability to answer those questions for myself, that's the most important thing," Bakhtiari said. "And then I think to kinda quiet everything else around, and I've always kinda enjoyed at the left tackle position and myself, the less conversation we have around me usually means you've done a good job."
Doubs makes history: Down both Sammy Watkins and Christian Watson, Rodgers and the offense turned to Romeo Doubs to get things going.
The rookie fourth-round pick led the Packers with eight catches for 73 yards, including his first NFL touchdown off a 5-yard pass from Rodgers that put Green Bay on the board.
Doubs' eight receptions were the most in a game by a Packers rookie since Gerry Ellis' eight on Nov. 30, 1980. Only Max McGee (nine, Dec. 12, 1954) has more.
"I think it's just his poise, honestly, and he cares a lot," receiver Allen Lazard said. "It really matters to him when he makes mistakes or doesn't do the best job. Seeing him grow has been a privilege and it was great for him to get his first touchdown."
Make it five: With his 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Lazard extended his streak to five straight regular-season games with a receiving touchdown.
In addition to his four catches for 45 yards, Lazard also blocked on Doubs' touchdown catch and successfully fielded the onside kick attempt that sealed the win.
"Those are kinda staple Aaron Rodgers run alerts," said Lazard of Green Bay's red-zone scores. "I felt like he's done a great job throughout his entire career running those. We got the premier looks for them both times and I just try to go out there and do my job."
See scenes from the Sunday matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022.
Precision on punts: Stout special teams went a long way in the Packers' winning the field-position battle in Tampa, particularly in punt coverage.
Pat O'Donnell dropped five of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line, the most by a Packers punter in a game since 1976, with gunners Keisean Nixon, Rudy Ford and Shemar Jean-Charles all contributing to that achievement.
The biggest play came in the third quarter when Nixon downed a 42-yard O'Donnell punt at the Tampa 2-yard line. The Buccaneers wouldn't advance the ball off the mark, leading to a punt.
"That's the standard," Nixon said. "Special teams, offense, defense, we got one standard as a team and that's Super Bowl standard. We got a win every rep no matter who's in front of us. We're going to put it on tape and that's what we did today."
Packers-Buccaneers Game Center
Follow all the post-game coverage from the Packers' 14-12 victory over the Buccaneers