TAMPA – The Packers escaped Raymond James Stadium with a hard-fought 14-12 triumph over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Here are five takeaways from the win:
1. The drama was to be expected.
It was Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady after all, right? But as both teams fought through injuries, substitutes and the scorching Florida heat, the game came down to a Tampa Bay two-point conversion with 14 seconds left.
The Packers led 14-6 when Brady drove the Bucs 89 yards for a touchdown, and what kept going through Head Coach Matt LaFleur's mind was Tampa Bay was going to need the two-point conversion no matter what.
"I was telling (defensive coordinator) Joe (Barry), make sure we have the two-point play you want, ready to roll," LaFleur said.
Turns out Tampa Bay didn't, as the Bucs wanted to run Leonard Fournette up the middle but snapped it after the play clock expired. From the 7-yard line, Brady's pass for Russell Gage was deflected by All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, and the Packers had survived.
LaFleur called the whole reset a "unique sequence," especially after there was already a brief delay following Gage's touchdown to review a difficult catch. The reprieve certainly worked in Green Bay's favor, and an All-Pro made an All-Pro play to save the game.
"I talked to him right when he came off the field before the onside kick (which Green Bay recovered)," Rodgers said. "He's a special player, coming into his own as a leader."
2. The game was frustrating on many levels for the Packers.
After scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions and nearly getting a third before Aaron Jones fumbled on the goal line, the Packers struggled mightily thereafter.
On their next eight possessions, they managed just three first downs, as the Buccaneers' vaunted defense made life incredibly challenging. A couple of chances in good field position were thwarted when any points would have restored Green Bay's two-score lead.
"We had so many opportunities we felt like in the second half and we did nothing with it," LaFleur said. "That was disappointing. It felt like we could close out the game and we couldn't put anything together as an offense."
3. The defense never gave in until the final drive.
Brady & Co., down some key receivers just like the Packers, were kept out of the end zone for more than 59 minutes, managing just two field goals. Green Bay's defense sacked him three times, held running back Leonard Fournette (12 carries, 35 yards) in check, and forced two fumbles that turned away any momentum the Bucs were trying to generate.
Tampa Bay managed just 12 first downs until the last drive of the game, and the Packers were giving the Bucs long fields in front of them, too. Punter Pat O'Donnell and the coverage team put Tampa Bay inside its own 20-yard line five times.
"That was the story of the game – this game was won by our defense and on special teams," LaFleur said. "That was the difference for us."
Campbell led the way with 14 tackles, Kenny Clark had two of the sacks, and veteran Keisean Nixon stepped in for an injured Jaire Alexander (groin) and made a significant impact, forcing one fumble and defending another shot to the end zone to force a field goal.
4. A rookie receiver really came through.
Rodgers' first TD pass of the game was to rookie Romeo Doubs, and the fourth-round pick finished with eight catches for 73 yards, one reception shy of the Packers' rookie record for a single game (Max McGee, nine, 1954).
Cobb managed two grabs for 57 yards, and Allen Lazard had Rodgers' other TD (after which he was shown throwing up on the sideline from the heat) plus a big 26-yard catch over the top to beat a blitz that nearly put the offense in game-sealing field-goal range in the fourth quarter. Lazard also recovered the onside kick at the end of the game.
But it was Doubs who was the most steady presence, and the performance was a big step forward for the Nevada product.
"You guys can all see his acceleration and his strong hands," LaFleur said.
Added Rodgers: "The thing about Romeo that gives you confidence is he catches the ball with his hands," he said, adding he teased him Friday in practice when he made one body catch. "He's learning. I felt like his route running was pretty solid today. We'll go back and look at the tape and see if there were more opportunities for him."
See scenes from the Sunday matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022.
5. David Bakhtiari got back in action, part-time.
As the Packers continue to deal with injuries elsewhere, the offensive line is almost back to full strength. Last week, Elgton Jenkins returned at right tackle, and this week, Bakhtiari was back at left tackle on a rotating basis with Yosh Nijman.
Both players held up well, and LaFleur didn't want to go "from zero to 60" with Bakhtiari, especially on such a hot day, when he'd only played one half of football since late 2020. It was an idea the Houston Texans tried when LaFleur was an offensive assistant there, and LaFleur was pleased with how it worked out.
"I didn't really notice anything (with Bakhtiari)," Rodgers said. "I got hit maybe 3-4 times, one sack. That's a dream type of day, especially against that front on the road.
"Hopefully Dave is feeling better and can play a little bit more next week."