Packers' defense doesn't blink in showdown with Buccaneers

Unit withstands two-point conversion, forces two takeaways

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Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell

TAMPA – It's somewhat poetic a game dictated by defense in the hot Florida air came down to the Packers making one final stand.

Clinging to a two-point lead, Green Bay's defense had to quickly move on from Russell Gage's 1-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in regulation and ready itself for Tampa Bay's attempt at a two-point conversion.

As Gage motioned inside, All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell trusted his eyes and a week of preparation before elevating with all his 6-foot-4 frame to break up Tom Brady's pass and seal a critical 14-12 win over the Packers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

It's a play, Campbell says, the defense had been readying for all week.

"Every time they're motioning that wide receiver in, we know it's a snag route," said Campbell, who finished with a game-high 14 tackles. "I just went to my instincts and tried to make a play."

The two-point stop was a serious gut-check for a defense that had stopped the Buccaneers' offense at every turn before Tampa Bay's final series. Brady was his old surgical shelf, though, completing 9-of-13 passes on the 13-play, 89-yard march that represented Tampa Bay's only TD-producing drive Sunday.

On the two-point play, Campbell wasn't alone in the assignment. He had safety Darnell Savage tracking behind him in case Brady's ball snuck over. Instead, Campbell got just enough of it to cause the deflection and preserve the victory.

"If he didn't make the play, I was," said Savage, laughing. "I was locked in on the ball and all of a sudden, I saw it tipped. He's a big linebacker. He's like 6-5. He just got up there and tipped it."

The final stop personified Sunday's 60-minute slugfest between two teams with top-tier defenses. From their standpoint, the Packers went into Sunday's game knowing it could be a stingy defensive affair against a Buccaneers team that allowed just 13 points in their first two wins.

In the end, it was going to be which team could hold the opponent's offense in check longer. For the Packers, Sunday's game plan started with containing Leonard Fournette. The Buccaneers' bell cow rushed for just 35 yards on 12 carries, with a long of six.

As a team, Tampa Bay rushed for just 34 yards – its fewest in a game since Nov. 8, 2020, against New Orleans.

Without a consistent ground game and already down their top three receivers, the Buccaneers were unable to get their play-action passing game going for much of the day and it showed in a 2-of-11 conversion rate on third down.

The Packers finished with three sacks of Brady, two of which belonged to defensive lineman Kenny Clark.

"That was the main key of the game, just stopping Fournette first," Clark said. "Just stopping the run first and when we got them in second-and-long and third-and-long, we were able to pin our ears back and go."

After giving up back-to-back touchdowns to start the game, Tampa Bay's defense locked down the rest of the way.

To counteract that, Green Bay's defense forced several three-and-outs and earned a pair of critical takeaways in the second (Quay Walker force and Darnell Savage recovery) and third (Keisean Nixon force and Jarran Reed recovery) quarters.

It wasn't easy, though, especially after All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander left in the first quarter with a groin injury and didn't return.

Rasul Douglas moved outside to replace Alexander, with fourth-year cornerback Keisean Nixon sliding into the slot. After seeing just one defensive snap (in dime) through the first two games, Nixon stepped up with six tackles and his first career forced fumble of Gage to stymie a Tampa Bay drive at midfield.

See scenes from the Sunday matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022.

"We got a lot of trust in Keisean," Campbell said. "He makes plays every week in practice. There's no drop off. We trust everybody that goes on the field. There is no drop in expectations. If you're out there, we expect the best."

Besides Tampa's final series, the only points Green Bay's defense conceded in the second half was a 45-yard field goal by Ryan Succop that came after the Buccaneers intercepted a pass from Aaron Rodgers at the Green Bay 47.

To Clark, Sunday's ending reminded him of last year's walk-off interception by Douglas in a down-to-the-wire road victory over Arizona last October.

When all the chips were down, the Packers held their ground on the road late to put away a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Clark believes it was a character victory for Green Bay's highly touted defensive unit looking to establish its dominance.

"We talked about earlier this year, we were going to have to win games a lot of different ways. This is one of them," Clark said. "It was a defensive game. We beat them 14-12. In the past, we never really won games like this. It's just good to see us making that turnaround and able to win games like this."

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