Right from the beginning, it was evident the Packers were not clean in their execution, to use the vernacular of the team's head coach, Mike McCarthy.
From a drive-sustaining run out of punt formation that included two fumbles by punter-turned-runner Tim Masthay, to a one-yard touchdown run by defensive-tackle-turned-runner B.J. Raji that capped the Packers' first offensive series, it was clear the Packers were not on top of their game. Somehow, however, they managed to beat the visiting Tampa Bay Bucs, 35-26, and remain undefeated.
"He probably should report the next time. We got away with one there," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Raji, who neglected to report eligibility to the referee prior to his touchdown run, but somehow managed to have his 337 pounds ignored by Referee Al Riveron's crew.
The football gods were on the Packers' side on this November Sunday at Lambeau Field. The gods were with the Packers when rookie D.J. Smith inexplicably dived on an onside kick that was rolling dead shy of its mandatory 10-yard distance, and the gods were still with the Packers when wide receiver Jordy Nelson misjudged what would be a game-clinching pass from Rodgers, and was fortunately able to adjust to the throw and run the ball down.
"Take your hat off to Tampa Bay. They challenged us. We played the game poorly. We laid the ball on the ground too much. It wasn't the cleanest game," McCarthy said.
It was and is, however, win No. 10, and it sets up a long-awaited showdown in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
"For the division title?" Rodgers said in repeating the question. "No, we have six games left, but it'll go a long way if we win."
Yeah, it'll go a very long way. In fact, if you wanna build a case for Thursday's game, in fact, being for the division title, you could do it. We have truly reached the point in the season of legitimately big games, which is what occurs, according to McCarthy, when a team reaches double-digit wins.
"When you get to 10 wins, you can start forecasting out to your goals and our first goal is to win the division. Do the math," McCarthy said.
The math from Sunday's win isn't pretty. The Packers were outgained, 455-378. They were literally flattened by powerful running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran over six Packers defenders en route to a 54-yard touchdown run; Blount gained 107 yards on the day.
"It's about fundamentals, especially when the temperatures go down. We tackled too high today. We were not as crisp in the area of fundamentals," McCarthy said. "My disappointment, especially at this time of the year, is with the fundamentals."
Every time it appeared the Packers were about to pull away, and that includes having had a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Bucs rallied, beginning with Blount's touchdown run. The Bucs cut the deficit to 14-10 and were firmly in control of the tempo of the game when Coach Raheem Morris ordered an onside kick attempt with about four minutes to play in the first half.
The kick was rolling woefully short of the mandatory 10 yards it must travel when Smith lunged at the ball. The original ruling was that Smith had touched the ball first and the Bucs had recovered. McCarthy challenged that ruling and replay showed that the Bucs' kicker had touched the ball a split second before Smith did, which resulted in an illegal-touching penalty on the kicker.
The Packers quickly scored and took a 21-10 lead to halftime. They would also receive the second-half kickoff, the result of another McCarthy decision to defer his coin-toss victory.
It appeared the Packers had this one salted away after the defense had held on downs with 5:55 to play and the Packers holding a 28-19 lead. Instead of milking the clock, however, the Packers immediately went into attack mode and Rodgers was intercepted. Five plays later the Bucs were in the end zone and the Packers were clinging to a 28-26 lead.
The Bucs, again, tried an onside kick and, again, failed at it. Three plays later, on a third-and-four from the Bucs 40, Rodgers flipped a pass down the left sideline, trusting that Nelson would run under it, and he did. Rodgers' third touchdown pass of the game put a fork in the Bucs on this Sunday before Thanksgiving.
"When Aaron threw it, I misjudged it at first. I just thought it was going to be a jump ball," Nelson said.
So, in what was arguably their poorest performance of the season, the Packers were able to win another game, and as disappointed as McCarthy was in his team's play, he was ecstatic about the adversity it created.
"I think it was great for us. Adversity is awesome … especially when you overcome them. This is something we can benefit from. It'll be a good energy source to draw on, especially during a short week," McCarthy said.
"We're 10-0, we have a big one coming up on Thursday. We're really looking forward to this division game in Detroit." Additional coverage - Packers vs. Bucs