With the Packers playoff hopes being read their last rights, the Green Bay running game wouldn’t let them die.
Down 20-17 with just over four minutes left and an offense that had barely seen the field in the second half, Jamaal Williams ran for 22 yards on four carries and Brett Hundley added a 14-yarder on a zone-read to put the Packers in a position to tie the game.
Each team failed to score late, but in overtime the ground game once again stepped up.
Green Bay went 72 yards in eight plays — all but one of which was on the ground and the one throw was to Williams — to score the game-winning touchdown in extra time giving the Packers a 26-20 win and keeping their postseason hope alive.
Williams accounted for 27 yards on the drive, Hundley ran for another 25 and Aaron Jones, back from a knee injury, took off for the 20-yard walkoff touchdown.
In all, the Packers came up a yard short of hanging 200 yards on the Tampa Bay run defense.
The Buccaneers came to Lambeau a talented, wildly inconsistent team. On Sunday they showed both their talent and inconsistency.
Tampa Bay outgained the Packers 395-276, compiled first downs at a considerably higher rate (25 first downs to 16), went 9-16 on third down, and yet didn’t lead the game until late in the fourth quarter.
That’s because the Bucs gave up seven sacks on Jameis Winston, who fumbled twice inside the five-yard line. Winston also made a terrible decision to try and throw the ball away while being sacked by a pair of Green Bay defenders. As he went down, the ball slipped out of his hand and wound up in the hands of Dean Lowry who wound up in the end zone after rumbling 62 yards down the field.
That fumble gave the Packers a 17-7 lead that could have been bigger as well. Brett Hundley missed Geronimo Allison wide open in the end zone and ended up having to settle for a field goal.
Key penalties negated big plays and stymied drives for the Buccaneers or they could have won easily given the way they dominated the Packers for most of the day.
Green Bay didn’t have a first down in the second half until more than halfway through the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay held the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the third quarter alone.
Hundley and the offense couldn’t get anything going through the air with Jamaal Williams having to carry the load and doing so with alacrity. He had 66 yards on 11 first-half carries and finished with 113 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Hundley, against one of the worst defenses in football just didn’t have it. He ended regulation with just 72 yards on 12/20 throwing with a pick.
In fact, Hundley ended the game with almost as many yards rushing (66) as he did passing (84).
The biggest third down conversion in regular came with Hundley’s feet on a zone-read call, a play that set up the game-tying field goal.
But on that drive, with a third-and-short, Mike McCarthy called a receiver screen to Jordy Nelson who was unable to pick up the yardage and Mason Crosby had to come on.
Critics will wonder (this one included) why McCarthy didn’t opt to use his battering ram running back (or go for it on fourth-and-short), but Jordy Nelson also looked slow and plodding with the ball much of the game. He can still run vertically, but his lateral movement at this point in his career just isn’t there.
It was the pass rush that carried the day for the Packers. Clay Matthews notched 2.5 sacks, and the Packers finished with seven and 13 hits on Winston.
There was no success stacking for Hundley, who played well against a much better defense last week, but he made plays with his feet when it counted and without those plays the Packers don’t win.
In a macro sense though, the win matters more than anything with the Packers aiming for a Week 15 return for Aaron Rodgers.
If Green Bay can rush the passer like they did against the Buccaneers, they clearly have two capable running backs — both rookies now have 100-yard games — to give Rodgers the help he’d need to be dangerous in the postseason if they get in.
There was nothing pretty about how the Packers beat the Buccaneers, but with Rodgers return potentially imminent, all that matters is the win.
If they can win games with their running backs and defense, just imagine what they can do with the best player in the world.