Play number four on our countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ best plays of the 2017 season finds us looking back at the biggest Packer to score a touchdown last season.
Defensive linemen rarely get to find the end zone, and when they do so at Lambeau Field, their leaps into the stands tend to be particularly memorable. The one occurrence of a big-guy score by the Green and Gold last year was voted to be the fourth-best play of the year by our ten APC contributors.
The 5-6 Packers are scuffling, losers of two straight and four of their last five. Into Lambeau Field come the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sitting at 4-7 fresh off a loss on the road to the Atlanta Falcons. Brett Hundley gets his sixth start at quarterback for Green Bay, but he’s coming off his finest performance as a starter — a 17-26, 245-yard, three-touchdown game in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous Sunday.
At the time of this play, the Packers are leading 10-7 with a little over four minutes left in the second quarter. The Buccaneers are driving, picking up 34 yards on a screen pass on the first play of the series to reach Packers territory. After converting a third-and-four from the Packers’ 35 with a five-yard run, Jameis Winston lines up under center for a first-and-ten at the 30.
The Bucs line up with a single setback, two receivers to the left, and double tight ends — one of whom is an eligible offensive lineman — to the right of the formation. At the snap, both wide receivers run deep, with the outside receiver on a go and the slot receiver on a deep slant. Tight end Cameron Brate hesitates to try to get a chip on linebacker Ahmad Brooks (he whiffs, as Brooks stunts inside) before releasing down the field. Winston takes a five-step drop with a small fake to the running back, who leaks out toward the left flat with Blake Martinez shadowing him.
Winston slips ever-so-slightly at the top of his drop, the first mistake he’ll make on this play. When he regains his footing, he has two Packers in his face: Jake Ryan, who rushed on a delayed blitz when the extra tackle stayed in to block, and Kenny Clark, who is initially double-teamed by the right guard and the center, but who has broken free of both. The guard, seemingly thinking that the center has Clark, has set up to block any rushers coming from the outside (despite Brooks having looped around to the other side), while center Evan Smith disengages from Clark to pick up Ryan. When Winston finally has his footing and could start to look downfield, Clark is running full-speed at him and begins to wrap him up by his legs.
At this point, another quarterback might have just held on to the football — an eight-yard sack on first and ten would have left the Bucs on the edge of field goal range, but with two plays to get that yardage back and try to tie the game.
Winston does not do that. Instead, he rears back to try a desperate pass, and in doing so he loses control of the football...right into the arms of Dean Lowry. Lowry, who had been pushed deep into the pocket by tackle Caleb Benenoch, catches the football out of the air and makes a quick 180-degree turn while Benenoch has his back to the action. 62 yards later, the Packers have a 16-7 lead.
This was the second Packers touchdown of the game, but the first one came with the offense put in an exceptional position thanks to a deflected punt that gave them the ball at the Buccaneers’ 45-yard line.
In fact, after this play the Packers’ offense essentially did not touch the ball again in the first half — Tampa drove out the rest of the clock after the ensuing kickoff and pulled within 17-10 with a field goal with seconds remaining in the second quarter. Hundley and company then went three-and-out on three straight drives in the second half, leaving the defense in a tough position. Tampa kicked a field goal and scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, forcing the Packers to tie the game on a Mason Crosby field goal. That led to the second overtime game of the year for the Packers, one they would win on a run by Aaron Jones.
Without this score, there is little reason to think that the Packers would have been able to be close enough to tie the game at the end of regulation, let alone win it in an extra period. Plus, it gave us a great highlight and one of the most memorable Lambeau Leaps of the year.