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Packers’ defense collapses in 34-20 loss to Baker Mayfield and Buccaneers

Mayfield had a career day against Joe Barry’s defense, as Green Bay had no answers for the Bucs’ passing game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

Baker Mayfield has started three December games for three different visiting teams at Lambeau Field over the last three years. The first two did not go well for him, as his teams went 0-2 and he threw for just 333 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions while taking ten sacks in those two games.

On Sunday, however, Mayfield bettered all of those numbers in a single game, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a win in Green Bay. Mayfield threw for four touchdowns and 381 yards on Sunday, picking apart Joe Barry’s defense with ease. That yardage total was the second-highest of Mayfield’s career, and he finished the game with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Meanwhile, despite the return of Eric Stokes to the lineup and a pass rush that recorded five sacks, the Packers allowed more than 150 yards to Chris Godwin and more than 100 total yards from scrimmage to running back Rachaad White.

The Packers had a few bright spots on offense at times. Aaron Jones’ return to the field started out hot, while Tucker Kraft and Dontayvion Wicks had big second-half performances. Wicks set a new season-high for receiving yards by a Packers player, with 6 catches for 97 yards, while Kraft set a new personal career-high with 54 yards of his own to go with a touchdown.

Simply put, this game was a second straight massive disappointment for a team that controlled its own playoff future. In a game that the Packers desperately needed to win to hold on to their Wild Card position, their defense completely collapsed against a quarterback that this defense had dominated in recent years. As a result, Green Bay falls to 6-8 on the season, dropping back in the playoff hunt and putting themselves in a position where they need to win three straight games to close out the season in order to finish with a winning record.

Unlike in their wins over the Lions and Chiefs, the Packers deferred after winning the opening coin toss, letting the Buccaneers start with the football. Tampa Bay drove down the field, getting a big catch-and-run from running back Rachaad White and a third-down conversion from Chris Godwin. But once in the red zone, the Packers did what they have done frequently of late, forcing a third down and getting a sack to force a field goal. With good coverage across the board, Rashan Gary had the initial pressure before Kenny Clark cleaned it up, bringing on Chase McLaughlin for a 39-yard kick and a 3-0 Bucs lead.

Aaron Jones started his afternoon well in his return after a few weeks out with a knee injury on the Packers’ first drive. His first carry went for 20 yards, and he carried the football a total of 8 times for 44 yards on that initial series. Jordan Love hit Jayden Reed on a deep out for a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-6, but after Jones took the Packers inside the 5, the Packers kept the offense on the field on 4th-and-2. Jordan Love tried throwing to an open Reed in the left side of the end zone, but the throw was horribly off the mark, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Two plays later, Kingsley Enagbare gave the offense another chance. He stripped Baker Mayfield of the football and recovered it, giving the Packers the ball back right away inside the 10-yard line. On second down, the Packers ran a screen pass to Tucker Kraft, who leapt across the goal line for his second touchdown of the year and a 7-3 Packers lead.

The Buccaneers bounced back on their next series, moving the ball with some big pass plays to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans split the coverage of Eric Stokes and Rudy Ford in the red zone, hauling in Mayfield’s pass for a 19-yard touchdown.

A sack of Love on first down set up the Packers in a tough down and distance on the ensuing drive, but they would overcome a rough down and distance to tie the game at 10. Kraft picked up a third-and-2 on the opening set of downs, then he picked up a huge gain of 36 yards up the left sideline to set up an Anders Carlson field goal from 36 yards out.

Baker Mayfield’s first incompletion of the game came on a third down stop as the Packers’ defense got a 3-and-out. Clark tipped the pass just after Mayfield released it, and the Bucs punted, with Jake Camarda hitting a massive, perfect 65-yard boot that bounced and stopped inside the five-yard line. But the Bucs defense let Green Bay out of the shadow of its own end zone with a 32-yard pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback Christian Izien. They reached midfield, but a pair of delay of game penalties — including one on 4th-and-6 — yielded a punt by Daniel Whelan that pushed Tampa Bay back to their own 10.

After picking up one first down just after the two-minute warning, the Bucs went into hurry-up mode. A 25-yard gain to Godwin got them across the 50 before a sack by Lukas Van Ness and a holding penalty slowed things down significantly for Tampa. Godwin hauled in another 24-yarder on 2nd-and-29 to get into field goal range. McLaughlin snuck a kick in from 46 yards away to give the Bucs a three-point halftime lead.

With the defense’s struggles, the Packers seemed to need a good drive to start the second half, but instead they got the opposite, a three-and-out that gave the Buccaneers the ball with fewer than 40 seconds taken off the clock. Tampa drove straight down the field for a touchdown, with Mayfield hitting Rachaad White for a 26-yard score. White was lined up in the slot and got free from Nixon, and Mayfield dropped the football right over him and De’Vondre Campbell to let White cut upfield for the score and a 20-10 Bucs advantage.

Desperate for points, the Packers got them. A 22-yard gain from Dontayvion Wicks on a slant on 3rd-and-5 early on the drive and another conversion by Wicks, a 21-yarder, got them into Tampa territory. Then after a holding penalty on Josh Myers, a 15-yard catch by Heath and a quick snap to avoid a challenge flag and and throw to Bo Melton moved the chains again and get well inside field goal range. On 3rd and 14, Love scrambled to avoid the Bucs’ rush and delivered his best throw of the day to Reed in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the Buccaneers’ lead back down to three.

Take a look at this incredible throw and a really nice catch and toe-tap by Reed:

Kenny Clark set a new career high on the next series, recording a sack to give him 6.5 on the season, but it was quickly erased by a huge gain to Godwin (again) against poor coverage by Campbell. After a big play by Cade Otten that took the ball to the 2-yard line, Mayfield hit fullback Ko Kieft in the flat for a two-yard score that restored their double-digit lead at 27-17.

Love and Wicks then continued their hot second half, with the two connecting for gains of 20 and 19 yards on back-to-back plays. Another red zone failure brought on Carlson for another field goal as the Packers chose to close to within seven rather than keeping the offense on the field on 4th and 4.

Needing a stop, the Packers’ defense just could not get the job done. Tampa converted multiple third downs on their next series, capping it off with a catch-and-run to David Moore. The former Seahawk brought in a pass just wide of Campbell’s outstretched hand, then eluded multiple Packers defenders and scampered in for a 52-yard touchdown.

After another long catch by Wicks moved Green Bay into Buccaneers territory, Love eventually took a sack and fumbled on 4th down with the Packers trying to claw back into the game. The Buccaneers managed to run out much of the clock, converting a 4th-and-2 run by White just before the two-minute warning to finish the job.