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Packers start hot, hold on for dear life in 14-12 victory over Buccaneers

Through 20 minutes, it looked like the Packers would run away with a win in Tampa. It wasn’t a blowout, but the defense did just enough to thwart a comeback and improve Green Bay’s record to 2-1.

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers came out hotter than the field temperature at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a sweltering September day, the Green Bay offense blistered the Bucs’ defense on their first two drives, scoring touchdowns to take an early 14-3 lead.

They would need every bit of that hot start to cling to a victory by the end of the game, however. On Green Bay’s third drive, Aaron Jones fumbled at the two-yard line and the unit never caught a glimpse of the red zone for the rest of the contest. In fact, Green Bay only recorded three first downs the rest of the game after that point. Thankfully, the Packers’ defense was largely up to the task, forcing a pair of fumbles and allowing the Buccaneers just two third-down conversions on 11 attempts.

Joe Barry’s unit played aggressively in coverage for most of the game but went into a soft zone for the Buccaneers’ last drive, an attempt to tie the game down 14-6. Tampa would find the end zone to pull within two points, but De’Vondre Campbell tipped Tom Brady’s pass for Russell Gage on the two-point conversion attempt — which came from the seven-yard line instead of the two because of a delay of game penalty — and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf to preserve the Packers’ victory.

Green Bay’s early successes were perhaps boosted by the return of left tackle David Bakhtiari, who started the game. The Packers alternated him with Yosh Nijman on a drive-by-drive basis, but the All-Pro looked every bit of his old self while he was on the field. The team lost another All-Pro to injury, however, as cornerback Jaire Alexander left the game on the opening drive with a groin injury and did not return.

With both teams short-handed at wide receiver, the offensive fireworks that one would normally expect from an Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady matchup were missing. Instead, it was the defenses that dominated, and the Packers managed to escape with a close win over their NFC rivals.

The Packers’ defense did not allow an opening-drive touchdown for the first time this season, instead giving up a field goal to the Buccaneers on the first series. Tom Brady found Breshad Perriman for a big gain early and hit Cole Beasley to convert a 4th-and-1 just across midfield, but Kenny Clark sacked Brady on third down a few plays later to hold Tampa to just three points.

Green Bay’s offense responded immediately, driving down for a touchdown on a ten-play drive. The team got going with Aaron Jones early on, as he carried twice for 13 yards on the first two plays before picking up eight yards on a reception on the next play. The Packers then got Romeo Doubs in the action, as he would catch three passes, including a 21-yarder on the series. Doubs finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown reception, his first NFL score.

Tampa went three-and-out on the ensuing series, helping the Packers out by committing an early holding penalty. That set up another long touchdown drive for Green Bay, which saw Allen Lazard finish off the job. Rodgers converted three third downs on the series, hitting Robert Tonyan, Lazard, and Tyler Davis for the conversions. Davis’ catch-and-run got him and a bootlegging Rodgers isolated on Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, and when he went for the quarterback, 12 lofted an easy pass over his head to Davis for a 23-yard gain. On the very next play, Rodgers hit Lazard for a six-yard score and a 14-3 lead.

Another Bucs three-and-out — capped by Rashan Gary’s third sack of the year on third down — set up the Packers to try to extend their lead. Randall Cobb’s second catch of the game came on the first play of this drive, as Rodgers hit him in stride and allowed him to pick up 40 yards. But on third-and-goal, Aaron Jones caught a pass out of the backfield and took a hit in the back, fumbling the football into the end zone where the Buccaneers fell on it for a turnover.

Any immediate jubilation and momentum on the Buccaneers’ sideline was short-lived. With Tampa in a two-minute offense, rookie linebacker Quay Walker made a huge play, stripping the football from receiver Breshad Perriman. Safety Darnell Savage recovered the football, giving the Packers back the football at their own 27 with 41 seconds and a timeout remaining in the first half. However, a quick three-and-out sent the game into the break at 14-3.

To start the second half, both teams struggled to get going on offense. In fact, the Packers’ offense did not pick up a single first down on its next four drives. After another three-and-out to start the second half, slot cornerback Keisean Nixon — in for the injured Jaire Alexander — had a tremendous sequence. He forced a fumble from wideout Russell Gage that Jarran Reed recovered, then after another quick punt, caught and downed the punt beautifully at the one-yard line.

After three straight incomplete passes by Brady, a pair of questionable special teams penalties cost the Packers more than 30 yards of field position on the Buccaneers’ punt. First, Tipa Galeai was held and thrown into punter Jake Camarda, but he was inexplicably flagged for running into the kicker, wiping away a great return by Amari Rodgers. Then on the next attempt, Rudy Ford was flagged for a block in the back, pusing Green Bay back to their own 35 instead of taking over at the Bucs’ 32.

Three plays later, Rodgers threw an interception over the middle on a ball he tried to force to Robert Tonyan. Rodgers appeared to be looking for a pass interference flag, but none came. Instead, Brady hit Cameron Brate for a big gain on the next play before Green Bay’s defense stiffened once again. Nixon broke up a deep pass into the end zone on third down, helping to force a field goal that cut the Packers’ lead to 14-6.

Both teams continued punting, as neither offense put together a drive of more than five plays from halftime until there were about four minutes remaining in the game. It finally happened when Rodgers lofted a perfect ball to Lazard on a slot fade that went for a 26-yard gain. That got the Packers across midfield for only the second time in the half, but Logan Hall sacked Rodgers on a third down to push the Packers out beyond field goal range, forcing the Packers to punt away to Brady with three minutes left.

Tampa started the drive at their own 10 with a single remaining timeout, but three quick throws to Gage got them to the 40 before a blown coverage left Leonard Fournette open and into Packers territory at the two-minute warning. Cameron Brate and Fournette each picked up a first down after the timeout and a pass interference penalty on Adrian Amos set the Bucs up at the three-yard line with 26 seconds left.

To start off an attempt at a goal-line stand, the Packers stopped Fournette at the one on a run up the middle, forcing Tampa to use its final timeout. But on third down, Brady found Gage in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown, despite clearly snapping the football with zeroes on the play clock. The Bucs were late on the snap again on the two-point conversion, but this time the referees caught it, flagging them for delay of game and pushing them back to the seven-yard line.

That’s when Campbell stepped up and played the hero.

Lazard secured the football on the Buccaneers’ ensuing onside kick, sending the Packers to 2-1 on the season.

Rodgers finished the game 27-for-35 passing for 255 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Doubs was his most frequent target, catching all eight of his passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Campbell’s pass breakup added another notch to a stat sheet that he filled up with a team-high 14 total tackles, while Kenny Clark picked up a pair of sacks.

Green Bay will return home to face Brady’s old team, the New England Patriots, next week before their first trip to London in week five. The Bucs will get another elite quarterback at home next week, as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs come to town.