Packers Insider: Thumbs up to pass rush, down to passing game
THE BIG PICTURE
Improbable as it seems, the Packers kept their postseason hopes alive Sunday with a 26-20 overtime victory over the Buccaneers that snapped their three-game Lambeau Field losing streak. At 6-6, they will be favored to win next Sunday at winless Cleveland, and that would keep them in contention while awaiting a possible Week 15 return by quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Carolina. If the Packers can reach coach Mike McCarthy’s stated annual goal of getting at least 10 wins, they still could find themselves making what would be an NFL-record nine straight playoff appearances.
In the absence of a consistent, drive-sustaining offense, the Packers managed to turn the game in their favor with a couple of huge defensive plays. With the Bucs leading 7-3 early in the second quarter, linebacker Kyler Fackrell got his hand on a punt attempt and the Packers took over on the Tampa Bay 45. Five plays later, Jamaal Williams scored on a 1-yard run for a 10-7 lead. On the Buccaneers’ next possession, defensive tackle Kenny Clark stripped the ball from quarterback Jameis Winston on a sack and Dean Lowry took the fumble 62 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
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The Packers’ pass rush was missing in action in Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger was virtually untouched while carving up the Green Bay secondary. With Winston making his first start back from a shoulder injury, the Packers needed to apply pressure against a banged-up Bucs offensive line. That they did, led by two key contributors who returned from injury: linebacker Clay Matthews (2½ sacks) and Clark (first two career sacks). For Matthews, it was his 14th career game with multiple sacks. Green Bay finished with seven sacks, one short of the team record set against Philadelphia in 2004, and registered 13 quarterback hits.
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Life with a backup quarterback means the Packers never know from week to week who will show up: Good Brett or Bad Brett. There was very little good about Brett Hundley’s performance for most of the day. He badly missed a wide-open Geronimo Allison on a corner route in the end zone on the Packers’ first drive, forcing them to settle for a field goal. He threw a bad second-quarter interception when he said he and his receivers "weren't on the same page." Facing the NFL’s worst-ranked pass defense, Hundley hit only 13 of 22 passes for a paltry 84 yards (their fewest in a win since Week 9 of the 1994 season, according to ESPN) and a passer rating of 48.3. He salvaged the game by using his feet, gaining 66 yards on seven carries (including clutch runs of seven and 18 yards in overtime). His rushing total was the best by a Packers quarterback since Don Majkowski gained 88 on eight carries at Detroit on Sept. 30, 1990. But the Packers won’t beat good teams without a passing game.
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The Packers picked just the right time to finally let Williams catch his breath. The hard-charging rookie was a one-man band in the backfield throughout regulation and into overtime, handling all 21 carries for 113 yards and a bulldozing touchdown on which he carried safety Chris Conte for three yards into the end zone. Williams also showed nice burst on a career-long 25-yard scamper in the second quarter. McCarthy finally spelled Williams after he picked up a first down with a 12-yard catch and run in overtime, calling Aaron Jones’ number on first-and-10 from the Bucs 20. Jones, made active for this game after missing the last two with a knee injury, promptly broke free for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown.
If Rodgers does indeed return this season, it will be interesting to see whether Jordy Nelson comes back to life. Nelson again was a shadow of the receiver who led the NFL in touchdowns last season and once was a feared deep threat. He made a team-high five catches but gained only 17 yards, consistently unable to gain yards after the catch. Davante Adams was a frequent casualty of Hundley’s inaccuracy, making only four receptions for 42 yards while being unable to catch up to several errant throws.
The Packers were without their top cover cornerback in rookie Kevin King (shoulder) and needed someone who could keep up with the Buccaneers’ towering All-Pro receiver Mike Evans — whose sheer size (6-4½, 231) makes for a tough matchup – and speedy DeSean Jackson. Damarious Randall and Davon House accepted the challenge and stood tall, limiting Evans to two catches for 33 yards and Jackson to two for 24. Winston (21-for-32, 270 yards, 2 TDs, no interceptions, passer rating 112.8) burned the Packers by spreading receptions around to 10 different receivers, but the Packers kept the Bucs’ big guns under wraps.
There were as always some annoying penalties, but in all, it was a good day for Packers special teams. Fackrell made the big play on the deflected punt (which wasn’t ruled a blocked punt because the ball made it back to the line of scrimmage, where Jermaine Whitehead corralled it). Trevor Davis averaged 30.3 yards on four kickoff returns, Justin Vogel had a net average of 42.3 on four punts (including one for 57 yards), Jeff Janis spearheaded an aggressive punt-coverage unit and Mason Crosby was 2-for-2 on field goals and boomed four of his five kickoffs for touchbacks, with the other return held to 20 yards.
BOX SCORE: Packers 26, Bucs 20 (OT)
NFL: Scoreboard | Standings
GAME BLOG: Review Silverstein's live coverage
BITS AND PIECES
» The Packers’ seven sacks were their most since they also had seven against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 28, 2015.
» The Packers improved to 33-21-1 all time (regular season and playoffs) against the Buccaneers, who were one of their old NFC Central rivals from 1977-2001.
» With a game-time temperature of 42 degrees, it marked only the ninth December game in Lambeau Field history to be played in the 40s. The Packers have won all nine.