It would have required a shameful performance for the Green Bay Packers to lose to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they certainly delivered.
The Packers turned it over three times, couldn’t protect Aaron Rodgers, couldn’t put even a little pressure on a rookie first-time starter at quarterback and couldn’t play even respectable special teams.
Put it together, and the Packers lost 38-28 on Sunday at Tampa, Fla.
At 4-4 and with the meat of the schedule coming up — NFC playoff hopefuls Dallas and San Francisco come to Lambeau Field the next two weeks — the Packers are in dire straits.
But the playoffs should be the furthest thing from their minds, because rather than fixing their problems, new ones are cropping up.
Typically, the first-glance statistics look pretty, with a 404-279 edge in yards. But if the Packers were counting on the return of their offensive tackles to be the difference, that plan went up in smoke. Right tackle Mark Tauscher made his season debut and started but exited with an injury to his left knee early in the third quarter, and left tackle Chad Clifton struggled in his first game since aggravating an ankle injury against Detroit on Oct. 18. Rather than performing better under the pressure, Rodgers seems to be getting more unsure of himself. He was sacked six times to run his season total to a ridiculous 37.
Rodgers’ gutsy 12-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal seemingly put the Packers in control at 28-17 with 12:54 remaining in regulation. But behind Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith and rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, the Buccaneers scored touchdowns on their next two possessions to take a 31-28 lead. An interception in the final minute was returned for a touchdown by Tanard Jackson to account for the final margin.
Rodgers had two chances with the ball while trailing by a field goal but he couldn’t get the Packers even close to scoring position.
On the first drive, which started at the 20-yard line with 4:14 remaining, Rodgers was sacked on first down and Daryn Colledge was called for holding on third down, leading to a three-and-out punt. The next drive started at the 13-yard line with 1:34 to go and no timeouts, but James Jones dropped a pass on first down, Rodgers was sacked on second down and was intercepted by Jackson on fourth-and-12.
The Packers had just taken a 28-17 lead after Aaron Rodgers scored from 12 yards on a fearless third-and-goal run in which he broke one tackle and sacrificed his body to get into the end zone. Just like what happened at Minnesota last week, the Buccaneers seized momentum on the ensuing kickoff. For a free breakdown of this play, click here.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn’t want rookie quarterback Josh Freeman to get comfortable, but Freeman couldn’t have been any more comfy had he been on his couch with chips and dip. Why? Offensive tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood held outside linebackers Aaron Kampman and Clay Matthews III to no sacks and two quarterback hits.
37: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 37 times this season, including six on Sunday. The team record of 62 could fall by December at this rate.
“We need to rebound,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I've been asked if we've rebounded from Minnesota. Hell, we've got to rebound from Tampa Bay. We've had two tough losses in a row here and we need to handle the adversity that's in front of us. We didn't handle the adversity of the way the game went up and down as a team, and that starts with me.”
The other things you need to know
— With three consecutive runs gaining 9, 3, and 2 yards, Ahman Green broke Jim Taylor’s franchise rushing record in the fourth quarter. Taylor rushed for 8,207 yards in nine seasons. Now in his eighth season with the Packers, Green has 8,208 yards. Green rushed six times for 45 yards, including a 26-yard rumble.
— Mark Tauscher, playing his first game since tearing the ACL in his left knee almost exactly 11 months ago at Houston, exited early in the third quarter with a left knee injury after being bent backward while in pass protection. Tauscher, however, thinks he got lucky and the injury is not severe.
— Aaron Kampman departed in the fourth quarter after a blow to the head.
— Kampman was beaten on Derrick Ward’s first-quarter touchdown reception. Unofficially, Kampman had allowed only three completions and no touchdowns in the first seven games.
— Rodgers said his injured feet didn’t slow him “too much,” and the pain was lessened by a blow to the hip.
— At 4-4, are tied with Chicago (41-21 home loss to Arizona) for second place in the NFC North, three games behind Minnesota (bye week).
— Without Brandon Chillar (broken hand) and his pass-coverage ability in the nickel package, the Packers played a lot of dime, with defensive back Jarrett Bush replacing A.J. Hawk in passing situations. The Buccaneers went at Bush several times, and he played well until jumping on a pump-fake and allowing Sammie Stroughter’s go-ahead 7-yard touchdown with 4:14 remaining.
— Hawk, meanwhile, had a team-high seven tackles and the Packers’ only sack. He also had an interception, though he was flagged for a somewhat-touchy illegal contact penalty on tight end Kellen Winslow.
— With Jordy Nelson (knee) and Jake Allen (thigh) deactivated, Biren Ealy was the No. 4 receiver. Ealy, who was added to the roster on Saturday when lineman Jason Spitz was put on injured reserve, was not targeted with a pass.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.