While both teams spent the week downplaying the significance of Tampa Bay’s 38-10 victory over the Packers on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium — the Packers in hopes of the results being different this time around; the Bucs in an effort to combat overconfidence — there’s no denying that the game was easily the Packers’ worst offensive performance of the year.
Rodgers, who went on to finish the regular season with 48 touchdown passes, only five interceptions and an NFL-best 121.5 passer rating, threw a pair of interceptions — including a pick-6 that cornerback Jamel Dean returned 32 yards for a touchdown after the Packers got out to a 10-0 lead and finished the game with his worst passer rating of the season (35.4). He completed just 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards without a touchdown — the only game all season in which Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass.
While Rodgers’ interceptions weren’t thrown under massive duress, he was under siege most of the game, even before first-team All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered broken ribs on the opening possession of the third quarter.
The Buccaneers defense sacked Rodgers four times — and backup Tim Boyle once in mop-up duty — and finished the game with 13 total quarterback hits. The Packers’ run game went next to nowhere as well, with No. 1 running back Aaron Jones carrying 10 times for just 15 yards (his least-productive game of the year). If not for AJ Dillon’s garbage-time 20-yard run, the Packers would have finished the game having averaged just 2.6 yards per attempt.
Now, with Bakhtiari lost for the season to a torn ACL suffered in his knee in practice on Dec. 31, the line will have to thwart Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ creative blitz schemes while opening holes for a running game that LaFleur admitted he prematurely abandoned in the first meeting.
“They’re a well-coached defense. They do their little nuances within their pressure schemes that present problems, they force you to be technically sound, and you’ve got to prepare for them. And that, combined with the level of talent that they have, makes them dangerous,” first-team All-Pro center Corey Linsley said. “We know they’re going to blitz. You know the slightest hiccup in your technique or your fundamentals is going to give whoever’s coming on the blitz that edge that they need to get to the quarterback.
“So, (protection) is going to be at a premium this week for sure. We knew that going into the first game, and they got on top of us. And we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.