The Green Bay Packers boarded a plane and traveled from 30-degree weather in Wisconsin to a balmy 74-degree day in sunny Tampa, Fla.
Living in Jacksonville, Fla., (four hours north of Tampa), I was able to make the drive to see the game on Sunday, getting an up-close-and-personal seat for the “battle of the bays.”
From the minute we drove up to Raymond James Stadium, all I saw was a sea of green and gold. Eight of every 10 people were Packers fans – a sight that confirmed for me that Packers fans really do travel. I was in good company, surrounded by fellow Packers at every turn, hearing and chiming in to the spontaneous breakouts of “GO PACK GO” echoing throughout the corridors, high fives and smiles and a friendly word about Rodgers being the clear MVP candidate.
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy talks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports photograph
The experience was wonderful, from beginning to end.
Our seats right between the 20 and 30 yard line were … better than advertised. Now THIS is true HIGH DEFINITION.
When the Packers elected to receive the opening kickoff, I knew it had to be because they still have a bad taste in their mouth from the lack of offensive production in Buffalo.
Aaron Rodgers and Co. needed to get out on the field and take what they wanted from the hapless Buccaneers from the get-go.
That didn’t happen – a couple of 3-and-outs, a sack/fumble recovered by the Bucs and a few stalled drives later – the Packers finally put points on the board with an Eddie Lacy 44-yard touchdown run, late in the first quarter.
Lacy was up and moving from the start. McCarthy kept feeding the beast – even though he was battling an eye irritation problem all week long, that held him out of two practices. Lacy was super charged and he ended the day with 17 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, averaging over 5 yards per carry.
Starks supplanted Lacy for short spells, Cobb took a look to two from the backfield … but Lacy was the featured back, and he made the Bucs pay the price. After a couple good runs, Lacy broke free for his season-high 44-yard carry.
Lacy was active in the beginning, partly because of an Aaron Rodgers calf injury sustained early in the second drive of the game.
Though no one knew when he actually pulled his calf, I saw it happen up close. After a sack, Rodgers got up feverishly stretching his right calf and noticeably favoring it for the remainder of the game.
The early setback put a strain on the offense, limiting Rodgers’ mobility and changing the play calling scheme quite a bit.
It was off-putting to see Rodgers off on a couple of routine throws, a pass that sailed out of bounds to Davante Adams and a scramble pass to Cobb on his right side that fell short and flat.
However, Rodgers remained in the game, even though the injury caused Matt Flynn to keep warm on the sidelines. After halftime, the offense starting clicking. Though the Packers were forced to settle for field goals for the second week in a row, Rodgers was able to make the most of his limited mobility to throw receivers open and lead the Packers up and down the field.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb had a career day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. David Manning-USA TODAY Sports photograph
The real storyline from the 20-3 drubbing of Tampa, was the Green Bay Packers defense. Yes, the much-maligned defense that had been “holding the high-octane Packers’ offense back” in other featured games … was on fire, from the first snap.
Through the first half, the Packers defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Josh McCown-led offense to ZERO positive yards until the 2-minute warning. A drive extended by talented receiver Mike Evans, eventually led to a Bucs field goal to end the half.
Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels and Co. harassed McCown all day. The Packers defense registered 7 sacks, setting a season-high record against an offensive line that just could not handle the ferocity being thrown at them. The Packers defense has had something to prove: their worth, their salt, their keep.
They have been criticized and plagued by doubt – but their performance that they put forth on Sunday showed that they are ready to face playoff-caliber offenses in January.
With an earlier Eagles loss to the Redskins, the Packers needed only to win against the Bucs to earn a playoff berth. Well – the Packers punched their ticket in Tampa.
The stage is set now for an NFC North heavyweight battle next Sunday at Lambeau field. The rival Detroit Lions look to take a firm hold of the division and the Packers are squarely in their way.
If the defense continues to play as lights-out as they have been and the offense strings together their second half performance against the Bucs with a powerful outing against the Lions … there is no telling how far this team can go.