Packers: Protecting the ball crucial vs. Buccaneers in NFC title game

Green Bay Packers - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Green Bay Packers protect the football, they don’t lose.

In games the Packers have zero turnovers this season, they’re 11-0. When they’ve turned it over at least once, they’re 3-3.

One of those defeats came in Week 6 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two Aaron Rodgers interceptions flipped the game in the Bucs’ favor and it fell apart from that point on.

Prior to that game, the Packers hadn’t turned the ball over all season. They started strong in Tampa Bay, too, with a 10-0 lead as the first quarter came to an end.

But one play changed the entire game. For only the third time in his career, Rodgers threw a pick-six. From a two-score lead with possession of the football, all of a sudden the Buccaneers were right back in it.

Momentum swung in the Buccaneers’ favor. The Packers still led but it didn’t feel like it anymore.

Just moments later, a Rodgers’ pass was tipped and picked and came just two yards away from going back for a touchdown again. Ronald Jones finished it off.

In the space of five plays from scrimmage, a 10-0 lead became a 10-14 deficit and the Packers were reeling.

Uncharacteristically, they were unable to regain their composure. The Packers were rattled and struggled to calm down and get back to what was working in the first quarter. The Bucs scored 38 unanswered points, sacked Rodgers four times and Tim Boyle once, before closing out an emphatic victory over their now-NFC Championship opponents.

No team protected the football better than the Packers in the regular season. Rodgers was only intercepted five times and the team had six fumbles for a league-best 11 giveaways.

Tampa Bay’s defense has made a habit of turning the ball over. Its 25 takeaways is tied for fifth-most in the league.

Green Bay’s offense scored more points than any other in the regular season, and it showed in last week’s divisional round that even the strongest of defenses will struggle to contain them without pressure and turnovers.

The Packers are perfect when they don’t turn it over. For one quarter in Week 6, they looked on their way to an impressive road win. Two plays changed that game.

In Sunday’s rematch, protecting the football will be key to advancing to the Super Bowl.