The Cheeseheads came out in force Sunday and the Packers sent them home happy.
Green Bay didn’t rebound from a tough loss in Buffalo last week by thrashing Tampa Bay like many Bucs followers anticipated, but still head back north after slowly and steadily pulling away for a 20-3 victory.
The three points Tampa Bay posted Sunday represents a season-low and the Bucs began the game with five consecutive three-and-outs against the league’s 23rd-ranked defense.
“The worst offensive day we’ve had,” said Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. “We’re open for all of that type of criticism. Today it didn’t seem like we’ve made a lot of progress, but we’ve played better than we played today. We picked the worst possible time to play our worst game. Period.”
The Bucs were outgained by an astounding 322 total net yards (431-109), which included another dud from quarterback Josh McCown. The veteran’s 12-for-26, 147-yard day was exemplified by his final attempt – an under-pressure shovel pass intercepted by Packers defensive end Datone Jones.
“It’s frustrating, man, it’s frustrating,” McCown said during another somber postgame press conference. “You can’t do that … we have to be better than that. We just couldn’t get it done on third down and that killed us.”
McCown’s two top receivers will have to wait until next week to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Mike Evans (four catches for 49 yards) and Vincent Jackson (three for 60) ended up just shy of the milestone. Evans is now at 997, followed by Jackson’s 991.
Tampa Bay converted just four of their 14 third downs and didn’t get any help creating third-and-manageable situations from a running game that failed again.
Backs Doug Martin (10 carries for 17 yards) and Charles Sims (four for minus-1) combined for 16 yards on 14 attempts. That’s the lowest rushing total of the season and least amount of attempts since also running 14 times in Detroit.
“If we’re not able to run the ball it’s going to affect the offense,” Martin said. “Something we came into the game with [was] to get five yards per carry, and we were unable to do that consistently today. In the future, we want to do that.”
Contributing greatly to the offense’s inability to move the chains was the familiar sight of Tampa Bay’s offensive line getting pushed around. Green Bay took down McCown a season-high seven times, hit him 12 total times and recorded seven tackles for a loss.
“I don’t know what’s going on sometimes down the field, but we’ve got to give him time,” said center Evan Dietrich-Smith of the Bucs’ pass protection. “We have to do whatever we can do. We didn’t do our job today. There were times when we were on schedule, we did some good things and it might not have been us. But when it’s us too many times, we’ve got to fix that trend.”
Sunday was the second straight game with Demar Dotson taking over duties at left tackle and Oneil Cousins starting at right tackle. The Bucs also mixed in backups Garrett Gilkey and Josh Allen at the guard and tackle positions with ugly results.
“When you talk about a frustrating day, this was a frustrating day,” Lovie Smith said. “I’ve had some bad ones. This was definitely one of them.”
Despite the ugly final stats, though, the Bucs still found themselves in Sunday’s game on the scoreboard throughout much of the afternoon.
Tampa Bay hit the tunnel at the half down 10-3 after kicker Patrick Murray accounted for the lone score of the day, a 43-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. Settling for three points added to the Bucs’ overall disappointment because it wasted a fourth-and-1 conversion three plays prior.
The drive was by far the most productive of Tampa Bay’s 10 times with the ball. The series went for 56 yards on 13 plays and was the only one that moved more than 13 yards all game. That offensive futility resulted in Green Bay owning a 38:18-to-21:22 advantage on time of possession.
The Packers scored the first and only touchdown they would need with less than a minute left in the first quarter. Running back Eddie Lacy (17 carries for 99 yards) broke threw a missed tackle by Bucs linebacker Danny Lansanah and took off 44 yards into the end zone. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby then hit from 42 yards out to push the lead to 10-0 with 4:55 left in the second quarter.
The Packers’ 400-plus yard offensive day would also suggest a larger margin of victory, but Tampa Bay’s defense continued to show its overall improvement Sunday. The Bucs managed to keep the game close until the final quarter, not allowing Green Bay to extend its lead to two possessions until 10:19 remained.
Prior to Crosby hitting a 25-yard field goal early in the fourth, the Bucs denied Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on fourth-and-goal from the 1 when defensive back Leonard Johnson swatted away a pass intended for Randall Cobb.
Rodgers notched his eighth 300-yard game of the season, going 31 of 40 for 318 yards. His lone touchdown officially iced the game on Green Bay’s next drive. Setting up that 1-yard quick slant to Jordy Nelson (113 yards on nine receptions) was Rodgers’ 30-yard pick up to Cobb (131 yards, 11 receptions) that took the Packers from midfield to the Tampa Bay 20.
Leading the Bucs with nine total tackles apiece were safety Bradley McDougald and cornerback Alterraun Verner, followed by linebacker Lavonte David (8), Johnson (7), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (6) and linebacker Dane Fletcher (6).
Fletcher found himself thrust into a larger role at middle linebacker once starter Mason Foster left in the first quarter with an Achilles injury.
Tampa Bay is now down to its last shot to pick up home win No. 1 and overall win No. 3 when New Orleans (6-9) comes to Raymond James Stadium for next Sunday’s 1 p.m. matchup.
It was a cloudy afternoon in Tampa Bay and the temperature at kickoff was 75 degrees. The announced paid attendance at Raymond James Stadium was 64,247.
Buccaneers reported defensive starters: LE Jacquies Smith, DT Akeem Spence, DT Clinton McDonald, RE Michael Johnson, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Lavonte Davie, DB Leonard Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Dashon Goldson and SS Bradley McDougald.
Buccaneers reported offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Demar Dotson, LG Logan Mankins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Oniel Cousins, TE Luke Stocker, WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, RB Doug Martin and OL Kevin Pamphile.
The only active Bucs player not to enter Sunday’s game was QB Mike Glennon.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were WR Robert Herron, WR Solomon Patton, S Major Wright, RB Mike James, T Anthony Collins, TE/FB Evan Rodriguez, DL Lawrence Sidbury and CB Isaiah Frey.