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DEFENSIVE LINE Green Bay's offensive line had given up 31 sacks heading into Sunday's contest at Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs had some difficulty taking advantage of this weakness initially, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay failed to record a sack in the first half. However, Tampa Bay's defensive line finished this contest strong and played an integral role in helping the Bucs upset the Packers, 38-28.
The Bucs had a few good pressures on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first half. The first came on Green Bay's second drive of the game when defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson pressured Rodgers, which contributed to the signal caller throwing an interception to Bucs cornerback Elbert Mack, whose pick helped set up Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the contest. Wilkerson finished the game with just two tackles and no quarterback hurries.
The interior part of Tampa Bay's defensive line struggled to defend Green Bay's ground attack, allowing running back Ryan Grant to rush for 55 yards on 10 carries (5.5 avg.) and one touchdown in the first two quarters. But Bucs defensive tackle Ryan Sims got a good pressure on Rodgers on a second-and-9 play on the third drive of the game. It forced Rodgers to throw an incomplete pass. The Packers wound up converting the third down and two plays later Grant got past Sims on a 2-yard touchdown run to put the Packers up 14-7, which capped off a 11-play, 69-yard drive.
Rodgers displayed good mobility, carrying the ball two times for 14 yards, including a 7-yard scramble to convert third-and-7 early in the second quarter. Early in the fourth quarter with the Packers facing third-and-goal from the 13-yard line, Rodgers pulled the ball down, juked out Wilkerson and ran through Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Sabby Piscitelli for a touchdown to go up 28-17. It capped off a 62-yard, nine-play drive. Rodgers had three carries for 26 yards and one score in the game.
Tampa Bay's pass rush greatly improved in the second half. Defensive end Stylez G. White set the tone on Green Bay's first drive of the third quarter when he rushed from the right side and combined with DT Chris Hovan to sack Rodgers on a second down play. The ball was initially spotted at the 1-yard line, but the Bucs challenged the play in attempt to get a safety. Although it appeared to be a safety, the call on the field stood, giving the Packers the ball at the 1-yard line. Green Bay eventually punted from its own end zone. On Green Bay's final drive of the game, White came up big again, sacking Rodgers for a 9-yard loss to set up third-and-19 with just over one minute remaining. White finished Sunday's contest with four tackles, 1.5 sacks and four QB hurries. Hovan had five tackles, half a sack and one QB hurry vs. Green Bay.
The Bucs received some impressive play from a few reserve defensive linemen, including DE Michael Bennett and rookie DT Roy Miller. In the third quarter, Bennett sacked Rodgers while rushing from the left side to set up second-and-15. Early in the fourth quarter, Miller got into the mix, sacking Green Bay's fifth-year signal caller to set up third-and-goal for the Packers from the 13-yard line. Green Bay still managed to score on Rodgers' run. Bennett and Miller each had thee tackles. Miller also contributed three QB hurries while Bennett contributed one of his own.
Tampa Bay's defensive line play on Green Bay's final drive of the game was reminiscent of its Super Bowl season. On that drive, Sims, who finished the game with two tackles and one sack, broke through the line to bring down Rodgers for a 7-yard loss, setting up second-and-17. Two plays later, another Bucs reserve D-lineman, Tim Crowder, shook off a block on the left side and chased down Rodgers near the sideline for a sack to set up fourth-and-16. Crowder recorded four tackles, one sack and QB hurry on Sunday.
Not only did Tampa Bay's defensive line record six sacks, all of which came in the second half, this unit also held Grant to 96 yards on 21 carries (4.6 avg.). While the Packers had success rushing the ball Sunday, this was easily the defensive line's most impressive outing of the season.
LINEBACKERS Poor play from this unit contributed to the success Green Bay's ground game had, especially in the first half, where Grant rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Bucs outside linebacker Geno Hayes blew an assignment on the third series of the game that gave Grant a huge hole to run through. That play led to a 19-yard gain to Tampa Bay's 45-yard line before safety Tanard Jackson made the touchdown-saving tackle. However, Green Bay still wound up scoring a touchdown, which capped off an 11-play, 69-yard drive. Late in the third quarter, Hayes had good backside pursuit on Grant, tackling him for a 3-yard loss in Green Bay territory. Hayes was Tampa Bay's leading tackler vs. Green Bay, notching seven tackles.
Early in second quarter, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud missed a tackle on Grant, which led to 15-yard run to Tampa Bay's 33-yard line before Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber made the TD-saving tackle. However, the Packers eventually scored a touchdown on this drive when Rodgers threw a 32-yard strike to wide receiver Donald Driver, which put Green Bay up 21-14. On the last play of the third quarter, Packers backup RB Ahman Green broke off a 26-yard run right up the middle of Tampa Bay's defense. Ruud, who appeared to be out of his gap on the play, made the tackle at Tampa Bay's 18-yard line. On the same drive with the Packers facing third-and-goal from the 13-yard line, Ruud and safety Sabby Piscitelli allowed Rodgers to run through them near the goal line for a score, which put the Packers up 28-17. Ruud had a quiet game, recording four tackles.
Early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-10 play inside Tampa Bay's red zone, Rodgers scrambled and found WR James Jones in a mismatch with Bucs LB Quincy Black, which led to an 11-yard completion and first down inside the Bucs' 10-yard line. Black notched one tackle while spending some time on the sideline, which allowed backup LB Adam Hayward to play and record two tackles in his place.
Green Bay rushed 32 times for 170 yards (5.3 avg.) and one score. It included 45 yards on six carries (7.5 avg.) by RB Ahman Green, who became Green Bay's all-time leading rusher on a 2-yard carry in the second half.
SECONDARY This unit allowed Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers to throw for 158 yards and two touchdowns on his first seven completions of the game in the first half, but it more than made up for those mistakes Sunday.
Rodgers and the Packers struck quickly. On the second play of Green Bay's first offensive series of the game, Rodgers threw a 74-yard touchdown to wide receiver James Jones, who beat second-year cornerback Elbert Mack one-on-one down the right sideline. That score put the Packers up 7-0 and capped off a two-play, 80-yard drive. But Mack rebounded on the next drive when Rodgers attempted to test him again, this time throwing across the middle to WR Donald Driver. The pass was underthrown, which allowed Mack to jump it and intercept the ball and return it 36 yards to Green Bay's 8-yard line. It took the Bucs offense just two plays to turn that turnover into points when quarterback Josh Freeman threw his first TD in the NFL to RB Derrick Ward, tying the game at seven. Mack, who finished the game with one tackle and one pick, wound up leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He was replaced by CB Torrie Cox, who had three tackles in the game.
Rodgers and Driver eventually connected early in the second quarter when the quarterback and receiver hooked up for a 32-yard touchdown strike down the right sideline against Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who was beaten on the play. That score capped off an eight-play, 76-yard drive and put the Packers up 21-14. Barber helped make up for that mistake in the first half by breaking up a pass from Rodgers on third-and-4, which forced the Packers to punt. The punt was blocked by Hayes and allowed Barber to recover the ball and score a touchdown to tie the game at 14. Late in the third quarter, Rodgers connected with Driver near the right sideline for a 16-yard gain to Tampa Bay's 46-yard line. Barber was in coverage. Barber recorded five tackles for the Bucs defense.
The Packers didn't test Bucs CB Aqib Talib too often, but they did find success against him on the third drive of the game when Rodgers completed a pass to WR Greg Jennings on third-and-9 for a 10-yard gain at Tampa Bay's 5-yard line. That conversion was huge as the Packers scored a touchdown a few plays later. Midway through the third quarter on third-and-5, Rodgers threw a nice pass down the right sideline to Jennings, who timed the play perfectly. But on the next play, Rodgers attempted to go deep across the middle on a deep post to Jennings, but backup S Cory Lynch, who replaced injured S Tanard Jackson a few plays earlier, deflected the pass on the goal line, which allowed Talib to intercept it and return the ball to the 16-yard line. He was injured on the return, appearing to get the wind knocked out of him, and eventually returned to the game. Talib notched three tackles, one pick and one pass defensed.
Tampa Bay's secondary, which had been victimized several times on deep passes during the Bucs' 0-7 start, took the field with 2:05 remaining in an attempt to help the team protect a 31-28 lead and notch its first win of the season. This unit came through on fourth-and-12 when Rodgers threw an interception to Jackson, who returned the ball 39 yards for a touchdown to put Tampa Bay up 38-28. Jackson recorded six tackles, one tackle for a loss and the one interception for a touchdown en route to Tamp Bay's big win over Green Bay.
Rodgers completed 17-of-35 passes for 266 yards and threw two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Packers converted 5-of-14 (36 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Bucs.
Jones hauled in four passes for 103 yards and one score. Jennings and Driver combined for nine catches for 132 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS New Bucs kicker Connar Barth missed his first field goal attempt, which came at the beginning of the second quarter. The 45-yard attempt was wide right. But Barth rebounded with six seconds remaining in the second quarter when he hit a 38-yard field goal, making the score 21-17 in favor of the Packers. That capped off a 74-yard, 12-play drive. Barth did a decent job on kickoffs as well, especially when he had the wind at his back.
But outside of Barth's missed field goal, Tampa Bay's special teams unit played a huge role in the Bucs' 38-28 win over the Packers Sunday.
Early in the second quarter, Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes delivered a huge special teams play, blocking Green Bay's punt, which allowed Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber to recover the ball and return it 31 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
The Bucs got more help from their special teams early in the fourth quarter when return specialist Clifton Smith broke off an 83-yard kickoff return to Green Bay's 17-yard line with the Bucs trailing 28-17. That play helped set up QB Josh Freeman's touchdown pass to TE Kellen Winslow, but the two-point conversion failed, which made the score 28-23. With the Bucs leading 31-28 late in the fourth quarter, Smith helped the Bucs continue their rally, breaking off a 19-yard return on a 35-yard punt to Green Bay's 40-yard line.
Bucs punter Dirk Johnson pinned the Packers on their own 13-yard line with 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. He averaged 42.3 yards per punt on seven attempts. He had a long of 56 and pinned two of his seven tries inside the 20-yard line. Smith averaged 53.5 yards per kickoff return on two attempts and 13.5 yards per punt return on four tries.
Bucs special teams captain Will Allen left the game in the second quarter with a broken thumb.
Tampa Bay CB Torrie Cox and LB Niko Koutouvides each had three special teams tackles on Sunday.
COACHING Tampa Bay's coaching staff was criticized by some for holding just three practices during its bye week. The Bucs were, after all, 0-7, but the team was clearly prepared to face the Packers coming off their bye.
Raheem Morris earned his first victory as Tampa Bay's head coach with some gutsy calls, which included a decision to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal late in the fourth quarter. That called led to WR Sammie Stroughter's game winning touchdown. Morris also had a good challenge at the start of the third quarter that should have given the Bucs a safety, but instead the ruling on the field stood.
Tampa Bay offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Greg Olson did a good job of preparing rookie QB Josh Freeman for his first start and calling plays for the first-round pick. There were a few instances where drives stalled because Olson might have outthought himself, which contributed to Tampa Bay only converting 3-of-12 (25 percent) of its third downs. Tampa Bay's inability to sustain drives, along with some short fields to work with thanks to the defense and special teams, allowed the Packers do dominate the time of possession, 35:17 to 24:43. Still, Olson's game plan was effective overall and allowed Freeman to throw three touchdown passes in his debut.
Things didn't go well for Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates' group in the first half. The Bucs had no sacks and allowed QB Aaron Rodgers to throw two long touchdown strikes. However, Bates and Co. came out swinging in the second half. That allowed Tampa Bay to notch six sacks, and the Bucs defense finished the game with three interceptions, and two of which led to scores.
Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia and the rest of the team were thrilled to get Clifton Smith back in action after he missed Tampa Bay's game in London with a concussion. Smith's play in the return game played a huge role in the Bucs' come-from-behind win over the Packers.