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‘Wakeup call’: Packers humbled in 38-10 drubbing by Buccaneers
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‘Wakeup call’: Packers humbled in 38-10 drubbing by Buccaneers

Packers Buccaneers

Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean heads for the endzone after intercepting a pass by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and returning it for a score during the first half of Tampa Bay's victory over Green Bay Sunday in Tampa, Fla. Rodgers threw two interceptions as the Packers dropped their first game of the season. 

Aaron Rodgers was right.

As it turns out, Sunday was not about him against Tom Brady, two quarterbacking icons meeting for only the third time as starters in their Pro Football Hall of Fame careers. It really was all about Rodgers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.

And unfortunately for the Packers, that battle wasn’t close.

In fact, by the time the Packers’ 38-10 loss to the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium was over, the score was so lopsided that the two legends’ backups — the Packers’ Tim Boyle and the Buccaneers’ Blaine Gabbert — were handling mop-up duty for the final 7 minutes.

Rodgers and the Packers (4-1), meanwhile, were pondering why, after things had seemingly come so easily during their 4-0 start, they played so poorly coming out of a bye week in a game against a fellow Super Bowl contender in the NFC and were so thoroughly outclassed by the Bucs (4-2).

“I think we needed kind of a kick in the ass a little bit,” Rodgers confessed after the second-worst statistical performance of his career in a game he did not leave due to injury, having completed just 15 of 36 passes for 160 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — including one that was returned for a pick-6 touchdown by Jamel Dean for the Bucs’ first points — to finish with a 35.4 passer rating. “There’s a little bit of wakeup to stop feeling ourselves so much and get back to the things that got us to this position. I think this would be, unfortunately but fortunately, something we can really grow from.

“You don’t ever want to lose like this; I felt like we needed a little bit of a wakeup call at some point this season because things have been so good and there’s been so much talk — maybe (more so) outside the building — about the ease with which we’re moving the ball on offense and scoring.”

To be sure, nothing came easily Sunday against a Buccaneers defense that ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in most statistical categories coming in. In addition to Rodgers’ ugly numbers, the Packers’ offensive output as a whole was just as unsightly: A season-low 201 net yards (the third-fewest of head coach Matt LaFleur’s tenure), only one trip inside the Buccaneers’ 20-yard line, just 13 first downs, limited production from wide receiver Davante Adams in his return to lineup (six receptions for 61 yards) and very few contributions from Aaron Jones (10 carries, 15 yards).

How bad was it? Rodgers came into the game having been sacked only three times in the first four games. He was sacked four times Sunday before departing with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter. And punter JK Scott, who’d been summoned to punt just seven times in the first two games, punted seven times on Sunday alone.

No wonder the Buccaneers reeled off 38 consecutive points after the Packers took a 10-0 first-quarter lead that Rodgers would later admit was a mirage.

“Nothing seemed to be working. Nothing was working, outside of those first two drives,” LaFleur said. “It was definitely a frustrating deal when they continued to bring pressure and you don’t have good answers for it and you can’t beat it. So we’ll take a good hard look at the film and try to learn as much as we can from it.

“Our practice this week was not up to our standard that these guys have developed over the last year and a half. That’s what happened today: You practice like crap, and then you go out and play like crap.”

Rodgers voiced similar concerns about the team’s work week, which he felt then bled into how the offense struggled to get in and out of the huddle, make adjustments at the line of scrimmage or execute once the play began.

“I don't think our week of practice was that great. Offensively, I didn't feel like we had a good rhythm,” Rodgers said. “We went outside (for practice), it was windy, it was colder. I don’t think we practiced our best this week and obviously didn't play our best.

“More times than not, I’d say if you’ve got a good week going, you’re probably going to be pretty effective. If you’re not having that great efficiency in practice, usually it doesn’t come any easier on the field. I don’t think you want to totally flush something like this. I think you have to be as critical as you are during the wins as you are during the stinkers like tonight.

“Obviously the turnovers (by me) didn’t help, but I don’t think we were very efficient the entire night. It starts with the preparation, having a better week of practice, and then we have to play better when you’re playing a really good defense like that. There’s going to be more defenses with great pass rushers coming up. We’ve got to be able to move the ball efficiently, to get the ball out of my hand, to get open on time, and obviously I have to take care of the ball better.”

Meanwhile, with the Bucs defense dominating, Rodgers struggling and running back Ronald Jones carrying much of the Bucs’ offensive load (23 carries, 113 yards, two rushing touchdowns), Brady only had to make a handful of plays during the course of the game. He finished the day having completed 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (104.9 passer rating).

The Packers defense was part of that, failing to do its part when the offense was struggling. Even after Rodgers’ two interceptions — with Dean’s 32-yard return resulting in six immediate points and Mike Edwards’ subsequent pick setting up Jones’ 2-yard touchdown dive — took the Packers from up 10-0 to down 14-10 in a blink, the Packers defense never made Brady uncomfortable. While Rodgers was under siege all day, absorbing not only the four sacks but 13 other quarterback hits, Brady was scarcely pressured.

“The momentum changed really fast. They obviously grabbed it,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “(But) that’s one of those times where, as a defense, we’ve got to step up and help the offense. We didn’t come out and execute the way we wanted to, and grab that momentum back.”

Now, the question is whether the Packers can recapture the momentum they seemed to have during their 4-0 start. For all the attention Brady-Rodgers III had deservedly gotten during the week — Rodgers had begun his downplaying campaign last Tuesday, on his weekly appearance on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio’s “The Pat McAfee Show” — in the end, Rodgers rightly emphasized that it’s only one game.

“I feel good about the team,” Rodgers said. “I’ve played for so long, you’re going to have a couple stinkers ... where you kind of got off to a nice start and then just — nothing. So, I feel really good about our squad. We’d had four really, really good weeks, being efficient, winning, offensively being very explosive, defensively coming up with timely stops.

“This is, I believe, an anomaly, not the beginning of a trend. And we’ve got a chance to prove me right next week.”

Photos: Packers pick up first loss after Bucs erase early deficit

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