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Packers’ Offense Fumbles, Bumbles Its Way to Victory over Buccaneers

After a red-hot start, the Green Bay Packers spent most of the second half of their victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going nowhere fast.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – For most of the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it looked like the Green Bay Packers had everything figured out on offense.

For the final 30 minutes, it looked like a unit without a clue.

Thanks to the superlative play of a powerful defense and an ascending special teams, the Packers earned a critical 14-12 victory, anyway.

A week earlier, the Packers blasted the Bears at Lambeau Field. Aaron Jones had 170 total yards and two touchdowns, and Jones and AJ Dillon led a rushing attack that piled up more than 200 yards.

What would happen when a defense took those two away? Not much, as it turns out.

Jones carried 12 times for 36 yards, caught three passes for 11 yards and was guilty of a game-changing turnover. For the third consecutive matchup, Jones was stopped in his tracks by Todd Bowles’ defense. Dillon carried 12 times for 32 yards and caught two passes for 6 yards. Combined, that’s 29 touches for 85 yards.

Starting with Jones fumble at the 1-yard line just before the 2-minute warning, the Packers failed on eight consecutive third downs. What’s particularly troublesome is it’s not as if they were facing a bunch of third-and-hopelessly longs. The average distance needed was 4.1 yards. Only one time did the Packers face a play longer than third-and-5.

And yet, the Packers punted, punted and punted some more. For more than 23 minutes of game action, they didn’t gain a single first down.

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“You’ve got to give credit to Tampa Bay. That’s a damn good defense,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think there’s a reason why they are arguably the No. 1 defense in the league right now.”

Yes, Tampa Bay’s defense is the best in the NFL. The 14 points mustered by Green Bay to open the game was more than it allowed in road wins vs. Dallas and New Orleans combined. But Rodgers is coming off back-to-back seasons, Jones and Dillon are a top-notch tandem and the No. 1 offensive line was intact. In what should have been something approximating a give-and-take, it was the Buccaneers giving the Packers hell and the Packers taking it.

“We’re young and we’re struggling at times to finish things off,” Rodgers said.

That’s not really accurate, though. The only rookie on offense to get on the field was receiver Romeo Doubs, who also was the most impactful player on the offense by catching all eight targets for 73 yards and the opening touchdown. There are no first-time starters on the offensive line. Receiver Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are veterans, as are tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis.

Not every defense has the coach and personnel to do what Bowles’ unit did on Sunday, though the Bills (fourth), Eagles (seventh), Cowboys (eighth), Giants (eighth) and Vikings (10th) are future opponents that rank in the top 10 in scoring during these early stages of the season, and the Rams rode their defense to a Super Bowl victory last year.

To state of the obvious, the Packers have to get better. Much better. Against Bill Belichick and the Patriots next Sunday at Lambeau Field would be ideal. During that brutal stretch of eight consecutive third-down failures, the Packers went 0-for-7 on plays requiring 5 or fewer yards. Last season, by comparison, the Packers converted a fifth-ranked 58.3 percent of the time. Of course, it helped that Davante Adams had 17 catches that resulted in first downs.

Maybe time on task will help the No. 1 offensive line. Maybe Doubs’ strong performance will be the launching point toward him being a big-time threat. Maybe the return of fellow rookie Christian Watson will add the stretch-the-field element that was so sorely lacking. Maybe Tonyan will flourish as his ACL tear becomes a distant memory.

The good news is the play of a powerful defense should buy some time for LaFleur and Rodgers to figure out what consistently works even against better opponents.

“Our defense is holding them to 12 points, we’re going to win probably all those games,” Rodgers said.