Aaron Rodgers threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns. The Green Bay Packers rushed for 91 yards. Josh Freeman threw two interceptions. The Bucs racked up nine penalties for 55 yards. In the end, the Buccaneers lost by nine points. And despite all that, this was probably the Bucs' best game of the year in terms of quality of play.
The game didn't start like that, however. After just a little more than a quarter, the Bucs trailed 14-0. They had allowed Green Bay to convert four key third downs at this point, and E.J. Biggers looked completely outmatched against Jordy Nelson. The first Packers' drive even included a special teams play that seemed to exemplify the Bucs' season so far. It looked like the Bucs were going to block the kick, but Green Bay punter Tim Masthay pulled the ball down and somehow gained a first down.
But then, the Bucs got going.
They started by completing a deep pass to Arrelious Benn for 28 yards - a beautiful back-shoulder throw by Josh Freeman. That was followed up by one terrific Legarrette Blount run, as he managed to break at least five tackles on his way to a 54-yard touchdown. Blount has had a lot of good runs in his short career, but this was the best run by a mile. It was positively Marshawn Lynch-like. If you haven't seen the play, you have to watch it: and you can do so right here.
The Bucs managed to actually stop Aaron Rodgers on the next drive, and then produced a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a field goal. The Bucs once again could not convert in the red zone, but they cut the score to four.
Tampa Bay wasn't satisfied, as they wanted to really control the game. With four minutes left in the first half they tried an onside kick. It did surprise the Packers and for a second it looked like the Bucs recovered - but on replay it was clear that Michael Koenen had touched the ball early, giving the Green Bay Packers a short field.
He took advantage with a key 30-yard pass to Jermichael Finley who was being guarded by Corey Lynch. Jordy Nelson added seven points through the air. Nelson used to be Freeman's teammate in college, and ended the game with 123 yards on 6 catches, plus two touchdowns. A bad interception near field goal range then eliminated any chances the Bucs had of narrowing the lead before the half.
In the second half, we saw more of the same. The Bucs defense actually held up well, forcing two points during the third quarter. Unfortunately the Bucs offense managed to get a lot of yardage, but failed to convert in the red zone once again. They wouldn't get on the board until the fourth quarter after a couple of key big plays to Kellen Winslow put Mike Williams in position to catch the touchdown pass on a slant. Being down two points the Bucs went for two - but Kellen Winslow dropped the two point conversion.
Then came the Bucs defense's worst drive of the game. Three penalties kept the drive alive for the Packers at key moments, and E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis, who was getting some playing time over Elbert Mack, looked like they couldn't stop anyone. The Packers made it a two-score game once again.
A three-and-out seemed to end the game, but Elbert Mack of all people saved the Bucs as he picked off Aaron Rodgers to give Freeman and company another chance. It took him just five plays to get the touchdown, with a beautiful 37-yard pass to Arrelious Benn being the highlight of the drive. Dezmon Briscoe added the touchdown.
And then the Bucs lost the game. With the Green Bay Packers clearly expecting an onside kick, they tried one anyway. Surprisingly, it almost worked. Unsurprisingly, the Packers recovered, and as Hayward was offside as well, it wouldn't even have counted had the Bucs recovered. There was no need for an onside kick there, but the Bucs felt the need to try.
Rodgers punished the Buccaneers immediately, as he threw a forty-yard touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson. Nelson had beaten Myron Lewis on the play, who had no help over the top with the Bucs blitzing Rodgers. That was all she wrote for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they almost found a way to upset the undefeated Green Bay Packers, but fell to 4-6 instead.
The Bucs still had a good game and bounced back from last week's horrible performance, but it wasn't enough to win. Key decisions and plays eliminated any chance of winning. Failing to recover two onside kicks, throwing a key interception at the end of the first half and allowing that forty-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson all stand out as plays. And while the Bucs managed to get two touchdowns in the red zone, they also were forced to leave that area of the field with two field goals earlier in the game.
I saw improvement from the Bucs today. Josh Freeman had his best game of the season, completing 28 of 38 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Legarrette Blount managed 107 yards and a touchdown on just 18 runs. Kellen Winslow had 132 yards on 9 catches, while Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn both went over 75 yards. And finally, the defense notched two sacks and managed to stop the Packers on some key drives.
It was far from a complete game, but this team finally looked a little the team we saw last year. At 4-6 the Bucs are likely out of the playoffs, unless a miracle happens, but they can use the rest of the year to show that last year was not a fluke, and that they do have a lot of talent.