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Packers-Buccaneers: What we learned

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TAMPA, Fla. — A week after a performance he called a “stinker,” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers found himself battling with the flu and a strained calf.

With the way the Packers’ defense played Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, Rodgers didn’t need to do much as Green Bay clinched its sixth straight playoff berth under coach Mike McCarthy.

The Packers punched their postseason ticket and set up a de facto NFC North championship game against the Detroit Lions by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3 at Raymond James Stadium.

The Packers (11-4) rebounded from a 21-13 loss at Buffalo last week but did so largely behind their defense, which harassed Bucs quarterback Josh McCown all afternoon, sacked him seven times and allowed only 109 total yards.

Green Bay’s defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in two weeks.

“Obviously this is a game we needed to qualify for the playoffs. As we leave here, looking forward to next week for the opportunity to win the division,” McCarthy said. “It started and ended with defense today, just the constant pressure, the seven sacks. They controlled the game for us today.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, was under the weather all week and strained his calf on the Packers’ second series.

He still finished the game with 318 yards and a late touchdown on 31-for-40 passing. Receiver Randall Cobb reeled in 11 passes for 131 yards, and Jordy Nelson had nine receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“Yeah, it was tough. I didn’t think I could run very well. I was able to just kind of push through it,” Rodgers said. “The line did a good job blocking so I didn’t really have to move a whole lot to get out of the pocket.”

Running back Eddie Lacy racked up 99 yards and a 44-yard touchdown on 17 carries as he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

The Packers will face the Lions next week at Lambeau Field in their regular-season finale. The winner will finish atop the NFC North.

The Buccaneers (2-13) have not won a game at home this season. They will play the Saints next week to wrap up the regular season and are still in contention for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

What the Packers said:

“You see him do things on the football field as far as making plays and this and that. I think the last couple days, you see the kind of warrior he is. He battled whatever illness he had the last couple days then goes out and strains his calf the first or second series. … Just a really gritty, gritty performance by Aaron.” — coach Mike McCarthy on QB Aaron Rodgers’ performance

“It says a lot about the organization and the way they treat people, but also the appreciation that the guys have for the opportunity to play for such a franchise. And the leadership’s been good those year.” — QB Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ six straight playoff berths

What the Bucs said:

“We do see the light at the end of the tunnel. … There are a lot of positives. But you can’t really talk about it until we start winning football games. That day will come. We’re not there now.” — coach Lovie Smith

“It’s like basketball on grass. They got guys going everywhere. They know what they are doing. It’s like a well-oiled machine. They do what they do well; they make adjustments well. They are a good offensive football team.” — DE Michael Johnson on the Packers

What we learned about the Packers:

1. The defense is rounding into form. Granted, the Bills and the Bucs aren’t exactly the most dangerous offensive teams in the NFL, but the Packers haven’t given up an offensive touchdown to either each of the last two weeks. They held Tampa Bay to a mere 109 yards of offense in Sunday’s 20-3 victory. They sacked quarterback Josh McCown seven times and put a ton of pressure on him several other times. Clay Matthews was all over the field, a good sign for their defense. In short, since allowing 37 points to the Falcons two weeks ago, they’ve stepped up defensively. “Everyone was on the same page. Everyone was communicating and clicking on all cylinders. That’s the way it has to be at this time,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “I know it’s not the playoffs, but this is considered the playoffs for us. We have to treat every game like it’s the most important game, which it is.” Coach Mike McCarthy also called Sunday “probably one of our best performances,” which is where they’ll need to be in next week’s de facto NFC South championship game against the Lions.

2. Their offense is going to have to be better next week. As prolific as this group can be, they only managed 13 points against the Bills last week and 20 against the Bucs on Sunday. The Lions will be a much tougher matchup in the regular-season finale, and the Packers will have to be at the top of their game. It will help to have quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthy, if he’s recovered from his calf strain by then. There were encouraging elements in Sunday’s performance, particularly in how well balanced Green Bay’s game plan was. Eddie Lacy ran 17 times for 99 yards and a touchdown, and Rodgers completed 31 of 40 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown despite his illness and injury. Randall Cobb caught 11 balls on 14 targets and racked up 131 yards. Jordy Nelson caught all nine of his targets for 113 yards. Most teams would take a 100-yard rusher, a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard receivers, obviously. But the Lions have one of the NFL’s top defenses, particularly up front, and the Packers know they’ll have to be on top of their game to claim the NFC South title. “It’s exciting,” Rodgers said. “Detroit’s playing really good. They’re already in the playoffs. They’ve got a great defense, one of the best in the league if not the best.”

–QB Aaron Rodgers was under the weather (flu) and injured (strained calf), but he still managed to complete 31 of 40 passes for 318 yards and a late touchdown in Sunday’s 20-3 win over the Bucs in Tampa. Rodgers hurt his calf on the Packers’ second drive and Green Bay had to adjust its game plan as a result, working in more short and quick passes so Rodgers didn’t have to roll out. He admitted afterward that some of his deep passes were lacking because of his injury, but he was mostly able to do everything asked of him thanks to the Packers’ solid protection up front. Asked if the injury will affect him in the Packers’ season finale against the Lions, Rodgers said, “It’s too early to give a 100 percent guarantee, but it would definitely take a lot to hold me out of that game.”

–RB Eddie Lacy nearly put up 100 yards on the ground for the third time in the last four weeks — and he rushed for 125 yards the week before that stretch — as he compiled 99 yards on 17 carries and dashed for a 44-yard touchdown in the Packers’ 20-3 win over the Bucs on Sunday in Tampa. Lacy averaged 5.8 yards per carry. After a rough start to the season, Lacy surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with a total of 1,039 heading into the season finale.

–WR Randall Cobb enjoyed one of the best games of his career in Sunday’s 20-3 win over the Bucs. Cobb reeled in 11 passes for 131 yards, both season highs, for an average of 11.9 yards per reception. He was targeted by quarterback Aaron Rodgers a team-high 14 times. Cobb now has 1,207 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. “We were able to move the ball well,” Cobb said. “We understand that moving forward we have to continue to find a way to put the points up and put our defense in a better situation to give them a little more cushion.”

What we learned about the Bucs:

1. Their offense might be getting worse. Injuries have certainly taken their toll, and some credit here goes to the Packers defense on Sunday. But it’s the second-to-last week of the season, and the Bucs managed a whopping 109 total yards of offense. At one point near the end of the first half, they had negative-1 yard. “It’s hard to win games when you put up that type of offensive production, which was very little,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. Most of the blame falls on the offensive line, which has been consistently terrible this season in a way that affects the quarterback (who has no time in the pocket) and running backs (who have no holes to run through). That said, Josh McCown has made too many mistakes and Doug Martin has rarely looked explosive. The only two threats on the Bucs offense are receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and it shows as they’re both about to pass the 1,000-yard mark on the year. “To just pinpoint and just blame it on one particular area just wouldn’t be right,” Smith said. “Who’s the culprit? It’s all of the above. … Today, didn’t seem like we made a lot of progress, but we’ve played better than we played today.”

2. Their defense is no joke. Sure, they gave up 20 points and lost Sunday’s game, and they gave up 431 total yards while Aaron Rodgers was hobbled by a strained calf. None of that’s good. But the Bucs still managed to keep the game close most of the way without star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and without linebacker Mason Foster. They’ve had to find their way with guys like Danny Lansanah at linebacker, Bradley McDougald at safety and Jacquies Smith at defensive end. Michael Johnson looked pretty good at times coming off the edge Sunday, an encouraging sign. It wasn’t enough at the end of the day, but for a team with so many things to improve heading into next season, the fact that the defense might turn out to be at least average is a step in the right direction. “Defensively we hung in there and kept them out of the end zone a lot,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Added cornerback Alterraun Verner: “But as long as you’re not getting the win, there’s really nothing positive. We still left plays on the field. We could have dominated this game.”

–QB Josh McCown put together three decent-to-solid games upon returning from a thumb injury, but his performance of late has slipped. McCown completed 12 of 26 passes on Sunday for 147 yards and an interception. He was sacked seven times and hurried several others. “Absolutely there are things to be excited for after [this season ends], but right now we have to try and finish on a better note,” McCown said. Coach Lovie Smith deflected a question after Sunday’s loss about whether young backup quarterback Mike Glennon should be playing late in this lost season, and there has been some speculation that the Bucs will draft a quarterback in the first round of next year’s draft.

–RB Doug Martin struggled badly once again in Sunday’s 20-3 loss to the Packers. Martin amassed only 17 yard on 10 carries and didn’t break out a run longer than 4 yards. Granted, some of that falls on the Bucs’ porous offensive line. But Martin, seemingly a breakout star in 2012, has managed only 386 rushing yards on 115 carries this year — an average of 3.4 yards. “It’s something that we’ll get to,” Martin said. “It’ll take some time, but in the future, we will get better in all phases of the game.”

–OT Anthony Collins was listed among the Bucs’ inactive players for the third straight week Sunday after losing his starting left tackle job last week. Tampa Bay signed Collins to a five-year, $30 million deal in March, but his future with the team appears to be in doubt as they try to work with Demar Dotson at left tackle. Offensive line play has been perhaps the Bucs’ greatest weakness amid a rough year all around.

–LB Mason Foster left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with an Achilles injury and did not return. Foster said afterward he was “trying to get through it, but the pain wasn’t going away — it stayed with me. I kept pushing, but it was making me limp.” Foster said even if he had been able to push through it and get back on the field, he didn’t feel well enough to help the team. Foster’s status for next week’s regular-season finale against the Saints is unclear.


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