NFL Wire News

Packers in playoffs but work not done

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GREEN BAY, Wisc. — They are in again, but the Green Bay Packers’ have more to do after their procurement of a sixth straight berth in the playoffs with a humdrum 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Given their spotless record of 7-0 at Lambeau Field, the Packers are faced with a “must-win” scenario when they host the rival Detroit Lions in the regular-season finale. The matchup, which was pushed back from a noon to a 3:25 p.m. CST kickoff, will decide the NFC North champion.

“The fact of the matter we’re playing in a playoff-type game, I think, is exactly the way you want to go into the playoffs,” Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I think it’s great that Detroit and our records are the same and that we’re playing for the title. I think this is exactly how you want it. I know it’s the way I prefer.”

Deadlocked with Detroit atop the division with an 11-4 record, the outlook isn’t as cut-and-dried as winner takes all. The game ending in a tie isn’t impossible, and that wouldn’t be a good thing for the Packers.

Since the Lions had a Week 3 victory when the teams met in Detroit, the Packers indeed must win Sunday to garner a fourth straight NFC North title. That also would likely mean the NFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which ensures a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round.

However, lose to or, worse yet, tie the Lions, who haven’t won in Wisconsin since 1991, and Green Bay won’t play at Lambeau again until next summer. That’s because the Packers would tumble to the NFC’s sixth and final seed as a wild-card qualifier and have to play every week they remain alive on the road, starting with the opening round.

“Byes are valuable,” McCarthy said. “That’s why you’re fighting like crazy to be a number one seed or a number two seed. Anytime you have a chance to get that week off, I think it’s important. I know some people believe in ‘keep playing.’ We’ve done both.

“I think the bye is very beneficial, regardless of the outcome the week after. I think it gives you a better chance to get your team ready (for the first playoff game). At the end of the day, the best preparation usually leads to better performance.”

Thankfully for Green Bay, its aspirations of making a deep run next month all the way to the Phoenix area for the Super Bowl didn’t take a huge hit against woeful Tampa Bay.

A week after suffering an upset loss to the Buffalo Bills due primarily to an ineffective offense, the Packers had more than enough to drub the inept Bucs even though star quarterback Aaron Rodgers played sick and also sustained a calf injury early in the game.

Rodgers, who managed to play until the end of the game and threw for 318 yards and a touchdown, said he expects to be OK to play Sunday against the Lions.

Green Bay’s defense gave an ailing Rodgers a lift by manhandling an inadequate Tampa Bay offense led by Josh McCown.

The Packers recorded a season-high seven sacks, didn’t allow a first down until late in the first half and didn’t give up a touchdown for the second straight game. What’s more, the 109 total yards for Tampa Bay is the fourth fewest allowed by Green Bay in the modern era of the NFL going back to 1970.

“I feel great about the defense,” Rodgers said. “A little over 100 yards given up? That’s incredible. The way they got after Josh and that offensive line was fun to watch.”

The linebacker duo of Clay Matthews (season-high 2 1/2) and Julius Peppers (season-high two) combined for 4 1/2 sacks.

Matthews has a team-high 10 sacks, 7 1/2 coming in the last seven games after the team had its bye at the midway point of the season.

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B — He came in still feeling the effects of having the flu for a few days, and a little more than five minutes into play Sunday, he pulled a muscle in his left calf. All hardships considered, Aaron Rodgers had one of his better outings with 31-for-40 passing for 318 yards and a touchdown. The dynamic duo of Randall Cobb (career highs of 11 receptions and 131 yards in 14 targets) and Jordy Nelson (nine catches in as many targets for 113 yards and a touchdown) responded. Conversely, rookie wideout Davante Adams continued to bog down the offense with two early drops.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus — Turns out a 44-yard touchdown run by Eddie Lacy — the longest rushing play by a Packer this season — was all Green Bay needed as it went ahead 7-3 against the hapless Bucs in the final minute of the first quarter. There’s no denying Lacy’s breakaway run up the left side was impressive, made possible when the second-year workhorse slipped a tackle by linebacker Danny Lansanah just inside the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. Yet, that highly explosive play — and a 20-yard tote by Lacy earlier in the opening quarter — covered up for a mostly tough running day for the Packers. Lacy, who left the game briefly in the second half after cramping up, finished with 99 yards in 17 carries.

–PASS DEFENSE: A — Relentless pressure on Josh McCown made the pedestrian journeyman quarterback look like he had no business being on the field. The Packers racked up a season-high seven sacks. Veteran linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers led the assault with season highs of 2 1/2 and two sacks, respectively. Peppers forced a fumble retained by the Bucs on one of his sacks. When McCown did get the football out, the outcome was generally unnerving from a Tampa Bay perspective. McCown completed only 12 of 26 passes for 147 yards.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus — The league’s 26th-rated rushing defense going into Week 16 came across perhaps the best team to give it at least a temporary injection of hope. The Packers, who were allowing an average of 128 yards on the ground and had given up less than 100 yards only three times in the first 14 games, yielded a scant 16 yards to the run-challenged Bucs. Tampa Bay barely averaged more than a yard in its 14 run plays.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus — Another week, another glaring problem (or two) for Green Bay’s weakest link this season. While the Packers dodged not having a kick blocked after having six of that nature already, Mason Crosby hooked a 48 yard field-goal attempt wide left in the second quarter. He rallied the rest of the way with conversions from 42 and 25 yards. Tim Masthay shanked a punt 26 yards and averaged but 34.5 yards in his two kicks. With no kickoff returns to their credit, the Packers mustered a total of four yards in four punt runbacks.

–COACHING: B-minus — Possibly against any other opponent, Green Bay could have been in danger of losing a second straight game on the road with another lackluster performance, particularly on the offensive side. Yet, since two-win Tampa Bay had the look of a team not interested in providing any resistance and perhaps assuming a late-season role of spoiler, the Packers came away with their predictably lopsided victory and punched a ticket in the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Famously criticized defensive coordinator Dom Capers deserved nothing but praise for unloading the kitchen sink on the overmatched McCown and eliminating the downfield threat of Evans and Jackson on all but a few plays.


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