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The Bucs Just Dominated Aaron Rodgers—and Showed How Tampa Bay Can Become a Contender

Tom Brady has been pretty average since arriving in Tampa Bay, but with a defense this good, that may be all the team needs

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Coming into this NFL season, all eyes in Tampa Bay were on Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the revamped Buccaneers offense. But that focus took the spotlight away from a unit that may be even better: the Buccaneers defense.

The Tampa Bay defense was underrated in 2019—ranking sixth in DVOA—and came into 2020 boasting plenty of talent. On paper, this group had the potential to stack up with the Tampa Bay defenses of yore—including the one that helped propel the team to a Super Bowl following the 2002 season. Through the first five weeks of the season, this unit was solid but unremarkable, but on Sunday, the defense finally claimed the spotlight in an effort that made MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers look positively mortal.

In fact, “mortal” may be too generous. Rodgers’s final stat line in the Bucs’ 38-10 win was 16-of-35 passing for 160 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. That gave him his lowest passer rating (35.4) since 2014 and the third lowest of his career. The Buccaneers defense sacked Rodgers four times (and got an additional sack on backup Tim Boyle, who played in garbage time), held the Packers offense to just 3.3 yards per play, and didn’t allow another score after a first-quarter touchdown. It was utter domination—and a clue as to how the Bucs can be one of the best teams in the league.

Things started well enough for the Packers. They opened the game with a 10-play, 54-yard drive that ended in a field goal, and followed that up with an 11-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. Green Bay was up 10-0. Rodgers was performing celebrations from Key & Peele sketches.

But everything turned early in the second quarter, when Rodgers threw just the third pick-six of his career. On a third-and-10, Rodgers locked onto receiver Davante Adams, who was running an out route near the sticks. Rodgers stared and stared at his intended target, making this interception almost too easy for cornerback Jamel Dean.

Two passes later, and Rodgers threw another interception—and this one was nearly returned for a score as well. The pass was deflected off Adams’s hands and fell right to safety Mike Edwards, who returned it to the 2-yard line. Running back Ronald Jones II punched the ball in on the next play.

After that, the Packers never regained their rhythm—and never scored another point. Seven of Green Bay’s final eight drives ended in punts, and the lone exception came at the end of the first half, when a sack of Rodgers wound the clock down to zero.

This was a stunning result for an offense that previously was on fire. Through the team’s first four games, the Packers had the look of a bona fide contender. It was just two weeks ago that they rolled over the Falcons without either of their top two receivers. And though Green Bay lost superstar left tackle David Bakhtiari with a chest injury in the third quarter, the Buccaneers were causing problems for the offense long before that.

Tampa Bay came into Week 6 ranked second in defensive DVOA, and given how they demolished the red-hot Packers and how the top-ranked Colts defense struggled to slow the Bengals, the Bucs will likely assume the no. 1 spot after this weekend. They are flush with talent. Linebacker Lavonte David is in the middle of a career year; Jason Pierre-Paul has 5.5 sacks; Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Devin White round out a fearsome stable of pass rushers; and Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead have been reliable contributors in the secondary. The team is also getting a huge boost from rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who has played on nearly 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps (and almost intercepted Rodgers). The Bucs also shut down the Packers without star defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was placed on injured reserve after breaking his leg against the Bears last week.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady was only fine in this matchup. He finished with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-27 passing. That is hardly the kind of performance Bucs fans dreamed of when the team signed Brady this offseason—but with a defense this good, that may be all the team needs from its quarterback to become a top contender.