GREEN BAY, Wis. — For six games this season, Peyton Barber never got to carry the ball. Sunday, in the Bucs’ 26-20 overtime loss to the Packers, he nearly carried the entire offense.
Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, Barber rushed for a career-high 102 yards on 23 carries, becoming the first Bucs player to reach the century rushing mark this season.
Barber was particularly effective in the second half, when he ran 13 times for 70 yards, a 5.38 average. He ran with power. He ran with vision. And he showed the ability to make defenders miss.
"It started with the guys up front creating some holes for Peyton, and Peyton was unbelievable," TE Cameron Brate said. "Just making guys miss, making plays when things weren’t there. That was really encouraging. We were finally able to get the ground game going, so that’s something we can hopefully build off of."
The Bucs entered the game 28th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 81.1 yards a game. But they set a season high with 165 against the Packers. That kind of ball control enabled Tampa Bay to own a nearly 11-minute advantage in time of possession.
Barber has been the fourth running back for most of the season. Before Sunday, his rushing high-water mark had been a 47-yard effort on 10 carries in the opener against Chicago.
Barber started Sunday because Doug Martin was inactive with a concussion.
"They were getting some push. They were making holes," Barber said of the offensive line. "When there wasn’t holes, it is tough sledding and you’ve got to make your own holes."
Barber was a complete back Sunday. He also led the Bucs with four receptions for 41 yards, including a 34-yard gain on a screen pass.
"Peyton Barber played an amazing game," QB Jameis Winston said. "He was magnificent. And when you’re running the football and you’re able to get yards off screens, your offense has success."
The Bucs discovered Sunday they would be down to their third center, and Evan Smith tried to fill the void.
With C Ali Marpet and RT Demar Dotson on injured reserve with knee injuries they suffered at Atlanta the week before, the Bucs planned to start veteran Joe Hawley at center. But Hawley became ill Saturday morning. He made the trip to Green Bay but wasn’t well enough to play. That meant Smith, who was going to start at left guard with Kevin Pamphile replacing Dotson at right tackle, had to slide to center.
Though Smith did well helping the running game, he had two critical, costly mistakes. With the Bucs trailing 17-10 in the fourth quarter and on third and goal from the Green Bay 3-yard line, Smith snapped the ball before QB Jameis Winston was ready, and it resulted in a 9-yard loss. The Bucs were forced to settle for Patrick Murray’s 30-yard field goal.
Then, after the Packers tied the score at 20 with less than two minutes left in regulation, RB Charles Sims took a screen pass on first down and gained 20 yards to the Packers’ 40. But Smith was called for a block in the back and instead, the Bucs had first and 20 from their 10. They went nowhere.
"I think it was a bad call, but the ref threw (a flag)," Smith said. "He saw what he saw. You know, it would’ve been nice if we didn’t get it."
Not so special
As if the Bucs weren’t having enough trouble keeping teams out of the end zone, the special teams gave up a score.
With the Bucs leading 7-3 in the second quarter, P Bryan Anger had pressure up the middle of the formation, and his attempt was blocked. LB Kyler Fackrell was credited with the deflection, and the play set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
The Bucs also did a poor job of covering kickoffs. Trevor Davis had four returns for 121 yards, a 30.3-yard average.