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Tom Brady led the Bucs on a late scoring drive, but a failed two-point conversion attempt was the difference in a 14-12 loss to the Packers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Brady’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage with 14 seconds remaining capped a 13-play, 89-yard drive, bringing Tampa Bay within two points.
But a delay-of-game penalty on the two-point conversion attempt pushed the Bucs back 5 yards to the 7, and Brady’s pass for Gage in the right corner of the end zone was knocked down by De’Vondre Campbell.
The Packers (2-1), leading 14-6, were nearing field-goal position in the final minutes when second-round pick Logan Hall sacked Aaron Rodgers at the 50, forcing a punt and giving Brady and the Bucs (2-1) one last chance.
Brady completed nine of 12 passes on the final drive, connecting with Gage five times for 38 yards, including the touchdown. He also found a wide-open Leonard Fournette twice in the flat for 27 yards.
Brady finished 31-of-42 for 271 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones sidelined, Gage was his top target, catching 12 passes for 87 yards.
Logan Ryan had a fumble recovery and an interception to lead the Bucs’ defense. Mike Edwards had 13 total tackles, and Vita Vea and Carlton Davis both forced fumbles.
After a 45-yard Ryan Succop field goal gave Tampa Bay a brief 3-0 lead, Green Bay stormed back on Rodgers scoring passes of 5 yards to Romeo Doubs and 6 to Allen Lazard.
Succop’s second field goal, from the same distance, brought the Bucs back to within eight points midway through the third quarter.
Here’s how it happened:
One last chance
The Packers had the ball. They had momentum. They had a chance to take a two-possession lead.
But nobody had Logan Hall.
The Bucs’ second-round pick sacked Aaron Rodgers for an 8-yard loss, pushing Green Bay back to the 50 and forcing a punt.
Tom Brady and Tampa Bay got the ball back with more than three minutes remaining in a one-score game.
Brady wasted no time moving downfield, hitting Russell Gage three times for 29 yards, then connecting with a wide-open Leonard Fournette in the flat for another 17, advancing the ball to the Packers 43.
Completions of 11 yards to Cameron Brate and Fournette (wide open again) put the ball at the 22 with 1:26 to play. Pases of 4 yards to Scotty Miller and 8 to Gage gave the Bucs a first down at the 10 with just under a minute to go.
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After an incomplete pass over the middle intended for Miller, Brate drew a pass interference penalty against Adrian Amos, moving the ball to the 3 with 26 seconds left.
Fournette picked up 2 yards to the 1. After a pass for Brate fell incomplete, Brady threw a dart through an open window to Gage in the end zone to bring the Bucs within 2 with 14 seconds remaining.
Tampa Bay, which barely got the touchdown throw off before the clock expired, was called for delay of game on the two-point conversion attempt. Pushed back 5 yards to the 7, Brady’s pass for Gage was knocked down by De’Vondre Campbell in the end zone.
Easy come, easy go
Down by 8 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bucs made one of their few splash plays on offense, gaining 25 yards to the 50 on a Tom Brady pass to Jaelon Darden.
But they lost 20 on their next two plays.
A flea flicker blew up in their faces as a bad exchange between Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller resulted in a fumble that Cameron Brate recovered for a 12-yard loss. The Bucs lost another 8 yards on the following play, as Brady was sacked by Kenny Clark.
Facing third-and-30 from its 30-yard line, Tampa Bay got 11 back on a Brady pass to Brate but were far short of the first-down marker and had to punt.
Two things Bucs fans seldom see: Tom Brady running downfield with the football, and the brace under his left pant leg.
Both were on display after Brady escaped pressure and ran for 18 yards and an apparent first down on a third-down play late in the third quarter.
Brady took a hard slide at the end of the run, appearing to break the brace supporting his left knee.
Worse, the play came back, as left tackle Brandon Walton was penalized for holding, resulting in a Bucs punt.
Reversal of fortune
Talk about a change in momentum.
After pinning the Bucs deep in their own territory and forcing a punt from their own end zone midway through the third quarter, the Packers had the ball with great field position at the Tampa Bay 32.
But Green Bay was penalized for running into the kicker, and the teams replayed the down. This time, Jake Camarda’s punt covered 62 yards, Amari Rodgers’ return wasn’t nearly as good, and a penalty against Rudy Ford for an illegal block above the waist pushed the Packers back 10 more yards to their 35.
The difference in field position? 33 yards.
Bad enough? Things got worse for Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers was picked off by Logan Ryan three plays later, giving the Bucs the ball at the Packers 47-yard line.
Ryan Succop kicked a 45-yard field goal, his second of the game, pulling the Bucs back to within 14-6 with 6:22 to play in the quarter.
Losing their grip
The Bucs picked up the pace on offense early in the third quarter, but just as they seemed to be building some momentum they again turned the ball over.
Leonard Fournette ran 3 yards to the Tampa Bay 33 for a first down, and tight end Cameron Brate drew a 13-yard interference penalty against Darnell Save to move the ball to the 46.
After Scotty Miller was ruled out of bounds after coming down with a Tom Brady throw along the left sideline, the quarterback connected with Russell Gage for 5 yards to the Packers 49. But Keisean Nixon knocked the ball loose, and Jarran Reed recovered at midfield, giving Green Bay the ball.
However, the turnover only wound up costing the Bucs time and field position, as their defense quickly forced a three-and-out and a Green Bay punt.
Seven plays after recovering Aaron Jones’ fumble, the Bucs gave the ball right back.
Tampa Bay drove 54 yards to the Packers 26 on five Tom Brady completions before Breshad Perriman fumbled at the end of a 16-yard reception. Quay Walker knocked the ball loose, and Darnell Savage recovered at the Green Bay 25.
Leading by 11 late in the second quarter, the Packers were driving for an apparent third touchdown when they turned the ball over deep in Bucs territory.
Aaron Jones caught a 3-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to the Tampa Bay 2 but was hit by Vita Vea and fumbled into the end zone. Logan Ryan recovered the ball, giving Tampa Bay possession at its 20 with just over two minutes to play in the half.
A quick slant pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb on the opening play of the drive had resulted in a 40-yard gain to the Bucs 22.
Rodgers turned things over to running backs Jones and AJ Dillon from there. They picked up 17 yards on four carries, moving the ball to the 5 before Jones turned it over.
When a little means a lot
Backed up in his own end and facing third-and-8 early in the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers dumped a short pass over the middle to tight end Robert Tonyan on a drag route. Tonyan rumbled toward the sticks and then dove across the line-to-gain for 9 yards, giving the Packers a first down at their 40.
It was just the spark Green Bay needed to ignite its second touchdown drive.
The Packers picked up 9 more to the 49 on a pass from Rodgers to Romeo Doubs. A 3-yard run by AJ Dillon gave Green Bay a first down at the Bucs 48.
After his first incompletion of the game, Rodgers found Allen Lazard over the middle for 7 yards and another first down at the 38.
The Bucs appeared to have Rodgers trapped in the backfield two plays later, but he found just enough of an opening to complete a shovel pass to Dillon for 7 yards. A short pass from Rodgers to third tight end Tyler Davis resulted in a 23-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 6.
Rodgers went right back to the air, hitting Lazard on inside slant for a 6-yard touchdown and 14-3 lead with 8:44 remaining in the second quarter.
Jaire Alexander, the Packers’ top cornerback and one of the best in the league, is out for the remainder of the game with a groin injury.
Green Bay goes ahead
Aaron Rodgers matched Tom Brady throw for throw on the Packers’ opening possession and even did him one better.
Rodgers completed all five of his passes, including a 5-yard touchdown toss to Romeo Doubs, as Green Bay drove 75 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-3 lead.
Rodgers passed for 60 yards in all on the drive, which put the Packers ahead with just over three minutes to play in the quarter.
The big plays were a 21-yard pass to Doubs to the Bucs 33 and a 17-yarder to Randall Cobb to the 12. He also had completions of 8 yards to Aaron Jones and 9 to Doubs to set up the touchdown throw.
No lack of receiving options
No Chris Godwin? No Mike Evans? No Julio Jones? No problem.
Tom Brady found four different receivers while completing all four of his passes for 39 yards as the Bucs drove for a field goal on their opening drive.
Brady opened the game with a 24-yard pass to Breshad Perriman to give the Bucs a first down at their 49-yard line.
After three Leonard Fournette runs gained nine yards, setting up fourth-and-1, Brady found newly signed receiver Cole Beasley for 4 yards and another first down at the Packers 38.
A 12-yard completion to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was inactive for the first two games, moved the ball to the 26.
Alas, the drive stalled at the Green Bay 27, when Brady was sacked by Kenny Clark.
The Bucs settled for Ryan Succop’s 45-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Pregame scouting report
The Bucs scored a total of 39 points in their first two games. Not a lot in a league that has tailored its rules to favor offenses.
Are we concerned? Should we be?
The Bucs have allowed 13 points in those same two games. Against two teams that were expected to be among the top in the NFC before the start of the season.
At that rate, Tom Brady and the offense would need to score just a single touchdown to win most games. Who wouldn’t take those odds?
In fairness, the defense isn’t going to continue to hold opponents to 6.5 points per game all season long. But Brady isn’t going to be limited to 19.5, either.
There’s a lot to like here. If the Bucs can continue to play suffocating defense, establish the run and avoid penalties and turnovers, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in the conversation — or even at the forefront of the conversation — about Super Bowl 57 contenders.
We’ll find out a lot in the next two weeks. For while the Cowboys and Saints are talented teams, neither is in the category of the Packers or Chiefs, the Bucs’ next two opponents.
The Bucs have had their way with both since Brady’s arrival before the 2020 season. True, Kansas City beat Tampa Bay 27-24 in a 2020 regular-season game. But it served as a wake-up call for the Bucs, who won their next eight games, including a 31-9 trouncing of those same Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
The Packers have been even less of a problem, as the Bucs beat them 38-10 during the 2020 regular season and again 31-26 in the NFC title game, a game Tampa Bay led 28-10 in the third quarter.
Obviously, results from two seasons ago have next to no bearing on this season. But you could argue that in the time since the Bucs have gotten younger and faster on the defensive front, deeper at the wide receiver position (current injuries and suspensions notwithstanding) and committed to an offensive strategy that not only protects their 45-year-old quarterback but increases his effectiveness.
In the end, the numbers on the scoreboard will tell the true story. But the fact they haven’t been higher shouldn’t be a concern.
As we saw in Super Bowl 55 and the Rams reminded us again last season (a 23-20 win over the Bengals), defense wins championships.
The Bucs will be just fine.
Julio Jones nursing torn PCL, report says
Bucs veteran receiver Julio Jones, among seven players on the inactive list for today’s home opener, reportedly is dealing with a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).
Today’s other inactives: No. 3 quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Cade Otton (personal reasons), rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum and injured starters Chris Godwin (hamstring), Donovan Smith (elbow) and Akiem Hicks (foot).
Who’s in/who’s out
Game day scene
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