Tom Brady engineered a trademark 13-play, 89-yard touchdown drive at the end of regulation on Sunday at Raymond James but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost, 14-12, to the Green Bay Packers after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.
The Packers' visit to Raymond James Stadium in Week Three featured the top two vote-getters in last year's NFL MVP voting, a pair of legendary quarterbacks who combined for 9,431 yards and 80 touchdowns in 2021. But with both Brady and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers both working with depleted offensive casts, the decision went to which team adjusted more successfully to its current reality.
By the slimmest of margins, that was Rodgers and the Packers, who opened the game with two consecutive touchdown drives and then held on in the closing seconds. The Buccaneers and Packers, considered prime contenders for the NFC title, both finished the day with 2-1 records. Tampa Bay remains in first place in the NFC South over the Saints, Panthers and Falcons, all now 1-2.
"They did a better job than us," said Brady. "They have a good defense, a good physical defense – I give them a lot of credit. They forced us to make a lot of great plays and we just didn't do a good job in execution."
Brady was sharp for the Buccaneers, completing his first 12 passes and eventually hitting on 31 of 42 throws for 271 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He was 10 of 13 on the game's final drive, concluding it with a one-yard touchdown strike to WR Russell Gage. However, with a lack of big plays in the absence of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones and Donovan Smith, the home team too often saw drives clipped by penalties, missed third downs (two of 11 on the day) and turnovers. Gage and Breshad Perriman each ended promising drives with fumbles in the second and third quarters as the Bucs were trying to climb out of an 11-point hole.
The Buccaneers also took a delay-of-game penalty before the fateful two-point try, turning a two-yard play into a seven-yarder. LB De'Vondre Campbell tipped away Brady's attempt to find Gage on a crossing route in the end zone.
"It was just bad execution," said Brady. "That's really what it is. Bad execution at a time on offense when we needed good execution and we didn't get it. There were a lot of other times where we had a lot of other bad execution. I think the reality is, when you do that you don't have the opportunity to score points. There were too many plays where we were behind the sticks and not good on third down, and penalties, turnovers, missed opportunities. The defense played great; we've got to play a lot better on offense."
Head Coach Todd Bowles lamented the Bucs' final penalty as well as a number of other times the team hurt itself in what would prove to be a two-point decision.
"It wasn't just that moment," he said. "There were a few things that happened that we can't let happen. We got six crucial penalties at different times that cost us the ballgame, shooting ourselves in the foot to give us a chance to win. We know they're a good football team, hats off to them, but we made some dumb mistakes ourselves."
Meanwhile, Rodgers spent much of the first half slicing up the defense with an unending string of sharp, quick passes, giving the Bucs' pass rush no time to get home. The Packers' first two drives resulted in touchdowns and the third reached Tampa Bay's one-yard line before Vita Vea forced an Aaron Jones fumble into the end zone. Green Bay didn't punt until there were just 14 seconds left in the half. Rodgers would finish the game with 27 completions in 35 attempts for 255 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Green Bay placed WR Sammy Watkins on injured reserve on Saturday and was also playing without rookie WR Christian Watson. The Packers are still adjusting to an offense that no longer features WR Davante Adams, who was traded to Las Vegas in the offseason.
Tampa Bay's defense couldn't fully sell out against the pass, however, because the Packers' powerful backfield duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon was consistently picking up positive gains in the first half on counters both up the middle and around the edge. That in turn gave bite to Rodgers' play-action passing game, as he mixed in a number of rollout passes to Robert Tonyan and Tyler Davis. And, while Tampa Bay's defense tightened up considerably in the second half, allowing only 111 total yards and three first downs, the quick passing game meant Rodgers was not sacked until three minutes were left in regulation.
"You've got to play four quarters," said Bowles. "The third game in a row we started off slow, in the first half giving up 14 points just from missed assignments and doing something we ain't supposed to be doing. The second half, they played a lot better, gave us a chance to win."
Gage, one of the Bucs' most significant offseason additions, had his first breakout game with his new team as he has been fighting through a hamstring injury since early in training camp. Gage led the team with 12 catches for 87 yards, including five for 38 and the Bucs' only touchdown on the final drive. Even without his top targets, Brady distributed the ball to eight different players, including WR Cole Beasley and TE Kyle Rudolph, both playing in their first games as Buccaneers. Beasley made a clutch, diving four-yard catch to convert a fourth-and-one at midfield on Tampa Bay's game-opening field goal drive.
"We had a lot of guys down, but those guys that were in there somehow or another did a great job, especially on that last drive. There were a lot of good plays guys were making."
The Bucs' offense got off to a fine start, as Brady faked a handoff to RB Leonard Fournette and threw a flag route over the top to Breshad Perriman for 24 yards. Two Fournette runs got the ball across the midfield and led to a third-and-one at the Packers' 42. Fournette was bottled up on third down but the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-one and Brady threw a speed out to Beasley, who made a great diving catch to keep the drive alive. On the very next snap, Rudolph recorded his first reception as a Buccaneer, for a gain of 12 and a first down at the 26. When a screen to Fournette two plays later didn't work, the Bucs faced a third-and-five, and Brady was dropped by DL Kenny Clark bat at the 27. Ryan Succop came on to drill a 45-yard field goal for the game's first points.
The Packers came out running the ball, as expected, and two tough Jones runs were good for a quick 13 yards to start the drive. Two plays later, Rodgers found rookie WR Romeo Doubs open over the middle and hit him in stride on a play-action pass for 21 yards down to the Bucs' 33. WR Randall Cobb kept the drive with a nifty run after a short out on third-and-six to get 17 yards and a first down at the 12. On third-and-three from the five, Rodgers faked a handoff and threw a very quick slant to Doubs for the go-ahead touchdown.
Tampa Bay's second drive was brief as the offense couldn't overcome a first-down holding call. After the game's first, Green Bay started anew at its own 29. The Bucs' defense forced a quick third-and-eight and sent the house after Rodgers but the passer was just able to get the ball off over the middle to Tonyan for a first down. After getting the ball across midfield the Packers faced a third-and-seven at the 45 and tried to catch the Bucs' defense off-guard by hurrying right up to the line. The Bucs avoided potential disaster by calling a last-second timeout. Rodgers still moved the chains with a quick strike over the middle to WR Allen Lazard. Rodgers' improvisation on a shovel to Dillon to avoid a sack made it third-and-inches at the Bucs' 29 and the Packers got a lot more than they needed on a rollout pass to Davis. Davis had nothing but open grass in front of him and was able to rumble down to the six. On the next play, Rodgers zipped yet another very quick pass out of the shotgun, finding Lazard on a slant for the score.
The Bucs committed two false start penalties on their next drive, leading to Brady taking a long-developing sack by Rashan Gary on third down. Rookie P Jake Camarda helped flip the field with a 52-yard punt but the Bucs still found themselves down by 11 with six minutes left in the first half. Things immediately got worse. This time Rodgers quick pass to Cobb turned into a huge gain as Cobb broke free for a gain of 40. Dillon bashed his way to a first-and-goal at the nine on two runs. Three plays later, the Buccaneers' defense got the big play it needed. Rodgers hit Jones over the middle but a big hit by Vea forced a fumble that Ryan recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
On the ensuing possession, Brady got the ball across midfield with four straight completions, including consecutive 12-yarders to Gage and Fournette. However, after one incompletion, the drive came to a halt on a 14-yard catch-and-run by Perriman that ended in a fumble. The Packers recovered at their own 27 with 41 seconds left in the half. The Packers punted moments later and the Bucs kneeled to end the half.
Green Bay got the ball to start the second half but the Bucs' defense got a quick stop, with Devin White defending a short pass to Dillon that was hurried by rookie DL Logan Hall. After the punt, the Bucs were at their own 21 and two Fournette runs made it third-and-one. A second-effort run by the back on third down moved the chains, and a pass-interference call on S Darnell Savage against Cam Brate made it first down at the 46. However, this drive ended in a turnover, too, as Gage lost the ball after a short catch at midfield. The Bucs' defense got another quick stop but P Pat O'Donnell was able to drop his kick in at the two-yard line.
That worked out for the Packers because Brady's next three passes were incomplete and Camarda had to kick it back with his heels on the back line. He had to kick twice after the Packers were flagged for running into the kicker. Camarda demolished his second try for 57 yards and a penalty on the return team pushed the Packers back to their own 35. Three plays later, the Bucs' defense got its second takeaway as Rodgers tried to hit Tonyan over the middle on third-and-five and Ryan slid in front of the tight end to make the interception at Green Bay's 47-yard line.
On the next play, Scotty Miller cleared out down the right sideline and Brady threw to Cameron Brate underneath Miller on an intermediate out, which worked for a gain of 19. Three snaps later the Buccaneers were facing a third-and-nine and Brady tried to go over the top to Perriman down the middle. That connection failed and Succop came out to hit a 45-yarder to make it 14-6 with 6:22 left in the third period.
After a touchback, the Packers got a quick 15 yards on a deep in by Doubs but then faced a third-and-seven at the 43. Rodgers was hurried into a quick outlet to Jones for no yards by a great rush from Hall. Jaelon Darden fair caught Green Bay's punt at the Bucs' 11 and Brady engineered one first down before facing a third-and-three at the 30. The spry 45-year-old quarterback ducked under a defender and broke into the open for shocking 18-yard run, but the play was erased by a holding penalty. After a third-down incompletion against instant pressure, the Bucs punted it back near the end of the third quarter.
Two more punts put the ball in Rodgers' hands at the Packers' 20 with a little over 11 minutes left in regulation. A holding call put the Packers in a quick hole but an interception by Jamel Dean on a deep heave down the middle was erased by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty. That led to a third-and-five and Lavonte David stopped Davis two yards shy of the sticks.
Darden returned the ensuing punt 16 yards to the 25 and then picked up 25 more yards on a deep out to the left sideline. Unfortunately, a botched pitch between Perriman and Miller on a reverse and a sack by Clark killed that drive. The Packers got it back at their 14 with six minutes left.
Will Gholston hit Rodgers as he was getting off a deep incompletion to Lazard on first down and Jones took a shotgun handoff up the middle for six. On a critical third-and-four after the Packers ran the clock down to 5:04 and called a timeout, Rodgers gunned one to Lazard on a slant for a new set of downs. Two plays later, Rodgers took a rare shot down the field and hit Lazard on the right sideline for a gain of 26. The Bucs got the stop at that point, capped by Hall's eight-yard sack of Ryan. Darden caught the Packers' ensuing punt at the Bucs' 10 with 3:04 left on the fourth-quarter clock.
Brady methodically moved the Bucs into scoring range, completing eight of his first nine passes, including two to Fournette for a total of 28 yards. A pass interference penalty on S Adrian Amos, covering Brate, made it first-and-goal at the three and Fournette blasted up the gut for two yards before the Bucs used their last timeout with 21 seconds left in regulation. Two plays later, Brady fit a hard pass through traffic that Gage caught with an impressive, spinning effort. The Bucs had to go for two and increased the level of difficulty with a delay-of-game penalty. Brady tried to hit Gage in the end zone but Campbell leaped to break it up.
The Bucs' attempt at an onside kick with 14 seconds left was unsuccessful.