-The Buccaneers last faced off against the Green Bay Packers in Week Six. You know this. And despite how dominant of a performance that was, Tampa Bay was still working on its consistency offensively. Down the stretch of the regular season into the postseason, they've now found their groove and the reason is really simple according to Head Coach Bruce Arians.
"I think it's just a matter of continuing to build confidence – confidence without arrogance," he said. "Respecting your opponent, getting ready to play [and] taking care of business every single day. Then, build until Sundays. We have a very confident football team and we very, very [much] respect our opponents."
Speaking of respecting their opponents, that goes for the defense, too. The Bucs know this is a different team they'll be playing at this point and that Week Six was a long time ago. The Packers have the best scoring offense in the league and have the PFWA MVP at the helm. The margin for error going against the Packers offense is slim at best.
"Just honing in on the details, honestly," said Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles on the defensive keys for this game. "At this point in time, they know who we are [and] we know who they are. Whoever executes better is going to win the ballgame, so we've just got to lock in. When you play great teams and great quarterbacks – and they have great players on that team – you've got to make big plays. We've got to make big plays, but it's got to be within the scheme."
Great quarterbacks. Yeah. How spoiled are we that the week after getting Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees, we now get Tom Brady against Aaron Rodgers for the NFC Championship?
"Most of the time when you get to championship games, it's these kind of guys that are playing in them," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich on the historic quarterback matchup. "It's hard to get here. The quarterback has so much to do with getting to these type of games. Really, in NFC Championships, you really have two really good quarterbacks playing at a high level and that's probably why both teams are there playing in that game. Obviously, these are two of the greats – two of the best to ever do it. We're really just getting ready, though. We're just really getting ready [and] trying to prepare ourselves to get ready for a tough defense – a defense that has a lot of really good players on it, a defense that has been playing lights out. We're just trying to do what we can to prepare ourselves this week to get ready to play [on] Sunday."
Message received by the Bucs offense. Center Ryan Jensen is the leader of a unit that really makes or breaks the offense and they are coming off perhaps their most balanced game last week after the Bucs recorded 35 rushes and 33 passes throughout the game against New Orleans.
"Being able to control the line of scrimmage and being able to run the ball efficiently has been huge for us, obviously, in the last five, six, seven weeks," said Jensen. "For us, it just helps open up everything else from the passing game, the play action. Running the ball and wearing pass rushers out is always a good thing to do."
Part of that effort also lies with tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was interesting to hear him talk on Thursday and take a lot of responsibility for keeping Brady clean. He didn't differentiate between himself and the offensive line; it was all about 'we.'
"When you protect him and you give him the time, I think it gives him the ability to make the best decision for the team," Gronkowski said about Brady. "I feel like when he has time back there – he'll hold onto the ball for sure when he has time – but when he's sitting back there, he's relaxed and he knows he's not being pressured, I feel like it gives him the best opportunity to make the best decision on where the ball should go, on who should get the ball, on where the pass should be, on what coverage to read and all of that. It's huge to keep him clean [and] it's huge to give him time. Just overall, I feel like any team that gives their quarterback time, it gives them the best chance to win, so we've got to stay on that. We've got to stay on top of our game in that aspect and we've got to keep giving him time so he can get that ball out."
And if Gronk has his way, it sounds like he'll be back in Tampa for 2021.
"Yes definitely," said Gronkowski of wanting to return to Tampa Bay for another season. "I mean I don't see why not. Obviously, there's logistical things. I'm just on a one-year deal. I mean, my main focus obviously is the season – going to Green Bay – but if I had that question now, I just don't see why I wouldn't be coming back for the 2021 season."
-What the Packers are saying ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship at Lambeau Field.
Aaron Rodgers appreciative of Billy Turner's unsung heroics for Packers
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is keeping team's 'eye on the prize'
Packers Unscripted: What it'll take
Rodgers looking forward to another chance to play against Tom Brady