Regardless of your confidence heading into Sunday's contest between the Buccaneers and the undefeated Green Bay Packers, I'm not sure anyone saw the blowout that was to come. Ten days after a forgettable Thursday night performance in Chicago, ailing and on short rest, the Bucs came back healthier and looking better than ever against one of the league's top teams.
In fact, by the end of the game both teams had their backup quarterbacks in and it was for completely different reasons. Green Bay decided Aaron Rodgers had been punished enough by the Bucs' defense and Tampa Bay decided a 28-point lead with less than five minutes to go in the game was enough from Tom Brady, who had a 104.9 passer rating on the day.
Though, Brady was quick to point out it wasn't a perfect game for the Bucs and they still have mistakes to correct. They've got a good opponent to prepare for next week in the Las Vegas Raiders. Yes, he was already onto next week. Like a true quarterback, he never gets too high and never gets too low. But whether or not Brady will admit it, the game was a statement win for the Buccaneers with a lot of good things in it.
Here are the top three.
1. This dang defense.
Let's just run through the stats to start off. The defense recorded two interceptions, five sacks, a forced fumble, 13 quarterback hits, six passes defensed and six tackles for loss.
Now let's expand on that.
They recorded two interceptions on a quarterback who had yet to throw one all season. One of those interceptions was pick-six, when cornerback Jamel Dean returned the ball 32 yards to the end zone. That was just the third time IN HIS CAREER that quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Coincidentally, one of the other two, he also threw inside Raymond James Stadium back in 2009 when safety Tanard Jackson did it as part of a three-interception performance by the Bucs' defense that game. The very next drive, Carlton Davis did a great job tipping a pass intended for Davante Adams that fell into safety Mike Edwards' hands. Edwards returned it 37 yards to the two-yard line and the Bucs were able to punch it in from there to take a lead they would never relinquish. In fact, Rodgers has thrown multiple interceptions in three of the five times he's played Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers now have eight interceptions on the season and are tied for second in interceptions this season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Remember how after recording the most passes defensed of any team in 2019, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said in training camp this year that he needed his defense to take the next step and turn those into interceptions? Yeah, they do too.
The Bucs now have the fourth-most points off takeaways of any team in the league. Consider that to win the game, the offense needed to score just four points (which yes I know, is next to impossible), but it's true. Boil that down even further and the Bucs' offense really needed just two yards of offense to win that game. After the seven points that resulted from the pick six, Edwards returns his interception to the two-yard line, all the Bucs offense needs to do is take it the two yards into the end zone. That gives the Bucs 14 points and after the initial 10 points the Packers scored in the beginning of the game, the defense wouldn't allow a single other. Mind = blown.
Sunday was the first time the Bucs prevented Rodgers from scoring a passing touchdown, which for the record is more common than you think with how much Rodgers spreads the ball around. He recorded 0 passing touchdowns three times last season and the Packers were 3-0 in those games. Weird. But anyway, part of that was because of how much the Tampa Bay defense was pestering him. After being sacked just three times all season, Rodgers was taken down four times by the Bucs. He was hit 13 times. Both outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive lineman Will Gholston had three each. Gholston is especially interesting, given that he's known more for being a run stopper. In the absence of defensive lineman Vita Vea, he helped step up to fill the interior pass rush void in a big way and has been quietly having a great season. The Bucs now have the fourth-most quarterback hits of any team with 46.
The hits got so bad and the game got so far away from the Packers that they ended up pulling Aaron Rodgers halfway through the fourth quarter in favor of backup Tim Boyle to prevent Rodgers from taking any more hits or sacks. The Bucs have now recorded 22.0 sacks on the season and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for most sacks in the league. On the last sack on the night, on Boyle, Pierre-Paul also forced a fumble, which seemed to have gotten lost in all the other gaudy stats the defense put up. The Bucs are now tied for third-most forced fumbles in the league.
The Bucs are now considered the number one defense in the league, giving up a league-low 282.0 total yards per game.
2. No penalties!
Almost equally as important to the defensive effort was the fact that both sides of the ball played a completely clean game. The Bucs, who came into the game as the most penalized team in the league with 42 penalties through five games, had zero accepted penalties on the day. Compare that to the Packers' six for 76 penalty yards, including a 40-yard defensive pass interference call that set the Bucs' up for running back Ronald Jones' second touchdown of the night in the third quarter.
The last time the Buccaneers played a game without committing a recorded penalty was in 1983 at Detroit. That's the only other time in team history that's happened. According to our very own Scott Smith, a team playing a game without committing a penalty, allowing a sack or committing a turnover has only happened two other times since the 1970 merger.
In other words, and in relevant baseball terms, the Bucs pitched a perfect game.
"I thought our offense [and] as a team, I don't think we had any penalties, I don't think we had any sacks and didn't have any turnovers," said Arians. "We're going to be hard to beat [when we do that]. We kind of set a new standard for ourselves in that regard against a quality opponent. We were just able to get after Aaron [Rodgers]. Once we got the running game shut down, it was just a matter of getting after him. Todd [Bowles] did a great job with multiples looks and coverages."
3. Offensive efficiency.
Boyle wasn't the only backup to come into the game before it was over. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert saw the field for a series after Boyle had replaced Rodgers. The Buccaneer offense had done its job, putting up 31 unanswered points following Dean's pick-six. They took the catalyst that the defense provided and started humming.
The Bucs scored 28 points in the second quarter, which was the most ever in a single quarter in franchise history. Twenty-one of those were offensive points. Brady has now thrown 14 touchdowns this season which is the most through six games in team history. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers (again), while still allowing for a 100-yard rusher in Ronald Jones, who did it for the third-straight game. He's just the fourth player in team history to do that.
Brady also connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for the first time as a Buccaneer and we got treated to our first Gronk spike of the season. They pair have connected for 79 touchdowns now, which ties Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for the fourth-most touchdowns by any NFL pair in league history.
Brady's 104.9 passer rating was his third over 100.0 as a Buccaneer as he completed 17 of 27 pass attempts for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
The offensive line kept Brady completely clean in the process, too. That was the third such game Brady has not been sacked this season. There were also no pre or post-snap penalties committed by the line, which had been a point of emphasis for them heading into the week. All around, a great offensive effort to complement a great defensive effort, too.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 6 matchup against Green Bay.