Bucs Are Going to the Super Bowl (The Packers Blew It)

As I was watching this game, there were so many different storylines I had in mind to write about. There was Tampa’s 14 points via turnovers, Brady’s 3 INTs, the Scottie Miller TD before halftime, Suh tipping the pass on the Green Bay 2-point conversion attempt when the score was 28-23, all the third down conversions, the cold weather not really affecting the Bucs–but in the end, there was really one thing this game will be remembered for above all else: LaFleur’s decision to kick the field goal at the end.

That was a call that will go down in history as one of the most boneheaded ever. It’s definitely not as bad as the Seahawks throwing instead of handing off the Marshawn Lynch in the Super Bowl in 2015, but it’s up there. With the Packers down 8 points at the Tampa 8 yard line, facing 4th & goal with 2:05 in the game, Matt LaFleur sent his kicker Mason Crosby out to cut the deficit to 5 points, he hit the field goal, and that was the last time Aaron Rodgers touched the football this season.

In LaFleur’s defense, Green Bay had a 1st & goal from the Tampa 8 and failed to move the ball at all on first, second and third down, which is why they found themselves in the 4th & 8 situation. And he still had 3 timeouts plus the two minute warning. And his defense had been doing a much better job on Brady in the second half. So it’s not a completely indefensible decision.

But at the end of the day, he decided to not trust Aaron Rodgers on 4th & goal and instead took his chances against the GOAT.

He willingly put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands with the game on the line. And I will never understand that.

With the field goal, the Packers were still down 5, meaning they still needed a touchdown. Sure, with the field goal they no longer needed a 2-point conversion, but they also had to then stop the Bucs on three consecutive plays and then presumably drive 75+ yards with no timeouts after the ensuing Tampa punt.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. They needed a TD either way. Why not just go for it when you’re 8 yards away from the endzone? Even if the Packers didn’t get the TD on 4th down, Tampa would’ve had the ball at their own 8 yard line and Green Bay did have those three timeouts remaining. Green Bay probably would’ve had the two-minute warning as well, so basically 4 timeouts. And then had Green Bay gotten the stop and forced a punt, they would’ve had much better field position then had they gotten the ball back after kicking the field goal and then kicking off to Tampa.

The way I always look at situations like that is: what would my opponent want me to do? And in that situation, I think Tampa was thrilled that Green Bay decided to kick the field goal and give Tom Brady the ball back. If you’re Tampa in that situation, you’re thinking “Great, all we need is one first down and we win the game.” That’s the main reason I think LaFleur screwed up. I was personally pulling for Tampa in the game, and I was happy that Green Bay kicked the field goal and gave Brady the ball back.

The other bit of controversy from that moment in the game was this:

Should Rodgers have just run the ball? From that still shot, it looks like he could’ve gotten in. Maybe JPP would’ve caught him–clearly by the angle JPP is taking here, he was treating it as if Rodgers was going to run it. And if you watch it in real-time, Suh was bearing down on him and probably running faster than Rodgers was at the moment that shot was taken. But Rodgers was also in the middle of passing the ball while Suh was bee-lining directly at him, so if Rodgers had just decided to run instead of slow down to throw a pass, he probably could’ve escaped Suh. And then it would’ve been a foot-race between Rodgers and JPP to the goal line. Tampa does have three defenders in the area where Rodgers would’ve ran to, as all those DBs would’ve sprinted towards Rodgers instead of covering the WRs.

So there’s no guarantee whatsoever that Rodgers would’ve gotten the TD. But I do remember as I was watching the game live, I thought Rodgers was going to run it. In the moment, I thought he could’ve gotten in.

You have to give Tampa’s defense a lot of credit here. They were playing without starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and then their other starting safety Jordan Whitehead exited the game with a shoulder injury early in the second half. They were still able to get the job done.

They sacked Rodgers 5 times in that game: Shaq Barrett had 3 and JPP had 2. Tampa had 8 total QB hits on Rodgers, which made a big difference in the game. Yes, Rodgers was still able to throw for 346 and 3 TDs, but Tampa picked him off once and the offense was able to convert it into a TD. On the first drive of the second half, Tampa forced an Aaron Jones fumble, which Devin White returned to the Green Bay 8. Tampa scored a TD on the very next play. So that’s 14 points off turnovers for the Bucs in that game.

Green Bay was only able to manage 6 points off of Brady’s three picks.

After Brady’s first INT, which came at the 8:00 mark of the 3rd quarter, Green Bay went 13 plays and 68 yards for a TD to make it 28-23. But here were Green Bay’s two possessions after Brady’s next two picks: 3 plays, -5 yards, and then 3 plays, 0 yards. Major props to the Tampa defense for bailing Brady out and limiting the damage of those INTs.

The biggest play of the game, though, was the Scottie Miller TD.

The Packers got the ball at their own 13 with 2:10 left in the first half, down 14-10, and with a chance to score some points before the half. The Packers were also getting the ball back after halftime, meaning if they played it right, they could’ve gone from down 14-10 to up 24-14. Or 20-14, or even 16-14. Or maybe 17-14, or even just 14-13. Instead, Rodgers threw a pick which Tampa converted into a TD with 1 second remaining in the first half. And then on the Packers’ opening possession of the second half, Aaron Jones fumbled and Tampa turned it into a touchdown. So the Bucs went up 28-10 on Green Bay despite Green Bay having the opportunity to make it 24-14.

The Scottie Miller TD was the game-changer. It should not have happened from Green Bay’s perspective. In a way it was reminiscient of the Raiders’ game-winning TD to Henry Ruggs against the Jets, where the all the Jets had to do was play prevent defense and not get beat deep and they would’ve been fine. The Packers somehow allowed Scottie Miller to get open deep for a TD with 1 second remaining in the half. Maybe Green Bay thought Tampa was just going to try to get a few more yards for a field goal attempt and they were not concerned about getting beat over the top, I don’t know. But it’s a massive blunder on Green Bay’s part.

We finally got our Brady vs. Rodgers postseason matchup, and it did not disappoint. The game came down to the very end, but in the end it was Brady getting the win. At age 43, he will now make his 10th Super Bowl appearance and is trying for his 7th Championship. There can be absolutely no doubt about Tom Brady anymore. He leads Tampa to the Super Bowl in his first season there. It’s just incredible.

No matter what people want to say about him, the guy just wins. Tampa was 7-9 last year, now they’re in the Super Bowl. New England was 7-9 this year.

It feels like the more Brady wins, the more people try to diminish him.

He’s the LeBron of the NFL now: whichever team he’s on is an immediate Super Bowl contender.

Now, it’s not as if he just chose the Buccaneers at random in free agency. The Bucs had a loaded roster including two top-flight receivers, plus an elite defense. So it’s not like Brady did it all himself. I don’t want to take anything away from what the defense did in that NFC Championship game, because the defense had just as much to do with that win–if not a bit more–than Brady did.

But the facts speak for themselves: Tampa hadn’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons, and Brady took them there in year one. He went into Lambeau in January and won, which is no small feat. At some point, even the biggest Brady haters have to give the guy some credit.

As for Green Bay, they’re now going into the offseason $30 million over the projected cap, with Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley among the most notable names heading into unrestricted free agency. There are even questions about whether or not Aaron Rodgers played his last game for the Packers, although I highly doubt they’re going to try to move the likely MVP of the league, even at age 37. I know Packer fans might not fully realize it given that they’ve been lucky enough to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback since 1992, but elite quarterbacks don’t come around very often. Ask the Bears.

Aaron Jones apparently rejected a massive contract offer from the Packers during the season that would’ve made him one of the top-5 highest paid RBs in the league. This is surprising given that he was a 5th-round pick and hasn’t been making a ton of money (by NFL standards) over his first four seasons in the league.

The Packers definitely want him back, but does he want to return? I’m not so sure.

It feels like the Packers are going to take a step back next season if they lose Jones and/or Linsley, but I still see them as a playoff contender no matter what happens. As long as they have Aaron Rodgers, they’re going to be one of the better teams in the league.

But I think it might be time to finally put to bed the idea that Rodgers alone can carry the Packers to a Super Bowl. He is now 1-4 in NFC Championship games. It has now been a decade since he made his first and only Super Bowl appearance, and it’s kind of hard to believe he has only been to that one Super Bowl. It felt like this was the year for him. You could see how devastated he was after the game–he really thought they were the team of destiny this season.

Rodgers has escaped blame for pretty much all the Packers’ recent playoff losses. Last year, when they got blown out by San Fran in the NFC Championship, the culprit was easily identifiable: the run defense, which got absolutely gashed for over 200 yards. And all offseason long last year people were up in arms about how the Packers didn’t draft another weapon for Rodgers, even though the real problem for that team last season was obviously their run defense.

When the Packers lost 44-21 to the Falcons in the NFC Championship after the 2016 season, the defense was blamed again. When the Packers lost to the Cardinals in the divisional round of the 2015 playoffs, it was again the defense blamed for letting up that big run to Larry Fitzgerald in overtime.

When they blew the 19-7 lead to the Seahawks with just 4 minutes to play in the 2014 NFC Championship, the hands team was blamed for botching the onside kick recovery.

Their back-to-back losses to the 49ers in the 2013 and 2012 playoffs were blamed on the defense not being able to contain Colin Kaepernick.

When the 15-1 Packers lost 37-20 to the 9-7 Giants in the 2011 Divisional Round, it blamed on the defense and the offensive line.

The point is, there’s always some excuse for Aaron Rodgers. It’s always his team letting him down, the narrative goes. Nobody ever points the finger at Rodgers.

But the Packers are now 7-8 in the playoffs since the 2011 season. I’m done with the excuses. I like Aaron Rodgers and I think he’s a phenomenal quarterback, one of the best the league has ever seen. He might be the greatest arm talent of all time; it’s between him and Pat Mahomes.

However, his legacy is going to be somewhat tarnished if he’s not able to get another ring. If in 2011, after he had just won his first Super Bowl and the Packers were 15-1, you had told me Aaron Rodgers would not win another Super Bowl over the next 10 seasons, I would’ve been very skeptical. It just seemed like he had the whole league in the palm of his hands. The Packers seemed poised to become the next great NFL dynasty. Rodgers was only 27 and looked completely unstoppable.

Even before this past NFC Championship Game, lots of people were assuming the Packers would win and then be poised to dominate the NFC for the next 3-5 years. The assumption was that Rodgers would be able to get another 1-2 Super Bowls to close out his career.

Now it seems doubtful he’ll even get back to another one.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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