10 Things We Learned from the Packers 31-26 Loss to the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers 2020 season came to a disappointing end as they fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26 at Lambeau Field. It was the second consecutive year that the Packers season ended in the NFC Championship Game.

Aaron Rodgers threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns and the Packers defense picked off Tom Brady three times, but it wasn’t enough to overcome some costly mistakes and bad decisions, especially late in the first half.

The Packers finished the season 14-4-0 including the playoffs. This proved to be a disappointing end to a successful season.

Here are 10 things we learned from the Packers 31-26 loss to the Bucs:

  1. The End of the First Half Really Hurt the Packers

The Packers may have lost this game just before the end of the first half. The Packers trailed 14-10 and had the ball with two minutes left in the half. Rodgers was intercepted and the Bucs took over with 28 seconds left at their own 49.

The Packers seemed to stop the Bucs, forcing incompletions on second and third down. Will Redmond had a great chance to intercept the third down pass but he dropped the ball.

The Bucs faced fourth and four with 13 seconds left and appeared ready to punt but they called and timeout and reconsidered. Brady found Fournette for a six-yard gain and a first down. Then, with one second left in the half, he connected with Scotty Miller for a 39-yard touchdown pass after Miller burned Kevin King deep and the Packers went into the half down 21-10.

The crowd and the Packers were stunned and needed to regroup. If the score was 14-10 at the half, the game has a different feeling and complexion as we start the second half.

  1. Third Downs Killed the Packers Defense

The Packers defense didn’t play poorly overall. They picked Brady off three times and held the Bucs to a respectable 351 total yards all game, but third downs killed the Packers.

The Bucs offense converted 9-of-14 third down chances and hit on their only fourth down conversion. When it really counted, the Packers defense was unable to get stops and get the ball back to Rodgers and the offense.

Brady came through in the clutch and kept drives alive. In this key area, the Packers defense didn’t get the job done.

  1. The Packers Abandoned the Run

The Packers had trouble running the ball in this game. They fell behind early and never had a lead which didn’t help. The Packers also lost Aaron Jones in this game when he was injured after fumbling the ball for the second time. Losing Jones not only hurt the running game but took a weapon away from the passing game as well.

But by the end of the game, Green Bay ran the ball only 16 times for 67 yards. Running the ball is what sets up the Packers play action passing game and keeps the defense from teeing off and rushing the quarterback.

The Packers did not commit to running the football in this game, something Matt LaFleur said the team needed to do. It wasn’t the reason they lost, but it was a contributing factor to the offense’s mixed performance.

  1. The Bucs Limited Davante Adams

The Bucs defense was determined to contain Davante Adams and they did manage to do that. The Packers star receiver did catch nine passes but he gained just 67 yards and had a long catch of 15. The nine catches came in 15 targets.

It’s not that Adams wasn’t a factor, but the Bucs succeeded in not letting Adams beat them and that was a win. The Packers other receivers had to pick up the slack and one of them did.

  1. The Bucs Got Pressure Against Rodgers

The Green Bay offensive line had a great season and did a good job of protecting Rodgers but for the second straight meeting, the Bucs were the exception to that rule.

Tampa Bay sacked Rodgers five times and were credited with eight quarterback hits. Tackles Billy Turner and Rick Wagner struggled to stop the speedy Bucs edge rushers as Shaquil Barrett (three sacks) and Jason Pierre-Paul (two sacks) seemed to be chasing Rodgers all game long.

The result was the Green Bay offense gained 381 yards, not a bad total, but subpar for the top scoring offense in the league.

  1. The Packers Failed to Take Advantage of Turnovers

If you would have told me before the game started that the Packers would intercept Brady three times, outgain the Bucs and hold the ball for 34:37 compared to 25:23 for the Bucs, I would have thought the Packers would have won this game.

But the Packers managed just six points off the three interceptions while Tampa Bay scored 14 points off the two Packers turnovers.

The Packers ended three straight Bucs drives with picks late in the third and early in the fourth quarters. At the time, Green Bay trailed 28-17 and then pulled to within 28-23 when they scored six points off the first turnover.

The defense set the offense up with two quality chances to take the lead or later tie the game but the offense didn’t come through when it mattered most.

Rodgers had a good game statistically, completing 33-of-48 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns and he had a quarterback rating of 101.6. But in the clutch, Brady came through and Rodgers came up short.

  1. Jaire Alexander Came Up Big But…

Jaire Alexander continued to play very well for the Green Bay defense. Ja’Money intercepted two passes and broke up three more while not allowing the Bucs to do much when they tried to throw to receivers he was covering.

Adrian Amos also had a big interception and played a steady game.

Early on, the Bucs were targeting Chandon Sullivan and had some success doing that at first.

Later, the Bucs found success throwing at King who was burned deep at the end of the half and who was flagged for a controversial pass interference with 1:41 left. The officials had let almost everything go all game long but suddenly the rules changed on this important third-and-four play. Had the flag not been thrown, the Packers would have had one final chance to drive back down the field and win the football game.

  1. MVS Was a Star

Marquez Valdes-Scantling came up big for the Packers today. He caught a beautiful 50-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 7-7 early in the second quarter.

MVS caught four passes for 115 yards and the touchdown for an impressive 28.8-yard average. His second catch picked up a first down on 2nd-and-10, his third catch gained 24 yards and a first down and his final reception of the day gained 29 yards and a first down deep down the middle.

Valdes-Scantling needs to be more consistent, but he clearly showed that he can come up big in a big game for the Packers.

  1. The Packers Kicked a Controversial Field Goal Late

The Packers final drive was shrouded in controversy. On third down, Rodgers had a chance to run for a touchdown but he threw the ball for Adams and it fell incomplete.

Then facing fourth-and-goal from the eight with 2:15 remaining, LaFleur decided to kick a field goal to cut the lead to 31-26 rather than go for it on fourth down.

After the game, Rodgers said one reason he didn’t run for it was that he expected to get another chance on fourth down.

By kicking the field goal, LaFleur took the game out of his best player’s hands and relied on the defense to stop one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time with three timeouts plus the two minute warning. The defense couldn’t get the stop and the Packers offense never got a chance to win the game.

With the game on the line, you want the ball in the hands of the likely league MVP. LaFleur gambled on his defense and lost, aided by the controversial flag against King.

This decision isn’t the reason the Packers lost the game, but it wasn’t the wisest choice given the circumstances with time running out.

  1. The Packers Fell Just Short of the Super Bowl

The Packers season is over. Last year, the Packers went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game before getting blown out. This year, they again finished 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game only to fall five points short in a game they had lots of chances to win.

This is a very frustrating end to a successful season. Once the pain of this loss subsides, the Pack needs to start thinking about 2021.

There will be changes coming to this team with several big names up for free agency and the team short on cap space. Rodgers will also be a year older.

But for now, the Packers realize that they missed out on a golden opportunity to win another championship with Rodgers and that he will be 38 before next season is over.

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