TAMPA, Fla. — At one point during the dismantling of Aaron Rodgers and the hottest offense in the NFL, Todd Bowles made a point to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense about respect.
Let Devin White, the high-energy Bucs linebacker, relay the prodding that came from his coordinator on the sideline. After falling behind 10-0, the Bucs needed to change their mindset in a hurry.
“We’re respecting those guys too much,” White recalled of Bowles’ chatter after Tampa Bay’s defense led the way to a 38-10 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers.
This respect theme echoed the message Bowles preached all week as a matchup loomed against the league’s highest-scoring offense. In other words: Play aggressively and make them earn their respect.
“He gave everybody the green light,” White said.
Jamel Dean certainly got the memo. The second-year cornerback jumped a route against Davante Adams and returned the interception 32 yards for a touchdown – the first blow in a record-setting second quarter.
“He did that to us a few times in training camp,” Tom Brady said. “That was a big play. Sparked us.”
One play never determines a game, but, as illustrated on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, it can certainly turn momentum. Or maybe even flick out the lights.
The Packers, losing for the first time this season, were never the same after that. Tampa Bay outscored the Pack 28-0 in the second quarter. It was no mere bad day at the office for Rodgers’ crew. No, Tampa Bay’s relentless defense did ’em in.
After the pick-six, Rodgers was intercepted again on the next series. He never regained the rhythm he started with, which can happen when you are sacked four times and repeatedly chased out of the pocket. The Bucs racked up 13 quarterback hits, which was among many underlying reasons why Rodgers left with the second-worst passer rating for a game of his career (35.4). His running game was stuffed, too.
All week, the Bucs D heard how Rodgers was poised to light them up while on the other side of Brady in a marquee matchup of legendary quarterbacks.
Then came the game.
“Everything that was said about Aaron Rodgers…the intensity was different,” Dean said. “I had to match that intensity.”
Bowles came up with a whale of a plan, with the constant pressure on Rodgers boosted by blitzes and mixed alignments on the defensive front keeping the crafty quarterback guessing. With White and fellow inside linebacker Lavonte David shooting gaps and flowing to the sidelines (they combined for 18 tackles, five of which came behind the line of scrimmage), the Bucs D simply took over the game.
After the first quarter, Tampa Bay defense stopped Green Bay on 10 consecutive possessions.
As Packers coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged, “We just didn’t have answers.”
This was surely all part of a bigger picture. By smashing one of the hottest teams in the league, the Bucs delivered a statement that amplified exactly what Bruce Arians Co. are trying to build.
Just think of what the Bucs (4-2) can be when they are clicking. Now the Packers can vouch for that.
Sure, TB12 is the attention-grabbing focal point. But if Brady has the type of support he received on Sunday, look out. The Bucs will be real contenders.
Brady was efficient if not prolific against Green Bay. He didn’t throw a pick and was never caught losing track of the downs as he was at the end of the Week 5 loss to the Chicago Bears. Having healthy receivers helped, even if Mike Evans and Chris Godwin didn’t light up the stat sheet. He got another 100-yard rushing game, the third in a row, from Ronald Jones. Rob Gronkowski had his most productive day as a Buc and scored his first touchdown since rejoining his former Patriots quarterback. The Bucs didn’t allow a sack, either, so there was no sideline cam footage of Brady chewing out offensive linemen.
It was such a complete game for the Bucs that they didn’t even commit a penalty, just the second time that’s happened in franchise history.
And for a team that has known its share of discipline issues in recent years – the Bucs led the league in penalties last season and were tied for the league lead after Week 5 – it is doubly significant.
Brady will surely take it. No sacks, no penalties, no turnovers. Ideal formula.
It reflects the growth that needs to happen with this team, which lured Brady from New England to replace Jameis Winston, who threw an NFL-high 30 interceptions last season. If the Bucs can eliminate the silly stuff and self-inflicted mishaps, they just might be able to win big with a well-protected Brady.
“I think it’s a pretty big part of every team’s success – not turning the ball over and then not committing penalties, which puts you behind down and distance, take you out of your runs and play-actions,” Brady said. “All those hurt. You’ve got to be able to stay on track and stay ahead of down and distance. That’s the goal for the team.”
Of course, there’s an ultimate goal, too. And, with a big-play defense in tow, the Bucs provided quite the signature blueprint that should make the NFL universe, well, respect their potential.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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