So possibly — possibly, possibly, possibly — that is how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ thrust into N.F.C. rivalry begins.
Perhaps it begins with some anticipatory mastery, with a cornerback intercepting a quarterback who by no means throws interceptions. Or with an almost-full complement of offensive ability gamers accessible ultimately, their renewed well being powering consistency, and effectivity. Or with the elevated involvement of a good finish who unretired for days like Sunday, when he’s mincing defenses and catching touchdowns and spiking footballs, leaving Gronk-sized divots within the grass.
The Inexperienced Bay Packers arrived within the Florida warmth as one of many N.F.L.’s 4 unbeaten groups, with an offense gaining yards and scoring factors and throttling opponents at a most tempo. They trudged off the sector at Raymond James Stadium pummeled and discombobulated, unsettled by the result and the margin of defeat, sure, but additionally by how fully Tampa Bay exploited the Packers’ each deficiency.
The Buccaneers’ 38-10 victory doubled as validation of an admission they made within the low season and the dedication they demonstrated to right it. With their protection ascending, the entrance workplace acknowledged that the pathway to relevance — and certainly, the franchise’s first playoff berth for the reason that 2007 season — entailed buying the stylistic antithesis of their incumbent quarterback, Jameis Winston, who had a pesky behavior of throwing the ball to the opposite workforce.
So Tampa Bay (4-2) signed the six-time Tremendous Bowl champion Tom Brady, thus creating Tompa Bay, an unique locale — avocado ice cream! pliability courses! — with an developed mind-set: With Brady, at 43, assuming the position of gleeful caretaker, the Buccaneers can win in complementary style.
On offense, with the Buccaneers working for almost as many yards (158) as Brady handed for (166), they didn’t commit a turnover or permit a sack, and transformed all 4 red-zone alternatives. On protection, they transformed two takeaways — together with Jamel Dean’s return for a landing — into 14 factors. As a workforce, Tampa Bay wasn’t penalized even as soon as. The blueprint evoked that of Brady’s former workforce — the place did he play once more? New England? — and recalibrated expectations.
“We sort of set a brand new commonplace for ourselves,” Coach Bruce Arians mentioned.
Coming off a 20-19 Week 5 loss to Chicago wherein Brady might or might not have forgotten (OK, he did) what down it was throughout a late drive, the Buccaneers regained equilibrium by stuffing the N.F.L.’s most prolific offense. The Packers (4-1) entered Sunday main the league in factors and yards per play and, in response to Professional Soccer Reference, have been the primary workforce in league historical past to attain 150 factors of their first 4 video games and not using a giveaway. Undeterred, Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, advised his unit all week that it was going to smother Aaron Rodgers like no different protection had finished up to now.
Assembling the protection after Inexperienced Bay went forward by 10-0, Bowles advised his costs that they have been respecting Rodgers and the Packers an excessive amount of. “They’ve acquired to earn our respect,” Bowles mentioned, as recounted by linebacker Devin White, who led Tampa Bay with 10 tackles and a sack. Then Bowles reminded his costs of his prediction, and their mission.
In torching the Vikings and the Lions, the Saints and the Falcons, Rodgers had but to come across a protection — a secondary, particularly — as bodily and aggressive as Tampa Bay’s. Going through third-and-10 at his 22-yard line, Rodgers dropped again to go, his eyes by no means leaving Davante Adams alongside the far sideline, which Dean observed, too.
“Once I noticed the formation, then I noticed how every part began to develop, I’m like, ‘I’ve to make this play as a result of I do know what’s coming,’” Dean mentioned. “After which as soon as I noticed him throw it, I used to be like, ‘Yeah, it’s mine.’”
It was. Undercutting Adams’s route, Dean grabbed the ball and raced 32 yards for a landing. Three performs into the Packers’ ensuing collection, Mike Edwards snatched a deflected go and ran all the way down to the Inexperienced Bay 2. On the following snap, Ronald Jones rumbled into the top zone for the primary of two touchdowns.
The Packers punted. Tampa Bay scored. The Packers punted once more. Tampa Bay scored once more — a 12-yard fade from Brady to Rob Gronkowski, his first landing since December 2018 and the 91st time they’ve related for a rating, counting the postseason. Throughout a dizzying 12 minute 30 second span of the second quarter, the Buccaneers held Inexperienced Bay and not using a first down and scored 28 consecutive factors.
“We all the time satisfaction ourselves on having nice stars on the offensive aspect of the ball,” White mentioned, including, “We would like this workforce to be a defensive workforce.”
The second of give up got here after Tampa Bay had sacked Rodgers 4 instances, after its array of pressures and coverages had condemned him to the third-lowest passer score (35.4) and third-worst completion share (45.7) of his profession, when LaFleur pulled him — for his personal well being, maybe — for the backup Tim Boyle. Quickly, Brady departed, too, rather than Blaine Gabbert, sacrificing one other collection of labor with gamers he’s nonetheless coming to study, coming to belief, for the privilege of savoring victory.
The backdrop to Brady’s first season in Tampa Bay — chaotic low season, truncated coaching camp, managing accidents to receivers Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and O.J. Howard — has disrupted the Buccaneers’ continuity; it stands to motive that they, as Brady continues adjusting to a brand new offense and a brand new play-caller, will enhance over the following few months as a lot as any workforce within the league.
In a product of the N.F.L.’s interconference scheduling method, solely twice earlier than had Brady and Rodgers confronted one another as starters: in 2014, a Inexperienced Bay victory, and in 2018, a New England win. That quirk consigned Brady and Rodgers to an countless state of parallel play — excelling on the similar time, however other than, the opposite. By signing with the Buccaneers, Brady created extra alternatives for tantalizing video games in opposition to N.F.C. contemporaries like Drew Brees, whose New Orleans Saints reside in Tampa Bay’s division, and Rodgers, who might very nicely get a rematch come January.
Nonetheless engaging, it’s imprecise to view Tampa Bay’s romp — in addition to a possible postseason assembly, ought to it come to go — as a matchup between Brady and Rodgers. They have been going through defenses scheming to thwart them, and never going through one another. Brady was higher this time, his workforce was, too, and if the Buccaneers are to go on to win their first division title since 2007, they may keep in mind Sunday because the day that catapulted them there.