It Didn't Rain, But It Poured On Packers

No matter the opponent, the Packers have taken nothing for granted since Aaron Rodgers and Co. stumbled at winless Tampa Bay in 2009. In a league in which upsets are the norm, the Packers keep on rolling and Mike McCarthy has avoided unwanted showers.

The Green Bay Packers' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 was one of the gloomier days in coach Mike McCarthy's tenure.

And the bad day didn't end with the Packers giving away an 11-point lead and losing 38-28 to the Buccaneers, who were 0-7 under first-year coach Raheem Morris and giving first-round pick Josh Freeman his first NFL start.

"That was a bad day all together that day," McCarthy recalled on Thursday. "If you talk about after the game, I'm standing outside the training room in the visitor's locker room and a hot-water pipe running right by my head exploded. It didn't get much better from there. It was crazy. Water was flying all over the place, it took them about 20 minutes to turn it off, the locker room was flooded."

There have been bumps in the road since then, to be sure, though that loss seems to be a defining moment for a team that has soared to almost-unprecedented heights in the 24 months since then.

"It was definitely a wakeup call," McCarthy said.

The loss sent Green Bay to 4-4 but, triggered by an emotional team meeting the next day, the NFL's youngest team rebounded to win seven of its last eight games to surge into the playoffs. A wild and bitterly disappointing overtime loss at Arizona in the playoffs wound up being the launching point to last year's championship season.

In a league in which good teams lose to bad teams every week – St. Louis over New Orleans, Miami over Kansas City, Seattle over Baltimore and Arizona over Philadelphia in just the last three weeks – the undefeated Packers seemingly have been immune to embarrassing upsets since the loss at Tampa Bay two years ago.

Losses to Washington and Miami last season can be explained away by an onslaught of injuries that ruined what McCarthy had worked so hard to create. While the Packers might have fallen at Detroit anyway, losing Aaron Rodgers to a second-quarter concussion certainly wasn't helpful against a team that wound up winning its final four games of the season.

While McCarthy wouldn't go so far as to say the loss to the Buccaneers was a "turning point" for his program, it's hard to argue with history. Since that dismal afternoon, the Packers are 30-8, including playoffs. They've been favored to win every game this season and haven't really come close to stubbing their toe.

"It was a tough loss to take," receiver Greg Jennings said. "It was frustrating because we knew that we let a subpar team get a win. They were struggling. They were trying to find any way to get a win, and they were able to get one on us. At the same time, it kind of propelled us to become the team that we're becoming, because we don't take those games for granted. We don't go into those games saying, ‘This is a game we should win. Let's just go out and play.' No, you don't know if you're going to win this game."

Unlike today's Packers, who routinely have made key plays in clutch situations to extend leads or hold on for victories — as evidenced by a 15-game winning streak in which they've never trailed in the fourth quarter — those Packers wilted under the pressure.

The Packers jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but an interception by Rodgers allowed the Buccaneers to tie the score. Green Bay led 14-7 until a blocked punt resulted in a touchdown to tie the game again. The Packers pulled ahead 28-17 early in the fourth quarter but an 83-yard kickoff return jump-started the Bucs' go-ahead rally. Needing to move the Packers about 50 yards in the final 1:35 to attempt a game-tying field goal, Rodgers absorbed his sixth sack of the second half and wound up throwing a pick-six on fourth-and-12 that iced the game.

"I think any time you can't get the game turned around as a head coach, I take that really personally," McCarthy said. "We had a chance to jump out in front of that game and it just, we never got it back. And then the fourth quarter with the sacks and the things that went, I just felt I didn't do a very good job."

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's memory went right to the turnovers. The Packers finished with 28 points and 404 yards — right about on par with their season averages of 28.8 and 379.1 yards.

"I obviously remember the '09 game," Philbin said. "If I remember correctly, and this is probably what I said to Coach McCarthy the day after the game in the staff meeting, we scored 28 points, so we scored about what we usually scored that year. We had about 400 yards of offense, which is about what we had that year. But we turned the ball over three times, and that was the year we set the franchise record in (fewest) giveaways. So, that particular game, we turned the ball over a bunch and that cost us."

Rodgers threw three interceptions in that game. In the 33 regular-season games since then, he's thrown 70 touchdown passes against just 16 interceptions.

"We lost a game that we pretty much shouldn't have lost," Jennings said. "We took it for granted. That definitely won't be the case this year."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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