When Challenged, Offense Comes Through

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers scored two key touchdowns in the fourth quarter when pushed by the Buccaneers. For one of the NFL's all-time great front-running teams, this will be a battle-tested crew heading to Detroit to face the Lions on Thursday.

For a team that hasn't trailed in the fourth quarter at any point during their 16-game winning streak and had won their first nine games of the season by a league-high 14.9 points per game, the Green Bay Packers' drives that started with 13:02 and 4:23 remaining were about as clutch as clutch gets.

Twice, the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers had seized momentum. Twice, Aaron Rodgers and the offense recaptured control of the game with touchdowns.

"It was great for us. Adversity's awesome," coach Mike McCarthy said after a closer-than-expected 35-26 victory. "We're getting ready to play a big game on national TV on Thanksgiving. Adversity is a healthy situation to learn from him, especially when you overcome it. We had some tough adversity games early in the year. We haven't been challenged as much in the fourth quarter, so this is something we can benefit from. There are some guys that aren't feeling very good about the way they played but it'll be a good energy source to draw on in a short week."

The Packers' offense entered the game having scored a second-ranked 38 points on its first possession of second halves and boasted league-leading totals of 86 points in the third quarter and plus-62 in third-quarter point differential.

But the Packers mustered just one first down on each of the third-quarter possessions, and that allowed the Buccaneers to cut a 21-10 halftime deficit to 21-19 less than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter – with only a dropped two-point conversion from Kellen Winslow preventing a tie game.

The Packers' response? An 85-yard touchdown march. The Packers' running game, miserable for most of the day, got a 20-yard run from James Starks that set up first-and-goal. The Packers' passing game, so tough to stop because of Rodgers and his weapons, picked up three first downs on completions of 12 and 16 yards to Starks and 12 yards to Donald Driver, plus three first downs on defensive penalties. The last of those penalties, pass interference on Driver in the end zone, made it first-and-goal at the 2, with John Kuhn bulling in from there for a touchdown and a 28-19 lead with 7:42 to play.

"We haven't really had to make a drive like that," Rodgers said. "The game gets tight there. We're up by two, a touchdown can put them away, and it was nice to get that touchdown."

That touchdown, however, didn't put the game away. A rare interception on the next possessions by Rodgers – he hadn't thrown one since the fourth quarter against St. Louis, a span encompassing 117 attempts – gave the Buccaneers the ball at midfield. A few plays later, the Buccaneers were in the end zone and it was 28-26 with 4:25 to go.

That set the stage for one of the biggest late-game completions of Rodgers' career.

On third-and-4 from the Bucs' 40, a defensive stop would have given Tampa Bay about 2:45 to drive to the winning field goal. With go-to receiver Greg Jennings out (shin bruise) and third-down back James Starks out (knee sprain), Bucs coach Raheem Morris sent six rushers at Rodgers. Rodgers went deep to Jordy Nelson against second-year cornerback Myron Lewis. Nelson said he misjudged the ball – which worked to his advantage. Nelson slowed up, then had to accelerate to get to the ball. That gave Nelson two steps on Lewis, and he caught the ball in stride to score the clinching touchdown.

"You have to go to him in crunch time, especially with Greg off the field," Rodgers said. "It wasn't even a second thought for me. I was going to give Jordy a chance to make a nice catch (and) he made a great reaction there. If he had done what he did on purpose, that would be one of the better plays of our season. But I think he just kind of misjudged the ball at first, and then the defensive back was expecting a back-shoulder throw and gave him the separation that he needed."

Said McCarthy: "It's just the trust that you have in your quarterback and the belief that you have in your receivers to win the one-on-ones. Had good protection, we got the man coverage that we were anticipating and Jordy ran an excellent route and we were able to convert it. That was a big play. Probably the biggest play of the game for us."

And with that, the Packers are 10-0 for the second time in franchise history. This will be a battle-tested bunch that will be heading to Detroit for a Thanksgiving showdown.

"We had to respond," Nelson said. "Obviously, when we had the ball the possession before, we didn't do that. It kind of got ‘em back into it. So, as an offense, we needed to go out and either score a touchdown or run the clock out. We had that opportunity, and we made a play to get more points on the board and allow our defense to go out and seal it."

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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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