Report Card: Packers vs. Bucs

Even with a subpar game by Aaron Rodgers' lofty standards, the passing game earned top marks in Sunday's 35-26 victory over Tampa Bay. The defense, on the other hand, reverted to form against the Buccaneers.

PASSING OFFENSE: B - Aaron Rodgers' first interception in four games and only his fourth of the season - the late-game pick by cornerback Myron Lewis came on a bad decision by Rodgers as he tried to hit James Jones on a shallow pass - caused a buzz for a rare negative play from the seemingly infallible quarterback. Rodgers had a few other erratic throws and also was hurt by a couple drops as he finished 23-of-34, not to mention a seventh 300-yard game this season fell by the wayside when his final 2 passes amounted to zero and minus-1 yards and dropped his yardage to 299. Yet, Rodgers produced big numbers with at least a 110 passer rating (112.3) for the 10th time in as many games this season and three touchdowns, two to Jordy Nelson (six catches, 123 yards). The unstoppable receiver had his second straight two-touchdown game, punctuated by a decisive 40-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-4 go route along the sideline as he got Lewis to bite on a slight hesitation early in the route before blazing by the Buc for the easy reception. Top wideout Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley combined for only three receptions and 36 yards. Veteran Donald Driver joined Nelson in picking up the slack, particularly on third down, with four catches for the first time since opening night, good for a season-high 72 yards. Halfback James Starks also was a catalyst, turning screens and checkdowns from Rodgers into a career-best six receptions for 53 yards. Tight end Tom Crabtree had the other touchdown catch. The pass blocking was so-so, as Rodgers took two sacks.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C - The Packers fell short for the second straight outing and the fourth time in the last six games of reaching the century mark, finishing with 91 yards. Starks provided a brief spurt of productivity early in the fourth quarter with back-to-back runs of 6 and 20 yards - the latter on a burst that started wide and he turned inside as tight end Andrew Quarless sealed the edge - but he managed only 38 yards in 11 carries (3.5 average) before sustaining a game-ending knee injury in the final minutes. Rodgers scrambled four times for 29 yards with a long of 11. Continually unproductive starter Ryan Grant had just four rushes for 16 yards. The three best runs from the fans' perspective, if not teammates', came from punter Tim Masthay (6 yards on a broken fourth-and-1 play) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (1-yard touchdown lined up at fullback) in Green Bay's first series and then fullback John Kuhn (2-yard touchdown midway through the final quarter to keep the Packers in control).

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The league's second-worst pass defense went back to its familiar ways of giving up big plays after a resounding performance six nights earlier in the rout of the Minnesota Vikings. Previously struggling quarterback Josh Freeman had a reawakening by going 28-of-38 for 342 yards and two touchdowns to nearly lead the Bucs from a pair of 11-point deficits in the second half to what would have been a colossal victory on the road. Tampa Bay exploited Green Bay's soft coverage and had big games from the trio of tight end Kellen Winslow (nine catches, 132 yards) and receivers Mike Williams (seven receptions, 83 yards, touchdown) and Arrelious Benn (five catches, 75 yards). The Packers turned up the pressure as the game wore on but finagled only two sacks of a poised Freeman in the pocket. Cornerback Tramon Williams, who was picked on quite a bit, countered with two interceptions - doubling his season total, all four coming in the last three games.

RUSH DEFENSE: D - All 1,325 pounds of linebacker Desmond Bishop, Williams, safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker A.J. Hawk, nickel back Sam Shields and linebacker Erik Walden wasn't enough to bring down 250-pound LeGarrette Blount on the play is emblematic of the Packers' pervasive tackling problems against the run. Those six defensive players all had a shot to take Blount to the ground on his power rush up the middle but whiffed bad at different levels of the young back's 54-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Blount went on to have a stout game with 18 carries for 107 yards (5.9 average), including two more explosive runs of 15 (on another missed tackle by Hawk) and 12 yards. Green Bay, though, somehow found a way to tackle Blount three times behind the line of scrimmage, and Bishop was in on two of those. Tampa Bay totaled 121 yards on the ground, getting a 9-yard end-around from Benn and a 5-yard scramble from Freeman.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - The Packers' 15-play, 88-yard touchdown drive that ate up nearly 8 1/2 minutes in their first possession of the game never happens if Masthay doesn't shrewdly improvise and tuck the football away with an unblocked Jacob Cutrera bearing down on him up the middle on the would-be punt on fourth-and-1 deep in Green Bay territory. It worked out marvelously for Masthay and the Packers, but not before he fumbled the football twice on the play and caught a break when it rolled out of bounds on the second mishandle. Randall Cobb muffed a kickoff return in the end zone, but he maintained possession. Cobb averaged only 17 yards in three kickoff runbacks. Yet, he came through with a 55-yard punt return in the fourth quarter and average 34.5 yards in two chances. Green Bay recovered two onside kicks - the latter by Kuhn to set up the clinching Rodgers-to-Nelson touchdown late in the game and the first on an illegal touch by the Bucs' Michael Koenen on an overturned call after Packers rookie D.J. Smith was ruled to have touched the football before it even went 10 yards. Mason Crosby's only field-goal attempt, from 29 yards, bounced off the right upright and ended his 16-for-16 start to the season. Masthay had strong averages for the fourth straight game with 54.3 gross yards and 42.3 net yards in three punts with a long of 63. The coverage units did a satisfactory job.

COACHING: C - Green Bay needed a few breaks - Masthay's successful, but harrowing run on the bungled punt; a dropped pass by Winslow on a two-point try that would have tied the score early in the fourth quarter; and the onside-kick recoveries - to emerge victorious and keep its unblemished record intact after 10 games. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit took another step back after it appeared some progress was made in the previous game. Capers wasn't nearly as aggressive in his game plan against Freeman as he was in unloading everything but the kitchen sink on Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. The misadventures in tackling remain a sore spot. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy endured some ragged play by the offense, which still put up 35 points. McCarthy was rewarded for lining up Raji in the backfield for the first time this season and giving him his first carry as a pro with that touchdown plunge across the goal line. McCarthy also hit on the right play call with the third-down scoring strike from Rodgers to Nelson in the favorable one-on-one matchup to ice the victory.



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