Mr. Raji’s Neighborhood

Posted: November 22, 2011 by Kodi in NFL, Pack It Up

B.J. Raji scored his 2nd career TD, the first since returning an INT for a TD in the 2010 NFC Championship game

Aaron Rodgers had one of his worst games of the year

and so did the Green Bay defense. . . 

The Green Bay Packers welcomed an old division rival to Lambeau Field but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t been a part of the NFC North (Central) for nearly 10 years. The last time the Packers played the Bucs they were facing a rookie QB with a rookie coach of a team that hadn’t won a game and were wearing their throwback creamsicle uniforms. It was 2009 and the Packers had given up an 11 point 4th quarter lead, including an interception returned for a TD in the final seconds and a blocked punt for a TD earlier in the game.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy looks back to that game and says that it was “definitely a wakeup call” and ensured that Green Bay wouldn’t let the Bucs make a statement like they did last time. Tampa Bay has lost 3 straight games entering their bout with the Packers and has a 4-5 record. If they hope compete with their NFC South division foes, which they have shown by beating both Atlanta and New Orleans but can no longer get drubbed by teams like the 9ers and hope to surprise the Packers yet again.

A lot of the pressure is on QB Aaron Rodgers who is having a phenomenal year but is 0-2 versus the Buccaneers in his career. Coming into Sunday’s game Rodgers was 31-62 throwing for 431 yards, 4 TDs and 6 interceptions while adding just 5 rushes for 34 yards and another TD in his two prior meetings with Tampa. Rodgers 6 interceptions in those first two meetings are the most picks he has thrown against any other opponent through his career, his 5 picks against Chicago in 7 games ranks 2nd.

The Packers won the coin toss and deferred to the Bucs who received the ball first to open up the game. The Packers defense had its best game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings last Monday night and was looking to continue that success against the Bucs. They stopped them in just 5 plays and forced an opening drive punt which was fair caught by WR Randall Cobb at the Packers 12 yard line.

Green Bay seemed to have gone three and out after a holding call backed up the Packers to the 6 yard line but when Punter Tim Masthay came on to kick it away the unexpected happened. Masthay saw a defender quickly closing in on him and he decided to pull the punt down, quickly shook Bucs LB Jacob Cutrera and turned up field. Masthay clearly never held the ball for so long and the inexperience showed because after deking out the potential punt blocker the punter dropped the ball. Luckily, he picked it back up and successfully rushed for a first down and after crossing the first down marker he fumbled the ball again, this time for it to trickle out of bounds.

The play was extremely bizarre and Masthay talked about it after the game, “being a right-footed punter, that’s the clearest vision is right over that right guard and right tackle, so I was able to see [Cutrera] early enough to tuck it and pick up the first”. He had some excuses for his ball handling saying that “the hands are cold, slippery ball, all that stuff, but I just dropped it, plain and simple. As soon as it hit the ground, I’m just praying, ‘Please, Lord, get that thing out of bounds”.  Green Bay retained possession and ended up charging downfield for their longest drive of the year, in both snaps and time of possession.

Green Bay took the ball 88 yards on 15 plays in a drive that took 8:27 and was capped off by another unexpected play. Green Bay had a 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line after a 5 yard rush by Rodgers and HC McCarthy decided it was time for a little trickery. Usually when DT B.J. Raji is called in on short yardage situations he is the lead blocker for RB John Kuhn but this time it was “The Freezer” who was given the ball. Raji had lined up as a lead blocker twice during last year’s playoffs which both resulted in TDs, the first was a plunge by Kuhn and the second time he acted as a decoy while Rodgers ran in untouched with a naked bootleg.

Raji was handed the ball and he the giant man was quickly lost in a pile-up near the end-zone but there was little doubt by the ball-carrier. “Just the way I was facing and laying on top of bodies, I saw the line and knew I was across it” Raji told reporters after the game and he was right. Rodgers made a great play fake with his other hand tricking Bucs LB Quincy Black who honed in on Kuhn after the play-fake and laid the RB on his ass. “I think it even got the refs a little bit . . . It wasn’t until I got up without the ball that he saw B.J. had it”. The officials huddled together before throwing up the TD sign and Green Bay had jumped out to a 7-0 lead after Crosby’s extra point.

Tampa Bay got the ball back but went three and out and quickly gave Rodgers and the prolific Packers offense the ball back. A good return by Cobb and a ineligible downfield kick penalty gave Green Bay the ball at the Bucs 49 yard line. Green Bay almost went three and out as well but Rodgers was able to connect with WR Jordy Nelson for a 26 yard gain on 3rd down and gave the Packers a first down on the 22 yard line. Rodgers hit RB James Starks for 17 yards on a dump pass over the middle and followed that up with a 5 yard TD pass to TE Tom Crabtree. It was Crabtree’s 2nd career TD but it was the preparation that allowed him to get wide open as he said after the game “it worked out just like we had practiced it”.

It was 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter and the Bucs were not going to let this game get out of their grasp before the second half. QB Josh Freeman hit streaking WR Arrelious Benn down the left side of the field for a 28 yard gain and brought the line of scrimmage to Tampa’s 46. Then the best run of the year happened. Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount took a page from Seahawk’s RB Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode and broke off a 54 yard TD run. He started by blasting through the middle, putting LB Desmond Bishop on his back then running through attempted tackles by DBs Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams.

That was all before he had even gained 8 yards, then he shrugged off an attempted tackle by LB A.J. Hawk, a shoelace tackle by DL Ryan Pickett, then sidestepped Sam Shields 20+ yards down the field and ultimately kept LB Eric Walden far enough away from him to get in for the Bucs first TD. This run was fucking incredible and may end up being the best by any RB this season. Blount is taking the high road at least in his comments to the media “a lot of people have told me to look at the replay, and I’ll see it later” continuing to explain that “all I’ve heard is I broke four or five tackles, but I felt there were two guys that had a legitimate chance to tackle me”.

The Packers got the ball and began to work its way downfield but a pass intended for WR Greg Jennings was intercepted on a free play due to a defensive offside call on DE Tim Crowder. Green Bay was given another chance on 3rd and 2 but TE Jermichael Finley ended up dropping a pass that was for sure a 1st down. Tampa got the ball back and eventually added a 23 yard field goal after Freeman and the Bucs were unable to punch it in from the Packers 10 yard line.

The Bucs were frustrated with their offense and tried to catch the Packers off guard when they attempted an onside kick with just under 4 minutes left in the first half. Tampa Punter Michael Koenen knuckled the kick towards an unsuspecting Packers front line but Koenen touched the ball before it had traveled 10 yards. The call had to be reversed after a challenge by McCarthy forced the zebras to check the play out under the hood. Green Bay had a short field and Rodgers threw a 5 yard TD to WR Jordy Nelson just 4 plays after the onside kick attempt. The Bucs tried to force the ball downfield but QB josh Freeman was intercepted by CB Tramon Williams at the Green Bay 28 and both teams ended up heading to the locker room with Green Bay up 21-10.

The entire 3rd quarter was slow paced and the only scoring that occurred was a 32 yard field goal by the Bucs Connor Barth. Donald Driver however became the 2nd Packer in franchise history to record over 10,000 yards from scrimmage when he pulled down a 35 yard reception. Driver had his biggest game of the season hauling in 4 catches for 72 yards bringing his career total to 10,065 career yards from scrimmage. Just 217 yards came from rush attempts and the only other Packer to reach this record was RB Ahman Green who had 11,048 yards from scrimmage during his Packer career.

A 9 yard TD catch by Bucs WR Mike Williams with just over 13 minutes left in the 4th brought Tampa Bay a 2 point conversion away from tying the game. Fortunately for the Packers Bucs TE Kellen Winslow dropped the pass and Green Bay kept a 21-19 lead. The Packers have not spent a single second behind any team in the 4th quarter of this season’s games. The Packers following drive was highlighted by a 20 yard run by RB James Starks and capped off by a 2 yard TD run by RB John Kuhn.

Tampa went three and out and Green Bay had a chance to improve their 28-19 lead but a pass intended for WR James Jones was sailed by Rodgers and picked off by the Bucs. It was Rodgers 4th interception of the year and his 7th against the Tampa Bay in his career. Tampa Bay capitalized on the good field position and scored in just 5 plays on a short TD pass from Freeman to WR Dezmon Briscoe. The two teams were once again separated by just 2 points but that lasted for just 3 plays. Rodgers hit Nelson down the left side for a 40 yard TD pass, Nelson’s 2nd of the game and back-to-back games of 2 receiving TDs.

Aaron Rodgers finished the day completing 23 of 34 passes for 299 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT and a QB Rating of 112 but the surefire MVP wasn’t pleased with his performance. “I’m just frustrated” Rodgers confessed “I didn’t throw the ball very well. I’m not trying to be ridiculously humble right now, I’m just frustrated. The ball wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to today”. Rodgers had 11 incomplete passes against Tampa Bay but you can understand Rodgers frustration since he had thrown just 18 incomplete passes in his last 4 games with 14 TDs and 1 INT.

The play before Nelson’s TD reception Packers RB James Starks was tackled and suffered an apparent knee injury and was taken out of the game. On Josh Freeman’s first pass after Nelson’s 2nd TD the QB looked for Winslow but the throw was intercepted by CB Tramon Williams for his 2nd pick of the day and 3rd game in a row with at least one pick. The Packers however took a step backwards on defense allowing Freeman to throw for nearly 350 yards, Blount to run for nearly 110 and Winslow to have over 130 receiving yards.

“I think it was great for us. Adversity is awesome . . .especially when you overcome [it], This is something we can benefit from. It’ll be a good energy source to draw on, especially during a short week” McCarthy said “we’re 10-0, we have a big one coming up on Thursday. We’re really looking forward to this division game in Detroit”. The Packers travel to battle the Lions on Thanksgiving day and hope to increase their incredible winning streak and undefeated season.

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