GREEN BAY—The football gods have a funny way of doing things sometimes.
Or maybe it was supposed to set up this way.
Mike McCarthy’s Packers have to bounce back from their worst performance as a team in the past three months, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers must rebound from the lowest passer rating of his career, in a place that has been a veritable house of horrors in the McCarthy-Rodgers era.
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
It’s been five years since the Packers last played there, and they haven’t missed it. Green Bay’s losses overlooked by that dastardly pirate ship in both 2008 and ’09 were downright awful.
In ’08, Rodgers’ first year as a starter, the Packers were coming off a tough prime-time home loss to unbeaten Dallas that dropped them to 2-1, but they were still feeling pretty good about themselves until the offense managed a paltry 181 yards against the Buccaneers.
Running back Ryan Grant could barely find the line of scrimmage, gaining just 20 yards on 15 carries, and he fumbled a ball that was returned for a score. Rodgers threw three interceptions and hurt his shoulder. Not even a patented pick-six by Charles Woodson that gave the Packers the lead early in the fourth quarter was enough to avert a 30-21 setback.
The place only haunted the Packers more the following year. An 0-8 Tampa Bay team wearing its throwback creamsicle uniforms and giving rookie quarterback Josh Freeman his first NFL start sent the Packers home embarrassed.
A blocked punt was returned for a touchdown. The Bucs also ran a kickoff back 83 yards to jump-start a fourth-quarter comeback from an 11-point deficit. Rodgers again threw three interceptions – he’s only done so three times, but twice in Tampa – including the lone pick-six of his career that added insult to injury in the final minute of the 38-28 baffler.
Yes, this is the place the football gods have chosen for the Packers to get their 2014 season back on track. Why not.
McCarthy had the players elect their playoff captains this week, even without a playoff bid secure, to turn the team’s attentions forward, not back to Buffalo (and certainly not back to five and six years ago).
The Packers haven’t lost back-to-back games all season, following up their three previous defeats with strong games, though after the first half against the Jets in Week 2, two straight losses looked more than possible. They’ve beaten up the Bears after their other two defeats, for whatever that’s worth.
Now it’s the Bucs, after dropped passes, errant throws, penalties and special-teams miscues doomed them against the Bills.
“Guys focus back in,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Don’t dwell over it, because you can’t let one loss get you twice. We move forward, we get better. We’re a bunch of professionals in here who know how to work and make sure we’re prepared for the next game.”
Moreover, Rodgers hasn’t lost consecutive games since 2010. Since then, his passer ratings after defeats have been some of his best. Last week’s career-worst 34.3 in Buffalo won’t linger for him, either.
“Mentally tough I think is the trait that allows you to overcome some rough performances,” Rodgers said this week. “That’s what I rely on after a poor performance is my mental preparation and my mental fortitude.”
Rodgers called the 2-12 Bucs a team that’s “trying to be the spoiler.” McCarthy sees Lovie Smith’s rebuilding team as one seeking an upset to validate its progress heading into the offseason, emphasizing that “there’s always motivation in the NFL, regardless of the record.”
“This will be a motivated team,” McCarthy said. “This will be a football team that will give us their best shot, and frankly it’ll be a football team that will throw everything at us.
“They have nothing to lose, so whether it’s going for it on fourth downs, doing different things, we have to be ready for everything.”
As they always must be within the shadow of that pirate ship.
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