Blame it on the schedule-maker.

The 4-5 Tampa Bay Bucs, a 10-6 team last season that was expected to be a playoff contender this season, is rapidly approaching must-win time, and it’s largely the result of a more difficult schedule this season than the one that nearly landed them in the playoffs a year ago.

“We played a couple of tougher teams. The games we have lost we’ve lost to the Houston Texans, we’ve also lost to the Chicago Bears, who are second in (their) division, we also lost to the New Orleans Saints, who lead our division, and we’ve played tougher teams. We played the Detroit Lions,” Bucs Head Coach Raheem Morris told Packers media on Wednesday, when Morris was asked to explain the difference between last season and this season.

“We’ve played some really tough teams and we gotta play better. We haven’t played as hard, fast and consistent as we played last year, and in order to get more wins we have to get back to that.”

Tampa has also played the 49ers in a game the Bucs lost, 48-3.

A lot this season is different from last year, including a No. 31 ranking on defense and a third-year quarterback, Josh Freeman, whose passer rating has sagged to 72.6 following a breakout season when Freeman registered a 95.9. What has the Packers’ attention is an upset loss in Tampa in 2009, in what was Freeman’s first pro start.

“For a first start, we were able to find a way to win the game. It wasn’t pretty,” Freeman said.

Freeman will be up against the ultimate quarterback foe this Sunday when the Bucs play the Packers at Lambeau Field. Freeman will try to match Aaron Rodgers drive for drive, something no other quarterback has done for a long time.

“You have to take the mentality that you have to match them and make the most out of each possession. Turnovers are something that can’t happen and when you get into the red zone, you have to score touchdowns, not field goals. The fewer possessions by the Green Bay Packers, the better chance there is of us winning,” Freeman said.

“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be an exciting week of film study preparation and then when we get in there to play them it’s going to be fun to see those looks in person.”

“Rodgers is a beast,” Morris said. “He’s going to go out there and execute his offense. You need your defensive linemen to show up, you need your defensive backs to show up, and you have to tackle. You have to rely on your fundamental core beliefs to go play a team as good and well-prepared as the Green Bay Packers.

“They’re playing the game the way they want to play it. They’re dictating the terms. They play championship football and that’s why they have the record they have.”

Morris spoke with excitement of the challenge facing his team this week.

“We’ve got a chance to play the world champs in a great game and in a great venue,” he said, three days after being thumped in Houston, 37-9. “We had a setback. Things of that nature happen when you play good football teams in the NFL. The best thing that can happen for us is a great football team we have to go face this week to get back our focus.”

A former defensive coordinator, Morris also spoke glowingly of the Packers defense.

“This is obviously one of the best teams in the NFL. They showed that last year. Coach Capers does a great job with that defense. They go out there and play their two-man (defensive line). They play really tough defense and man-to-man coverage. They lead the league in interceptions. I know they got a lot of critical thought earlier, but when you lead the league in interceptions, it’s pretty hard for me to be critical as a coach. They find ways to win games. If you wanna nitpick and say they give up yards, I guess you could do that, but stats are for losers,” Morris said.

“Hopefully, we can get a couple of more wins and put ourselves back in this race.”

Additional coverage - Nov. 16