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Polzin: Packers made a statement with road win, even if it wasn't easy on the eyes

"Winning pretty against Tampa Bay — even if it's in the process of navigating through some issues of its own — would have been a lot to ask. So the Packers did what they had to do," writes Jim Polzin.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Logan Hall (90) in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 25, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA TODAY Sports
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TAMPA, Fla. — The Green Bay Packers are still trying to figure some things out. That much is clear three weeks into the 2022 season.

But when a Tom Brady pass on a 2-point conversion fell incomplete in the south end zone of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 25, all-but sealing a 14-12 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it felt like significant moment for a team in search of an identity.

If nothing else, Aaron Rodgers and Co. will exit the month of September having shown they're still a force to be reckoned with in the NFC even as they work out some kinks. Splitting road games against a pair of likely playoff contenders sets up the Packers nicely to make a run during a favorable portion of the schedule over the next month.

"If you would've said in the offseason we'd be 2-1 after three with these two tough road games, I'd say that's probably pretty good, considering that you would expect Minnesota and Tampa Bay to be in the top seven teams at the end of the season," Rodgers said. "So I feel good about that."

He should. Rodgers was quick to point out that beating Brady and the Buccaneers gives the Packers a tiebreaker that could come in handy down the road. A loss wouldn't have been meant it was time to panic because the Packers proved back in 2012, 2013 and 2014 that they could start a season 1-2 and still make the playoffs, but blowing an 11-point halftime lead would have been a tough pill to swallow.

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Winning pretty against Tampa Bay — even if it's in the process of navigating through some issues of its own — would have been a lot to ask. So the Packers did what they had to do, aesthetics be damned.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) runs with the ball on Sunday, Sept. 25, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports

Getting left tackle David Bakhtiari back in the lineup, even in a platoon role, was important. So was seeing more proof of the continued development of rookie wide receiver Romeo Doubs, who had eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.

What made this win somewhat bizarre was the Jekyll-and-Hyde performance from the offense. The Packers scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game ... and their second ... and were on the doorstep at the close of their third possession.

Through its first 27 plays, the offense had produced 203 yards and had scored one more point than this fast and physical Tampa Bay defense had allowed in its first two games combined. But Aaron Jones fumbled inside the 5-yard line on a third-down play and Green Bay never seriously threatened to score after that, combining seven punts with two turnovers over the span of nine possessions.

"It's never easy," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "I told our guys we'll never apologize for winning. You've just got to find a way and we did."

A stalled offense may have been a recipe for a loss in previous seasons but the defense delivered a gem. The Packers were playing with fire by giving Brady so many chances in a close game, though Rodgers said it didn't feel that way to him.

"Normally, yes, but our defense was playing so good," he said. "The only couple times they got into a rhythm, it looked like, we caused turnovers."

Well, at least until the final series, when Brady was doing Brady things and guided an offense depleted by injuries down the field for a touchdown that cut Green Bay's lead to two points.

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The Bucs shot themselves in the foot with a delay of game penalty and Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell got in the way of Brady's pass to Russell Gage Jr. on the 2-point play.

"It's huge," Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark said. "Just shows the character of our team. We talked about earlier this year, we were going to have to win games a lot of different ways. This is one of them. It was a defensive game. We beat them 14-12. In the past, we never really won games like this. It's just good to see us making that turnaround and able to win games like this. That's going to be a key as the season goes forward."

This a much different Green Bay team than the 2021 version but there has been some symmetry to the start of both seasons. The Packers came out flat in Week 1 both times, won at home the following week and produced a statement win on the road in Week 3.

Last year it was outlasting San Francisco in a fairly high-scoring affair. This time it was a defensive grinder in the Florida heat.

"These are the wins that you get early in the season," Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard said, "that can help you separate yourself from the rest of the pack come December and January."

That's three months from now and a lot can happen between now and then. But if Sunday showed anything, it's that the Packers almost certainly will be part of the conversation when that time comes.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

© 2022 The Wisconsin State Journal

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