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Aaron Rodgers, Packers limp to the finish but secure playoff spot

12/22/2014
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Sunday Blitz: Packers-Buccaneers Recap

Jim Basquil and Ron Jaworski break down the Packers' 20-3 win over the Buccaneers.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson each totaled more than 100 yards. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 318. And running back Eddie Lacy came up a single yard short of 100.

Yet why does it seem like the Green Bay Packers are limping to the finish after a second straight run-of-the-mill performance on offense?

This wasn't the seven-drop debacle from Buffalo a week earlier -- although rookie receiver Davante Adams likely will be charged with two more this week -- but the Packers were in full grind-it-out mode in the Sunday afternoon heat of South Florida until Rodgers threw his first (and only) touchdown pass in the past seven-plus quarters when he hit Nelson for a 1-yarder with 2:45 remaining in Sunday's 20-3 victory against the punchless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We've won six of seven games," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday's game. "I'd have to classify that as playing a lot of good football, that's for sure. We'll clean this game up tomorrow. We'll be on it. We'll also start on Detroit tomorrow. I like where we're at, and I really like this football team."

That should come with the caveat of Rodgers' health. The way he limped around Raymond James Stadium after he popped his left calf muscle in the first quarter was limiting but not debilitating. As primarily a pocket passer, he managed to complete 31 of 40 passes without an interception and recorded a 108.1 rating. But where were the big plays? His longest completions were a 30-yarder to Cobb and a 28-yarder to Nelson.

The Packers know defenses coached by Lovie Smith can do that. The first-year Bucs coach and his Cover-2 scheme often kept the Packers in check during his days with the Chicago Bears. It requires a dink-and-dunk mentality that Rodgers accepted. But not since the first half of the Dec. 8 "Monday Night Football" game against the Atlanta Falcons have the Packers looked explosive on offense.

"We hit a little bit of a slump today, as you could tell," center Corey Linsley said. "We've put 50 points on teams this year and didn't necessarily do it today. I think that we're in a little slump. I think this speed bump is going to propel us right to where we want to be. I think we're right where we want to be."

Of course, Linsley, a rookie, admitted he's not necessarily experienced in such matters.

"Obviously, I've been here for 15 games," he said. "That' it."

The Packers (11-4) can't afford to limp through next Sunday's NFC North title game against the Detroit Lions, a team that already showed it could stop Rodgers and the offense once this season in their 19-7 Week 3 win at Ford Field. But Rodgers and McCarthy have taken this path time and again. The win Sunday clinched their sixth straight playoff appearance, and McCarthy-led teams have now made the postseason in seven of the last nine years. They won an elimination game last year in Week 17, when they beat the Chicago Bears to grab the NFC North.

"We've been here before; we know what this looks like," McCarthy said.

And neither he nor Rodgers seemed concerned that the offense has slowed down from its torrid midseason pace. If anything, it may have been a product of how McCarthy changed his play-calling after Rodgers' injury.

"I was probably more affected by it than anybody with some of the play calls," McCarthy said. "Really, really a gritty performance by Aaron."

Rodgers likes what he has in his running game, which gave the Packers their longest play of the game -- a 44-yard touchdown run by Lacy in the first quarter on a play that Rodgers adjusted at the line of scrimmage.

"I think we have good balance," Rodgers said. "We've been working on that the last six or eight weeks, making sure we get Eddie a number of touches in the game and also finding ways to get Randall involved."

Cobb caught 14 passes for his 131 yards, while Nelson added nine to get to 113.

Lacy carried 17 times before cramps ended his day early in the fourth quarter.

And Rodgers didn't come out until Matt Flynn replaced him to take a knee on the final three snaps.

"We found a way to win," Cobb said. "At the end of the day, that's all that matters. Our defense played well. They got a bunch of sacks and got us the ball back. We were able to move the ball well, we just didn't get into the end zone like we should. We understand that moving forward we have to continue to find a way to put the points up and put our defense in a better situation and give them a little bit more cushion.

"But we won. We're in the playoffs, and that's the most important thing right now."