Jones scores in OT as Packers topple Buccaneers
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned to practice on Saturday in hopes of getting back into the lineup to aid in the Green Bay Packers’ desperate playoff push.
Those playoff hopes stayed alive as Aaron Jones rushed for a 20-yard touchdown with 5:59 remaining in overtime as the Packers posted a 26-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay won the overtime coin toss and won the game on the first carry of the contest for Jones, who missed the last two games with a knee injury. He was stacked up at the line of scrimmage, bounced left, got a block from wide receiver Jordy Nelson and dived into the end zone.
“Most of the time,” Jones said, “people just run behind their offensive linemen and push for what they can, but I saw how they all crashed in. I noticed the open lane, and I just took it.”
Quarterback Brett Hundley escaped a sack and ran for 7 yards on third-and-4. He also rushed for 18 yards on a read-option and completed a swing pass to running back Jamaal Williams for a gain of 12 to set up Jones’ winning run.
The Packers improved to 6-6 and broke a three-game home losing streak. They play at winless Cleveland next Sunday before Rodgers could potentially return for games at Carolina, at home against Minnesota and at Detroit.
“Since Aaron was injured, whether it was the day of or the day after, I made it clear that all three phases need to play better or play different and that was the difference today,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “At the end of the day, we did what we had to do to win the game.”
Tampa Bay fell to 4-8 despite outgaining the Packers 395-276. It was total domination in regulation with a 395-204 edge and 29 more snaps.
“The scoreboard is what the scoreboard is,” Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said.
Quarterback Jameis Winston returned after missing the past three games with a shoulder injury. He passed for 270 yards and two touchdowns and running back Peyton Barber ran for 102 yards.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost, but we got the chance to play in one of the most beautiful stadiums ever,” Winston said. “I mean, it’s great. I met Aaron Rodgers today, too, and that was a plus.”
Winston threw the go-ahead touchdown pass with 6:02 remaining. One play after being 2 yards past the line of scrimmage on a touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, he hit tight end Cameron Brate for an 11-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.
The Packers had no first downs in the second half as they embarked on a game-tying drive. Hundley’s 14-yard run on a read-option converted a third-and-2, and a 14-yard pass to Davante Adams, paired with a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end William Gholston, gave the Packers a first down at the 14. The drive stalled, however, when safety Justin Evans tackled Nelson a foot short of the first down on third-and-1.
Mason Crosby’s 22-yard field goal tied the game with 2:01 remaining.
The Buccaneers went nowhere, due in large part to center Evan Smith’s illegal block eliminating a big gain on a screen and a second-down sack by defensive tackle Kenny Clark. The Packers had one chance in regulation, starting at their 38 with 44 seconds remaining, but failed to effectively move the ball.
The NFL’s last-ranked pass defense had its way with Rodgers’ backup, Hundley. Making his sixth start with Rodgers sidelined with a broken collarbone, Hundley completed 13 of 22 passes for 84 yards and one interception. Green Bay had 47 net passing yards before its game-tying series.
A key moment came at the start of the fourth quarter, which started with the Bucs having a second-and-goal at the 3. After an incomplete pass made it third down, Winston lined up in shotgun and walked to the line of scrimmage to adjust the play. Smith snapped the ball, with Winston scurrying back to the 12 to recover. Patrick Murray’s 30-yard field goal cut the margin to 17-13 with 14:31 remaining.
Two big plays by Green Bay’s beleaguered special teams and defense provided a 17-10 halftime lead.
With the Buccaneers leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Evans made a leaping interception. Winston and Co. couldn’t take advantage, and Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell blew through Tampa Bay’s interior protection to block the punt. That gave the Packers the ball at the Bucs’ 45. A 25-yard run by Williams set up his 1-yard touchdown.
Tampa Bay advanced past midfield on the ensuing possession, but Clark sacked Winston. The ball popped loose and was caught by defensive tackle Dean Lowry, who sprinted 62 yards for a touchdown that made it 17-7.
“Yeah, those were two huge plays that didn’t go our way in the first half. It hurt us a lot,” Koetter said.
Murray’s 36-yard field goal cut the deficit to 17-10 at halftime.
Tampa Bay took a quick 7-0 lead on Winston’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Brate, who made a one-handed catch and beat defensive back Jermaine Whitehead to the end zone.
The Packers answered with a 14-play scoring drive that managed only a field goal. Hundley threw a poor pass to receiver Geronimo Allison, who was all alone for what should have been a 19-yard touchdown.
NOTES: With a kickoff temperature of 42 degrees, this was the ninth December game in Lambeau Field history with a temperature of at least 40. The Packers were 8-0 in those games. ... Tampa Bay played without starting DE Robert Ayers (concussion), CB Vernon Hargreaves (hamstring) and RB Doug Martin (concussion). ... Without Martin, Peyton Barber rushed for a career-high 102 yards. He had only 88 yards on the season. ... Packers OLB Clay Matthews, who missed last week’s game and had 3.5 sacks on the season, had 2.5 on Sunday. Packers DT Kenny Clark, last year’s first-round pick, recorded his first two career sacks. Green Bay had seven sacks, second-most in franchise history behind its eight vs. Philadelphia in 2004.