Quarterback Aaron Rodgers might be able to spice up the offense again soon, as long as the running game keeps churning out yards and the defense gets sacks in victories to stay in the playoff race.
Aaron Jones’ 20-yard scoring run on his only carry , with 5:59 left in overtime, gave Green Bay a 26-20 win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With the passing game struggling, the Packers (6-6) wore down the Buccaneers on the ground. Rodgers’ replacement, Brett Hundley, had runs of 18 and 7 yards on the drive to start overtime.
Getting seven sacks from the defense along with a blocked punt by Kyler Fackrell, the Packers grinded out a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. They still trail NFC North leader Minnesota by four games, but there is renewed optimism at Lambeau Field with the possibility of Rodgers returning from a collarbone injury in a couple weeks.
“When you can grind it out and do things a different way and your team’s successful … we’re a better team today, not only because we won the game but how we won,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Jameis Winston threw two touchdown passes to Cameron Brate in the quarterback’s shaky return from a shoulder injury. But the defense couldn’t hold up in overtime for the last-place Buccaneers (4-8).
“I think it speaks volumes about the character of our football team,” McCarthy said. “You know, we had some rough moments, but they just kept fighting.”
Mason Crosby’s 22-yard field goal tied the game at 20 with 2:01 left, giving the team a lift after the Bucs tried to wear out the Packers on the run.
Peyton Barber had 102 yards for 23 carries. Winston finished 21 of 32 for 270 yards, including an 11-yard scoring pass to Brate for a 20-17 lead with 6:02 left.
But Winston had defenders in his face all day and had trouble holding on to the ball. Linebacker Clay Matthews had 2 1/2 sacks of Green Bay’s seven sacks.
“We didn’t protect Jameis,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “That’s probably our worst protection game we’ve had all year.”
Back after missing three games with a right shoulder injury, Winston fumbled on a sack by Kenny Clark in the second quarter. Defensive lineman Dean Lowry snatched the loose ball in the air and rumbled 62 yards for a touchdown and Lambeau leap with a 17-7 lead.
“I don’t even know how the ball came out,” Winston said. “When I reared it back (my arm) hit something.”
Hundley finished 13 of 22 for 84 yards, adding seven carries for 66 yards. Jamaal Williams ran for 113 yards on 21 carries for Green Bay.
The Packers think they need to win their last four games to have a shot at the postseason. If they can beat the Cleveland Browns next week, it could set up a scenario in which Rodgers could return the following week at Carolina.
“Honestly I’d be fine with throwing 87 yards if we win them all,” Hundley said.
Rodgers returned to practice on Saturday for the first time since getting hurt on Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
“But for us to kind of grind these games out and, specifically speaking about the defense, understanding what we are, and trying to force turnovers … I think we realize we have to find a way to steal a few plays here and there.” — Matthews on the defense stepping up with Rodgers out.
Winston also fumbled in the fourth quarter following Evan Smith’s early snap. He was whistled for an illegal forward pass on the next play, but the mistakes were erased by the second touchdown pass to Brate on third-and-11.
The quarterback refused to blame his offensive line for poor protection, though there were a couple communication issues with Smith, who was a last-minute replacement at center after starter Joe Hawley was scratched just before the game due to illness.
“So I don’t think it’s right to be able to say that they did subpar when they overcame so much in this day,” Winston said.
Two other offensive line starters were placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.
Packers inside linebacker Jake Ryan departed in the fourth quarter with a neck injury. Also, line judge Tom Stephan had to be helped to board a cart that took him off the field after he got hurt on a third-down play with 11:08 left in the first quarter.