Preview: Super Bowl berth at stake as Rodgers, Packers host Brady, Bucs
For as much as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have accomplished in their Hall of Fame-caliber careers, they’ve rarely faced off on the field.
Never have they met with so much at stake.
When Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers (14-3) host Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) in the NFC championship game Sunday, it will be just the fourth time they’ve squared off as starting quarterbacks, and first in the playoffs.
“I remember when I heard the news about him coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility,” Rodgers said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to play against him one more time.”
The Bucs trounced the Packers 38-10 in Tampa on Oct. 18. They met two other times during Brady’s tenure in New England, with the Packers winning 26-21 at Green Bay in 2014 and the Patriots winning 31-17 in Foxborough four years later.
Both understand all eyes will be on them Sunday. Kurt Warner, the Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL Network analyst, said that’s just human nature.
“When I played, I always knew who was on the other sideline,” Warner said. “I always said when I went into these matchups, at the end of the day, I know if we’re going to win this game, I’ve got to outperform that guy. I’ve got to be better than the quarterback on the other side.”
Brady, 43, has helped the Bucs earn a franchise-record seven straight road wins. A win at Lambeau Field clinches their first Super Bowl berth since their 2002 championship season.
“This is one of the coolest stadiums in the league to play in,” Brady said. “I know they’re excited, we’ll be excited, and it will make for a great football game.”
Brady is trying to join Warner, Peyton Manning and Craig Morton as the only quarterbacks to lead two separate franchises to a Super Bowl. He already won six Super Bowls and played in nine total with the Patriots.
Green Bay is making its fourth NFC championship game appearance in the past seven seasons, but Rodgers hasn’t reached a Super Bowl since leading the Packers to a title in the 2010 season. Warner said the postseason weighs heavily on where players stack up in history.
“That’s why Tom is the GOAT (greatest of all time),” Warner said. “It’s why Joe Montana is up there and guys who’ve been there numerous times — the John Elways — and everyone else kind of gets knocked down a notch. Even though they’re been great in the regular season, there’s a combination of the two that I think weighs heavily.”
Simply put, Rodgers needs this victory more than Brady.
“He plays in one Super Bowl, I think there will be something about that that just doesn’t sit right with anybody,” Warner said. “It doesn’t sit right with any of us who love this game and know how great he’s been. It just doesn’t seem to fit.”
This may be the best remaining chance for the 37-year-old Rodgers at that elusive second Super Bowl berth.
“It’s been a while since he was last a world champion,” CBS Sports analyst and 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon said. “I think that would certainly cement his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game in my opinion. Not that he needs it, but I’m just telling you that’s probably how he’s wired.”
Green Bay has committed a league-low 11 turnovers this season, including only two during its current seven-game winning streak. The Bucs have scored 27 points off five takeaways during their two playoff victories.
LONG TIME COMING
Tampa Bay ended a 12-year playoff drought this season. The journey to the NFC championship game has been especially gratifying for ninth-year linebacker Lavonte David, eighth-year defensive linemen William Gholston and seventh-year receiver Mike Evans. They’ve spent their entire careers with the Bucs.
“It just goes to show throughout the hard times, the people upstairs and around the building believed in me,” David said. “Obviously, I believed in them, as well. It’s just an honor to still be here, to still be able to live out my dream as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.”
The Packers have allowed just 21 sacks all season and didn’t give up any sacks last week against the Los Angeles Rams, who had 53 sacks during the regular season. But they allowed five sacks in their regular-season loss to Tampa Bay.
JONES VS. JONES
Green Bay’s Aaron Jones rushed for 1,104 yards in the regular season and ran for 99 more against the Rams, but he was held to 15 yards on 10 carries when the Packers lost to Tampa Bay in October.
Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns in that Oct. 18 victory over Green Bay. He split carries with Leonard Fournette in Tampa Bay’s triumph at New Orleans last week.
ROAD BACK HOME
Tampa Bay is seeking to become the first team in league history to advance to a Super Bowl that will be played in its home stadium.
“We don’t play that game this week. That’s the message to everybody,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We play the Packers in the NFC championship game. If you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat and (will) be packing your bags on Monday.”
TAMPA BAY (13-5) at GREEN BAY (14-3)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE — Packers by 3 ½
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Buccaneers 11-7; Packers 11-6
SERIES RECORD — Packers lead 33-22-1
LAST MEETING — Buccaneers beat Packers 38-10 in Tampa, Oct. 18, 2020
LAST WEEK — Buccaneers beat Saints 30-20; Packers beat Rams 32-18
AP PRO32 RANKING — Buccaneers No. 8, Packers No. 2
BUCCANEERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (7), RUSH (28-T), PASS (2).
BUCCANEERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (1), PASS (21).
PACKERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (5), RUSH (8), PASS (9).
PACKERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (9), RUSH (13-T), PASS (7).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — This is the second playoff meeting between Tampa Bay and Green Bay. The Packers beat the Bucs 21-7 in a divisional playoff game at Green Bay on Jan. 4, 1998. … This marks the first postseason matchup between Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Bucs QB Tom Brady. They have met three times in the regular season, with Brady’s teams owning a 2-1 edge. … Brady is making a league-record 14th conference championship game appearance, his first in the NFC. He went 9-4 in AFC title games with the New England Patriots. … Brady holds postseason record for starts (43), victories (32), completions (1,065), passing yards (11,968), passing touchdowns (77) and Super Bowl titles (6). … A win would enable Brady to join Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Craig Morton as the only quarterback to lead two separate franchises into the Super Bowl. … The Bucs have won a franchise-record seven consecutive road games, including playoff wins over Washington and New Orleans. With a win at Green Bay, they’ll become the first team to advance to a Super Bowl that will be played in its home stadium. …With LB Devin White leading the way, Tampa Bay’s defense forced four turnovers in last week’s divisional-round win over the Saints. The Bucs have scored a league-high 27 points off five takeaways this postseason. … It’s Tampa Bay’s fourth NFC title game appearance, first since their Super Bowl championship run 18 years ago. … Tampa Bay led the NFL in run defense during the regular season and limited Aaron Jones to 15 yards on 10 carries in its Oct. 18 victory over the Packers. … Rodgers went 16 of 35 for 160 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the regular-season loss to Tampa Bay. In the Packers’ other 16 games, he has completed 71.9% of his passes for 4,435 yards with 50 touchdowns and three interceptions. … Rodgers is one of four All-Pro selections from Green Bay. The others are WR Davante Adams, Packers OT David Bakhtiari (injured) and C Corey Linsley. … Adams led the NFL with 18 regular-season touchdown catches despite missing two games with a hamstring injury. He also caught a touchdown pass in the Packers’ 32-18 playoff victory over the Los Angeles Rams last week. … Green Bay committed a league-low 11 turnovers during the regular season. The Packers have committed just two turnovers during their seven-game winning streak. … The Packers are in the NFC championship game for the fourth time in their last seven seasons, though they haven’t reached the Super Bowl since their 2010 championship season. Green Bay’s 2014 team lost an NFC championship game at Seattle. The 2016 team lost a conference championship game at Atlanta. Last season, the Packers fell 37-20 at San Francisco in the NFC title match. … The Packers scored an NFL-leading 31.8 points per game during the regular season. … Packers OLB Za’Darius Smith had 12 ½ sacks during the regular season and contributed one more against the Rams. … Packers DT Kenny Clark and OLB Rashan Gary each made 1 ½ sacks against the Rams. … Fantasy tip: The Bucs showed they could run the ball on Green Bay back in October, when Ronald Jones rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The trick is guessing how the Bucs will distribute carries after Jones and Leonard Fournette shared the load last week at New Orleans. The guess here is that Fournette gets more fantasy points than Jones on Sunday.