By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers are just full of surprises.
Green Bay’s offense, Hundley rise up when it matters most after struggling8 loss
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With their season on the brink, they started sluggish, found their running game, proceeded to ignore it and ultimately won with it.
Aaron Jones, who was unused as a ball carrier until the game’s final play, bolted 20 yards for the overtime TD to secure Green Bay’s 26-20 victory over Tampa Bay Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The victory was especially relevant on the heels of word that Aaron Rodgers, who turned 34 Saturday, was activated off injured reserve and practiced with the scout team.
That’s why it was incumbent on his teammates to keep the Packers’ slim playoff hopes alive.
Green Bay (6-6) is four games behind the NFC North-leading Vikings (10-2), and a division title seems remote, a wild-card berth definitely remains in play.
In one of the choppier games in memory, the Packers’ offense should’ve run more often but didn’t, and the Bucs’ offense couldn’t get out of its own way.
Meantime, Green Bay relied on two unlikely sources to score game-turning touchdowns to get past the pesky Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If it wasn’t a defensive end hustling to turn a fumble recovery into a 62-yard touchdown return, it was the ball-carrying “afterthought” racing 20 yards for a score and an OT win.
Dean Lowry, the Packers’ stellar defensive lineman, turned a head’s up play into a quick six points. Of all the conversations involving Lowry’s game, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound end scarcely could’ve imagined it would center on his running style.
And yet, Lowry’s head’s up hustle proved critical.
So did Jones’ ability to stay mentally focused.
Jones, whose rapid return after a knee injury was nothing short of amazing, celebrated in style. He had two snaps from scrimmage, one carry and a 20-yard game-winning run.
All day, Jones watched while fellow rookie back Jamaal Williams pounded away at the Bucs’ defense.
Williams blasted his way to 113 yards on 21 carries for an impressive 5.4-yards-per-carry average. Williams showed explosiveness with a 25-yard carry and power near the goal-line when he got into the end zone with a rugged run.
Brett Hundley’s performance teetered between “ho” and “hum” for most of the day. However, he did direct a 10-play, 70-yard drive in 4:01 to send the game into overtime.
Hundley rushed for 66 yards including carries of 18 and 17 yards during the Packers’ game-winning overtime drive.
Hundley finished 13 of 22 for 84 yards, an interception and a paltry 48.3 passer rating. Davante Adams, the leading receiver, managed just four catches for 42 yards.
Jordy Nelson caught an irrelevant five passes for 17 yards.
Somehow, some way, the Packers need to devise a more sustainable, reliable passing attack with Hundley. The downfield throws are inconsequential with seemingly no chance. The intermediate passing attack lacks the catch-and-run dynamic.
In short, the reliable old screen remains Green Bay’s best friend.
That has to change or the Packers risk being upset at Cleveland.
The Packers’ defense rose to the occasion after an ugly start.
The Bucs’ Jameis Winston celebrated his return from injury by leading an opening-drive touchdown.
After that, Winston was inconsistent and mostly ineffective.
Winston finished 21 of 32 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and a better-than-you’d-think 112.8 rating.
While he didn’t throw an interception, his fumble while being sacked by Kenny Clark led to Lowry’s recovery and touchdown. It gave the Packers a 17-7 lead.
Lowry said it was key having Kenny Clark (ankle) and Clay Matthews both back in the lineup.
Matthews had 2 ½ sacks and appeared to be the dominant player he has been through much of his career.
The Packers need Matthews to be THAT GUY the rest of this season if they are going to continue to win.
“It was huge,” Lowry told reporters. “They both had sacks today. Any time you can get pressure on the quarterback, that’s huge for, I think, just translating into victories. Kenny, I think just the way he battled a week after having an ankle sprain, was really special. He’s been a great player for us all year.”
Now, with Rodgers’ return a real possibility, it’s up to Hundley and the defense to keep it going at the winless Browns (0-12).
Matthews intends to help Green Bay do just that.
It’s a way to keep the season alive for the team, and its future Hall of Fame quarterback, who has done that for so often.
“He’s kind of carried this team for the better part of 10 years, 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, like three last week, and that touchdown that Dean had this week, I think we realize we have to find a way to steal a few plays here and there,” Matthews said. “Hopefully that pays dividends when he is, if he is able to come back (Rodgers), just because I think we’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity. But we’ll see what that means when and if he does come back.”
While there is some uncertainty regarding Rodgers’ healthy return this season, this much is fact: If the Packers don’t continue to win in his absence he won’t be brought back at all.