Don’t tell Aaron Rodgers that Super Bowl LV is at Raymond James Stadium.
That hasn’t been the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s happy place.
Twice, he’s left Tampa Bay injured: a shoulder in 2008 and a calf in 2014.
He showed up there hoping for something different, saying this week: “I’m hoping the third time is the charm.”
There was nothing charming about Sunday. Rodgers threw a pair of interceptions, including a rare pick-six, and the Packers (4-1) lost for the first time this season, 38-10 to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rodgers had been interception-free on his first 156 passes of the season, but on No. 157 he threw it Bucs safety Jamel Dean. It turned into something even more rare: a pick-six. Before that play, Rodgers had thrown 6,214 times in his career and only two of those had been intercepted and returned for scores. On his 6,215th throw, it happened for a third time. That’s merely one pick-six for every 2,071 throws, but two of them have come at Tampa Bay (the other was his first ever, in 2009).
Dean’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown when he jumped an out route by Davante Adams in the second quarter started a run of 38 straight points by Tampa Bay after the Packers led 10-0. Two passes later, Rodgers got picked off again — this one on another throw for Adams, this one a slant that appeared to be deflected by cornerback Carlton Davis or tipped by Adams. Either way, it landed in the hands of safety Mike Edwards.
It was just the second time in Rodgers’ career that he’s thrown interceptions on consecutive first-half drives (and the first time in nearly seven years).
Until those two throws, it looked like another Rodgers-led Green Bay masterpiece was in the works. The Packers dominated the first quarter with a field goal and a touchdown (a 1-yard run by Aaron Jones) on the first two drives. Even after it turned quickly to a 14-0 Bucs lead, Rodgers had his chances. He missed a wide-open Marcedes Lewis for what might have been a 75-yard touchdown to kill one drive and then got sacked to end the next one after Jamaal Williams missed a blitz pickup.
The Bucs’ swarming defense pressured Rodgers 12 times, the most anyone has gotten to Rodgers this season. Rodgers went just 2-of-7 for 10 yards with four sacks and a scramble when pressured. Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzed Rodgers 17 times, and he went 5-of-14 with two sacks and both of his interceptions. It was tied for the most blitzes, he’s faced over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Rodgers finished 16-of-35 for 160 yards without a touchdown and the two interceptions before coach Matt LaFleur let Tim Boyle finish the game. Rodgers’ passer rating of 35.4 was the second-lowest in a game he’s started and didn’t leave because of injury. The only one worse was Dec. 14, 2014 at Buffalo (34.3).
Rodgers dropped to 1-3 against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, but at least he came away healthy this time.
The same can’t be said for at least one other key member of the offense. All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari left in the second half with a chest injury and did not return. The Packers finished the game with Rick Wagner at left tackle. They also finished the game without a pair of defensive starters: DT Tyler Lancaster (shoulder) and safety Darnell Savage (quad).
While there’s still a long way to go, this game could have implications down the road, especially when it comes down to playoff-seeding tiebreakers. Under Rodgers, the Packers have played in four NFC Championship Games. All of them have come on the road. If this loss means the Packers would have to go back to Tampa before the Super Bowl, they might not have to worry about where the final game of the 2020 season will be played.