Packers Notebook (at Buccaneers)

Bill Huber

Battle of legendary QBs

For just the fifth time, it will be Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady when the Green Bay Packers travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a huge early-season showdown on Sunday.

Obviously, given the living-legend status of the quarterbacks, they will be the focus this week. The internal focus of the quarterbacks, though, will be elsewhere. The Rodgers-led Packers offense turned in a dismal opener at Minnesota and an incomplete performance on Sunday night against Chicago. The Brady-led Buccaneers offense has scored only 39 points in two games.

“I’m just trying to temper expectations,” Rodgers said after throwing two touchdown passes vs. Chicago but also misfiring on what should have been a first-drive touchdown to Allen Lazard and botching a handoff to AJ Dillon for an unforced turnover.

“Obviously, I’m going to enjoy the heck out of this one tonight, but we’ve got a big one next week, a tough road trip, and it’s got to be better. This was better than week one but we’ve got to be better than this if we want to compete with Tampa.”

A few hours earlier, Brady had a similar message after a 20-10 victory at New Orleans. The Buccaneers’ offense has sputtered through two games. Brady has completed 59% of his passes and compiled an 82.8 passer rating, both marks far distant from his usual standard.

“It’s always exciting to go up against the good teams, and I feel like we faced two good teams earlier in the year that we started with,” Brady said on the SiriusXM podcast Let’s Go! with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray.

“We’re facing a third one now and we’ve got to rise to the challenge. And we’re playing at home for the first time; it’s our home opener. I’m excited to be out there in front of our home crowd. But it’s going to take better football on offense than what we’ve played. We’ve got to start playing the way that we’re capable. And I’ve got to start doing a better job, and it starts this week.”

Brady and Rodgers are two of the best in NFL history. A seven-time Super Bowl champion, the 45-year-old Brady is No. 1 all-time with 626 touchdown passes. That’s 55 more than Drew Brees as he continues to rewrite the NFL record book.

Against Chicago, Rodgers became the fifth quarterback with 450 touchdown passes. He’s at 451 while throwing only 94 interceptions.

The quarterbacks, with their limited offenses, will face top defenses. The Buccaneers could be down their three top receivers; Mike Evans is appealing a suspension and Chris Godwin and Julio Jones were inactive last week. The Packers are still trying to find their way without Davante Adams. Injuries have impacted both offensive lines, too.

“It’s a big challenge,” Brady said. “It’s a new defensive coordinator since the last time we played them and they have some really talented players on defense, really physical up front, some great edge rushers.

“Rashan Gary is a former Michigan guy that I love and he’s a great player, rushes the quarterback so well. They have really athletic linebackers, first-round pick this year (Quay Walker joining All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell).”

Elgton Jenkins returns

Green Bay got better vs. Chicago with the return of offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins following last year’s torn ACL.

A Pro Bowl guard in 2020 who played at a high level in place of David Bakhtiari at left tackle in 2021, he got the start at right tackle. It wasn’t his finest performance but Rodgers was thrilled to get back one of the team’s top players.

“Let me just say this about success,” Rodgers said after the Chicago game, “and I would say the same thing to these guys and have said the same thing: The definition of success isn’t always measured in stats. And for Elgton, I thought tonight was an absolutely success. I really do. He’s been out for a long time, and he’s battled in practice and he’s battled in his rehab and he went out there and played an NFL football game. That to me is a successful night.

“A lot of times we get caught up in a definition of success that’s never really attainable. So, we live in this feedback loop of negative self-talk and self-criticism that I don’t think is good for a healthy ego or good for our own confidence. What I know the guys were telling him and what I feel about him is, that tonight was a huge success for Elgton. And I couldn’t be prouder of Elgton Jenkins.”

Slammin’ Sammy

Without Adams, Green Bay’s receiver corps is a work in progress. With rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs not quite ready for primetime, the Packers leaned on veterans Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb against Chicago.

With Rodgers in spread-the-ball mode, Watkins caught three passes for 93 yards. He had a 14-yard catch on the opening scoring drive, a 24-yarder to set up the first touchdown and a 55-yarder on the clinching drive.

“I definitely don’t see him just as a possession-type receiver. I think that was pretty evident last night,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “He still has an unbelievable acceleration. He’s so strong. He can run through a ball. It was great to create some explosive plays with him. He just does such a great job of having aggressive hands and running through the football and it created an explosive play.”

Watkins’ value goes beyond his ability to catch a few passes. He was an impact blocker to help fuel a Packers rushing attack that topped 200 yards. The blocking ability of Watkins and Lazard opens more possibilities for LaFleur.

“I love the run game,” Watkins said. “It keeps you so involved with going down there, cracking safeties. The wideouts are involved the whole game, so you can’t go out there and teeter around or take a play off. If you’re not blocking, then you really don’t need to be out there, so it’s fun.

“I’ve never been part of an offense that you had to block. In this offense, you have to go down there and crack the safety. You have to get your blocks and, honestly, I think that’s fun. It keeps me going, keeps me in the game. And then the next play, they might do a play-action and you’re wide open. That’s the luxury of being in this offense, blocking and talking trash and hitting guys in the mouth.”