Buccaneers 7, Packers 0
NFL Conference Championships
It appears the snow that was forecast for the vicinity around Lambeau Field this afternoon has subsided just before kickoff in Green Bay. But the area received more than a dusting of snow earlier in the afternoon. Temperatures for kickoff are hovering around 28 degrees. And with a nearly 10-mile an hour wind, the wind chill is estimaged at 21 degrees.
But there is no additional snow in the forecast. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow — it’s central Wisconsin, after all. The atmosphere is typical for a January playoff game in Green Bay: players breath is visible when they exhale. Most players are wearing gloves and there heaters on the sidelines.
Lambeau Field’s extensive heating system has kept the turf there from collecting snow (the field was covered with a tarp before the game). And five minutes before the game’s 3:05 p.m. Eastern kickoff, the sun emerged from behind the persistent clouds in the area.
Sunday’s N.F.C. championship is Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s 20th career playoff game, which includes a 4-0 postseason run to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season. But the Packers’ record with Rodgers under center has been mediocre at best since the Super Bowl victory.
The Packers have been 7-7 in the playoffs since 2010, including three losses in conference championship games. While each of the conference games were on the road, the last two, in San Francisco after the 2019 regular season and Atlanta three years earlier, were blowouts. Green Bay also lost the 2014 conference championship game in overtime at Seattle, 28-22.
The Packers have also lost in the divisional round three times, at home to the Giants in 2011, at San Francisco in 2012 and at Arizona in 2015, and in the wild-card round at home against the 49ers in 2013.
Rodgers is 12-8 overall in the postseason.
Tom Brady in Conference Championships:
9-4 W-L, 18 TD, 14 INT, 6.95 Y/A, 83.3 rating
Tom Brady in Road Conf. Championships:
3-3 W-L, 6 TD, 5 INT, 6.99 Y/A, 80.9 rating
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 24, 2021
Tampa Bay will be without receiver Antonio Brown, who led the team in receiving targets during the final five weeks of the regular season, in the N.F.C. championship game because of a knee injury sustained in the Buccaneers’ victory over New Orleans last weekend.
“He wasn’t as close as we’d hoped, so we’ll get him ready for the next one,” Tampa Bay Coach Bruce Arians said of Brown, who was an All-Pro four times for the Pittsburgh Steelers and has played in two conference championship games, as well as a Super Bowl. Brown signed a free-agent contract with Tampa Bay in late October, after serving an eight-game suspension handed down by the N.F.L. after pleading no contest to burglary and battery charges and receiving two years’ probation.
Brown still faces a league investigation into accusations in a lawsuit that he sexually assaulted his former trainer in 2017 and 2018. Brown has denied the allegations.
“Other guys are going to have step up and do the job, I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that haven’t been out there as much when A.B’s been in there,” Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said of Brown, who had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular season games.
Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was also ruled out for the game after testing his ankle injury in pregame warm-ups. Winfield played in all 18 games and finished with 91 tackles during the regular season, third-most on the team.
Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans, who leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, is available but figures to be limited by a knee injury.
One of the keys to Tampa Bay’s six-game win streak, which has included two road playoff games, has been the Buccaneers’ ability to force turnovers and to convert those miscues into points. In the 2020 postseason, the Buccaneers have scored 27 points directly related to five turnovers — four in an upset of the New Orleans Saints in last weekend’s divisional round victory.
But against the Packers, Tampa Bay’s defense will be going up against a team that lost a league-low 11 turnovers during the regular season.
“Everyone understands the emphasis on protecting the football at all times, especially in the playoffs,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “And as offensive players, we have to know that’s a constant emphasis of the defense. So it’s a recognized priority.”
In 16 regular-season games and one playoff game, Rodgers has thrown just five interceptions (and 50 touchdowns).
If they win on Sunday, the Buccaneers will be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Several Buccaneers were asked last week about whether they had considered playing in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., which is within sight of the team’s practice facility. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David said he noticed the Super Bowl decorations and banners being added to the stadium on his drive to practice on Wednesday, which, he said, drove home the game’s consequence.
But Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians was of a different mind-set.
“We don’t play that game this week — that’s the message to everybody,” Arians said. “We play the Packers in the N.F.C. championship game. If you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat and will be packing your bags on Monday.”
While no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium, in January 1985 the San Francisco 49ers played Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in nearby Palo Alto, Calif., and in January 1980 the Los Angeles Rams played Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Green Bay and Tampa Bay met in Week 6 of the 2020 regular season, on Oct. 18, with the Buccaneers routing the Packers, 38-10. Green Bay jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Tampa Bay’s defense kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers off balance by sacking him five times. Things were not much better for Green Bay when it turned to the ground game as top running back Aaron Jones had only 15 yards on 10 carries.
Behind the veteran tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul (a Pro Bowl selection) and the rookie Devin White, the Buccaneers generated tremendous pressure throughout the regular season, toppling quarterbacks 48 times, tied for the fourth-highest sack total in the N.F.L.
It was the third time Rodgers and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady have gone head-to-head. In 2018, Brady’s New England Patriots thrashed Green Bay in Foxborough, Mass., 31-17. In 2014 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., the Packers defeated Brady and New England, 26-21.
Sunday’s game will be the first time Rodgers and Brady meet in the playoffs.