Bucs, Packers set for rematch in NFC Championship battle
The beat down was so horrific that a possible rematch didn’t seem enticing at the time.
But three months later, the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and top-seeded Green Bay Packers are clearly the best two teams in the conference and they will square off again in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The winner advances to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in a venue highly familiar to one of these teams — Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
But flash back to Week 6 when the host Buccaneers spotted Green Bay 10 first-quarter points and then spent the rest of the game pounding and dismantling the Packers in a 38-10 shellacking.
Tampa Bay star linebacker Devin White didn’t mince words afterward, saying the Packers “didn’t deserve to be on the field with us.”
In the eyes of Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, White’s words aren’t bulletin-board material. They are facts.
“You know, hey, he was right. They whipped us,” LaFleur said earlier this week. “There’s no sense in talking about it. The only thing you can do is you’ve got to prepare the best you can and then go prove it.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions — one returned for a touchdown by cornerback Jamel Dean — and was sacked four times while passing for just 160 yards. His accuracy rate (45.7 on 16-of-35 passing) was his worst of the season.
Though things went exceedingly well in the first matchup, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians can sum up the meeting this way: Doesn’t mean a thing.
“You can’t fall into that trap of what happened last time,” Arians said. “They’re a much, much better football team and we’re a much better football team. Both (teams are) very different right now, so you better take care of today’s work each and every day.”
Tampa Bay reached the NFC title game with a solid 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Packers advanced with a 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.
In fact, the Buccaneers also won at Washington this postseason and have won seven straight road games as they enter hallowed Lambeau Field while weather reports forecast a 50-percent chance of snow.
“Let’s keep that streak going — that would be pretty sweet,” Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said. “Let’s get another one. We’re going to be challenged to get it because we’re going up against a great football team.
“It’s a great environment. This is one of the coolest stadiums in the league to play in. I know they’re excited, we’ll be excited, and it will make for a great football game.”
Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champ, will be playing in his 14th career league championship final and went 9-4 in AFC title games during his stint with the New England Patriots. The 43-year-old has been performing like someone younger as he passed for 4,633 yards and set a franchise record with 40 touchdown passes in the regular season.
Rodgers also had a stellar season with 4,299 yards and a franchise-record 48 touchdown passes and is a heavy favorite to win NFL MVP honors. He is playing in his fifth NFC title game and is looking to reach his second Super Bowl.
That lone Super Bowl appearance was 10 years ago, but Rodgers insists he isn’t feeling a raise in the stress level.
“No more pressure than usual,” Rodgers said. “It starts with the mentality and focus. Obviously, I put pressure on myself to perform every single week. There’s a lot to be said to be able to harness that pressure and the fear of failure and focus it into a real positive. But I don’t feel any extra pressure this week.”
Despite the sour outing against the Buccaneers, Rodgers and the Packers committed a league-low 11 turnovers in the regular season. Green Bay also features elite wideout Davante Adams, who led the NFL with 18 touchdowns receptions while making 115 catches for 1,374 yards.
Tampa Bay led the league in defending the run (80.6 yards per game), second-year pro White (140 tackles, nine sacks) blossomed into one of the top linebackers in the NFL and Mike Evans (NFL record seventh straight 1,000-yard season to begin a career) leads a deep group of targets.
Sunday’s game marks the first time Green Bay has hosted the NFC title game since the 2007 season when Rodgers was the backup to Brett Favre. The Packers lost to the New York Giants 23-20 in overtime.
Tampa Bay is playing in its first NFC championship contest since the 2002 season. The Buccaneers posted a 27-10 win over the host Philadelphia Eagles and went on to rout the then-Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the Super Bowl.
–Field Level Media