Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Bucs: It's Not the Bay of Pigs Anymore

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Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Bucs: It's Not the Bay of Pigs Anymore
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In the late 1980's, when ESPN was doing their NFL Primetime show, Chris Berman and the late Pete Axthelm coined the phrase "the Bay of Pigs", talking about any matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The actual Bay of Pigs episode happened very early in the John F. Kennedy administration in April, 1961, when an attempted invasion of Cuba was woefully executed, mostly due to poor CIA planning.
 
Like the attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961, both the Packers and Bucs in the late 80s were also woeful.  It started for the Packers in 1986, when head coach Forrest Gregg gutted the team to try and bring some youth to the squad.  The Pack suffered losing seasons of 4-12, 5-9-1 and 4-12 from 1986-1988.  Then in 1988 Lindy Infante started his head coaching regime.
 
Infante, with the help of QB Don Majkowski, led the Packers to a 10-6 record in 1989.  However, the success was short lived as the team was 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991.  Infante lost his job after the 1991 season when Ron Wolf arrived on the scene. 
 
The Packers stopped their free fall in 1992, when head coach Mike Holmgren and QB Brett Favre both came to Green Bay via Wolf.  Since then, except for two years (2005 and 2008), the Packers have been .500 or better every year, and actually have the best record in the NFL overall during that time. 

Of course, the team has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.  The Packers have also been in 27 playoff games since 1993, winning 16 of those games.

Current head coach Mike McCarthy has a career 57-32 regular season record in five-plus years in Green Bay. He even has a 5-2 record in the playoffs which includes the win in Super Bowl XLV.  McCarthy has the Packers at 9-0 to start the 2011 season and the team has won 15 straight games since 2010.
 
The Bucs had success early in their franchise history winning the NFC Central in both 1979 and 1981.  In fact, the 1979 team made the NFC Championship game.  Even with that success, people always talked about the 0-26 start when the franchise became an expansion team in 1976.  From 1983 on, things got progressively worse for the Bucs.
 
The Bucs suffered 12 straight double digit losing seasons from 1983 until 1994, and didn't have a winning record until 1997, when the team went 10-6.  The biggest reason for the turnaround was head coach Tony Dungy. 

Dungy coached from 1996-2001 and led the Bucs to a 54-42 record overall, including the 1999 NFC Central crown and appearance in the NFC Championship game that year, but the playoffs overall were Dungy's Achilles heel in Tampa.
 
The Bucs couldn't seem to get over the hump under Dungy during the playoffs, and the Glazer family finally made a coaching change in 2002.  Former Packer assistant coach Jon Gruden took over as head coach in 2002, and sure enough, the team won it all, as the Bucs beat Gruden's former team, the Oakland Raiders, in the Super Bowl that year.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

 

But the Bucs were a very inconsistent team under Gruden, as the team was 57-55 in his seven years in Tampa.  The team did win three NFC South divisional titles under Gruden, but never won a playoff game after the Super Bowl winning season.  The Bucs also finished third twice in the NFC South and also 4th twice in the division under Gruden.

That all led to the firing of Gruden and the hiring of Raheem Morris as head coach.  Morris and the Bucs limped to a 3-13 record in 2009, before surprising the football world with a 10-6 mark in 2010.  Things have gone south in 2011 however, as the Bucs are now 4-5 and have lost three straight games.

The heat in the kitchen is getting hotter for Morris, as some see a team that is prone to making mistakes at key times during games, plus a squad that has has been badly beaten on a couple of occasions.  The term "lack of effort" has been used to describe the Bucs play at times. 

Before we talk about the upcoming game between the Bucs and Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, let us first reflect on the 2010 season and how a couple of plays changed the reality of what eventually happened. 

The Bucs, Packers and Giants all finished 10-6 last season.  The Packers ended up winning the tie breaker and ended up getting the 6th seed in the NFC playoffs.  The Packers ended up winning three road games in very hostile environments before winning the Super Bowl.  The Packers became the first 6th seed from the NFC to ever win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

However, both the Bucs and the Giants could have, some say should have, been 11-5 last season.  It all happened on the same day too.  The Sunday that all fans of the Packers should always fondly remember is Dec, 19.  Now that was the day the Packers without Aaron Rodgers (concussion) lost 31-27 to the New England Patriots.

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So...why was that particular day helpful to the Packers, even with that loss?

First, the Giants allowed the Eagles to score 28 points in the 4th quarter at New Meadowlands Stadium and lost 38-31, which included a 65-yard game winning punt return by DeSean Jackson on the last play of the game.

The Bucs also lost that Sunday, as they lost to the Lions at home 23-20 in OT.  The key play of that game was an offensive pass interference call on TE Kellen Winslow Jr. during a play in which he caught a TD pass in the fourth quarter.

The play was wiped out and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal only. The NFL later contacted the Bucs and said that the play should have stood and that there was NOT offensive pass interference.

That day changed the destiny of the Packers.  It was also the last time the Packers have lost a game.

Because of his team's success, McCarthy was signed to a three-year contract extension in March of 2011.  Both McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson are signed through the 2015 season.

That day also changed the destiny of the Bucs.  Imagine if the Bucs would have made the playoffs as a sixth seed.  Nobody knows if the Bucs could have matched what the Packers did last year in the playoffs, but a playoff spot would have certainly helped Morris and his status, as he tries to right the ship of the Bucs in the troubled waters of the 2011 season.

Both Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik are being questioned right now and it's not a sure thing that either will return in 2012, unless the current situation reverses itself. 

The Dominik/Morris regime got off to a rocky start when the Bucs fired both the offensive coordinator (Jeff Jagodzinski) and the defensive coordinator (Jim Bates) in Morris' first year as head coach.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In fact, Jagodzinski didn't even survive until the regular season in 2009.  He was fired just before the last preseason game for the Bucs and was replaced by Greg Olson.  Bates at least lasted until late November before he was fired with Morris taking over his duties.

That rocky start was followed by a 10-6 mark last year, which came very close to getting a playoff spot as well.  The coaching skills of Morris were lauded as he became the first coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to start 10 rookies and finish with a winning record.  But that was last year.

The 2011 season has been much different.  The Bucs' lack of quality depth is very apparent.  Injuries have hurt as S Cody Grimm, RB Earnest Graham and DT Gerald McCoy have been lost for the season.  The Bucs made a waiver claim on Albert Haynesworth to help offset the loss of McCoy.

The team has struggled on both offense and defense in 2011.  The Bucs are ranked 16th in total offense, as they are ranked 15th in passing offense, but only 24th in rushing offense.  A lot of the issues concerning the offense of the Bucs can be traced to the mediocre season that QB Josh Freeman is having.

Freeman has thrown only nine TD passes compared to 13 picks for 2,174 yards and has a QB rating of 72.6.  That pales in comparison to his stellar 2010 campaign, when Freeman threw 25 TD passes compared to just 6 picks for 3,451 yards and had a nice 95.9 QB rating.

Freeman did admit to the press this week that the thumb on his throwing hand has been bothering him for a few weeks.  In the three games that the Bucs have lost in a row, Freeman has thrown four TD passes compared to seven picks.

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But the woes of the Bucs can't just be blamed on Freeman and the offense.  The defense has been awful for the most part.  The Bucs are ranked 31st in total defense in the NFL.  The Bucs have given up an average of 25.9 points a game, which only three teams in the NFL can top.

The Bucs are ranked 28th in pass defense and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 94.6 QB rating against them.  That's not a good sign when Aaron Rodgers will be playing against the Bucs on Sunday.  Nor is the fact that the Bucs have given up eight 40-plus yard passing plays this year.  That is second in the NFL.

The Bucs have also been gashed stopping the run, as the team is ranked 28th in rushing defense.  The Bucs allow an average of 138.2 yards a game vs. the run.

The Packers on the other hand seem to running on all cylinders right now.  The team is 9-0 and has won 15 games in a row.  It is led by Rodgers, who is having an MVP-type season.  

Currently, Rodgers has thrown 28 TD passes to just three interceptions for 2,869 yards and also has a 130.7 QB rating. Rodgers has also completed 72.9 percent of his passes.

Add to that, Rodgers has not had a QB rating below 111.4 all season. For nine straight games.  If Rodgers has a QB rating of over 100 vs. the Bucs, he will have set a new NFL record.  Overall, the Packers are fourth in the NFL in total offense, including third in passing offense.

Based on the performance of the pass defense of the Bucs so far this season, it looks like Rodgers could have another big day on Sunday.  Rodgers also leads the NFL with nine 40+ yard pass completions.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The porous run defense of the Bucs could also see a lot of James Starks.  Starks is coming on of late, and he has a very healthy 4.6 yards rushing average to go along with the 503 yards he has gained this season.

The defense of the Packers is slowly improving, as the team has had to deal with loss of one of their key players in S Nick Collins, who was lost to a season ending neck injury in the second game of the season.

The defense is currently ranked 28th in the NFL, which includes being eighth vs. the run and 31st vs. the pass.  However in the passing game, the Packers lead the NFL in interceptions with 17 and have also only allowed a QB rating of 77.6 to opposing quarterbacks.

The Packers have also returned three of those 17 picks for TDs, which is tied for the lead in the NFL right now.

The Packers can also hurt you on special teams.  The Packers are currently ranked fourth in kick returns in the NFL, led by rookie Randall Cobb, who has returned both a kickoff and a punt for a TD.  The Bucs are ranked 14th in kick returns.   

The overall kicking game of the Packers has been outstanding, led by K Mason Crosby, who is having a Pro Bowl year.  Crosby is a perfect 16 out of 16 in field goals, which includes two bombs from 56 and 58 yards out.

Crosby also has 33 touchbacks on his kickoffs this year, plus has converted his only onside kick attempt this year.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

K Connor Barth of the Bucs is also having a fine year, as he has made 17 of 19 field goals.

P Michael Koenen of the Bucs is 6th in the NFL in net average with a 41.7 mark, while Tim Masthay of the Packers has a 34.9 net average. 

Bottom line I think Rodgers will have another big day on Sunday.  I say that even though Rodgers has had his issues with the Bucs in the past, as Rodgers is 0-2 lifetime vs. the Bucs, plus he has completed only 31 of 62 passes for 431 yards and has only four TD passes compared to six interceptions in those two games.

Also, Rodgers has a career QB rating of only 54.6 against the Bucs, which is Rodgers' worst against any team since he has become a starting QB.

Still both those games were in Tampa, while this one will be In Green Bay.  The Packers have won nine straight games at Lambeau Field and the Bucs aren't exactly comfortable playing in Green Bay.  The Bucs lost 12 straight games in Wisconsin before finally winning the last time they were in Green Bay in 2005. 

I think the Bucs will give a much better effort than the one they showed last week vs. Houston.   However, the skill and talent of Rodgers along with some other playmakers on the Packers will be too much for the Bucs to overcome this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Yes...it's been over 20 years since the rivalry between the Packers and Bucs was called the Bay of Pigs.  Since then, both teams have raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy, with the Packers doing it twice.

The Packers seem poised to do it again this year, while the Bucs are trying to navigate through treacherous times.  It's certainly not the Bay of Pigs now.  In fact, the rivalry could now be called the Bay of Champions. 

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