TAMPA, Fla. — Nothing Aaron Rodgers does as a quarterback surprises the Packers.
The NFL’s top-rated passer shrugged off the flu and played most of Sunday with a strained left calf, leading Green Bay to a 20-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — clinching at least a wild-card playoff berth.
The win set up a showdown with Detroit for the NFC North title next Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers threw for 318 yards and one touchdown and Eddie Lacy scored on a 44-yard run for the Packers (11-4), who rebounded from a loss to Buffalo that cost them sole possession of first place in the division.
“I’ll be OK for next week. I hurt my calf pretty good, but the training staff helped me kind of get through it,” Rodgers said, adding he was injured on Green Bay’s second offensive possession.
“It got really tight about halftime. Came in and got a little treatment, it loosened up just a tad, but it was still pretty tight. ... I was able to move in short segments in the pocket, which was all I needed to do today.”
Lacy finished with 99 yards rushing on 17 attempts. Jordy Nelson caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and had nine receptions for 113 yards, while Rodgers completed 11 throws to Randall Cobb for 131 yards.
“I’ve obviously been with Aaron the whole time. You see him do things on the football field, as far as making plays and this and that. I think the last couple of days, you see the kind of warrior he is,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He battled whatever illness he’s had the last couple of days and then goes out and strains his calf the first or second series. He didn’t want to come out. ... Really a gritty performance by Aaron.”
As for the showdown with the Lions (11-4), McCarthy added:
“We’ve won six out of seven games, so I’d like to classify that as playing a lot of solid football, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said. “We’ll clean this game up tomorrow; we’ll be on it. We’ll also start on Detroit. I like where we’re at, and I really like this football team. ... I feel good about the offense, defense and special teams.”
Rodgers rebounded from the only game this season in which he’s failed to throw for a touchdown, completing 31 of 40 passes without an interception. He threw 24 yards to Nelson on third-and-13 to extend the drive that produced Lacy’s long touchdown run, and a 19-yard completion to Nelson set up Rodgers’ 36th touchdown pass of the year with 2:45 remaining.
“I battled the flu the past couple of days pretty bad, and that’s why I was surprised I hurt my calf because I hydrated like no other (week),” Rodgers said. “I was drinking a ton of water before the game.
“Unfortunately, the calf kind of gave up on me there. But it was a good win for us. The defense played great. Offensively, it wasn’t pretty, but we had enough points to win.”
The Bucs (2-13) have lost five straight and remain in contention for the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Their sputtering offense was held to a season-low 109 net yards; Josh McCown was sacked seven times and intercepted once; and Doug Martin was held to 17 yards rushing on 10 attempts.
“We picked the worst possible time to play our worst (offensive) game,” Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. “We’d liked to have fought them a lot harder than we did. I think the guys tried to play hard. Defensively we hung in there and kept them out of the end zone a lot. But it’s hard to win games when you put up that kind of offensive production ... which was very little.”
The Bucs kept it close with a solid if not particularly flashy defensive performance. They forced Rodgers’ fourth turnover in two weeks with Michael Johnson’s sack-fumble, and a goal-line stand denied the Packers points in the third quarter after Lacy gained 5 yards on first down to the Bucs 1. Lacy and John Kuhn were stopped for no gain on the next two plays, then Rodgers threw an incompletion in the end zone on fourth down.
Nevertheless, the Packers wound up with 431 yards total offense.
McCown was 12-of-26 for 147 yards. Mike Evans had four receptions for 49 yards and Vincent Jackson had three for 60 yards, moving both of them to the brink of 1,000-yard seasons.
“To see the defense and the way that it played, it’s frustrating, man,” McCown said. “You can’t do that (the offensive performance). We’ve got to be better than that.”