Packers’ playoff hopes fade thanks to a defense that can’t get stops


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay’s defense has hit a wall — and so have the Packers’ playoff hopes.

Six days after allowing Tommy DeVito to drive the New York Giants for a winning field goal as time expired, the Packers (6-8) got picked apart by Baker Mayfield in a 34-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Mayfield threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns. Tampa Bay scored touchdowns on its first three second-half possessions, and Mayfield took a knee to end the game after the Bucs reached Green Bay’s 11 on their fourth and final series of the half.

“They’re beating us,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “They’re outcoaching us. They’re out-scheming us and outplaying us, ultimately.”

Just two weeks ago, LaFleur was fielding questions about Green Bay’s playoff hopes after the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs to get to .500. On Sunday, LaFleur was asked about whether he’d fire defensive coordinator Joe Barry before the end of the season.

“Now’s not the time for that, to be honest with you,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur added, “I’m trying to find solutions. I’ve got to go back and take a look at the film.”

Later in the news conference, LaFleur was asked to clarify whether he needed to go over the tape to find out how to correct things on the field or to evaluate whether a staff change is necessary.

“Right now, we’re looking for solutions,” LaFleur said. “So I want to go back to it. As soon as we leave here, I’m going to go right into my office and get to work on that because, like I said, it’s extremely disappointing to have a home game against a team that’s right in the thick of it in their division when you’re holding onto one of those spots and you get kind of manhandled in the second half of a tight ballgame. I mean, it’s extremely disappointing.”

Run defense has been one of the Packers’ biggest weaknesses this season and throughout LaFleur’s five-year coaching tenure. The Packers allowed just 99 yards on 27 carries Sunday — ending a string of five straight games in which they’d given up at least 140 yards rushing — but they couldn’t slow down Mayfield.

The issue Sunday was a pass defense that had managed to succeed for much of the last month with an injury-depleted secondary.

“I just feel like there’s some lapses in the defense that we’ve got to get fixed if we want to make a run and we want to turn this thing around and start winning,” outside linebacker Preston Smith said.

Cornerback Eric Stokes returned from a hamstring injury to play his first defensive snaps of the season Sunday, but the Packers were missing cornerback Jaire Alexander and safety Darnell Savage, both of whom had shoulder injuries. Alexander, a second-team All-Pro last season, has sat out six straight games.

The Packers could have used Alexander on Sunday as their pass defense struggled through its worst performance of the season. Mayfield was sacked five times but consistently found his targets whenever he had time to throw.

Tampa Bay went 7 of 11 on third down and converted its only fourth-down attempt.

On Tampa Bay’s first touchdown drive of the third quarter, Mayfield threw an 18-yard completion to Mike Evans on third-and-6 and a 15-yarder to Chris Godwin on third-and-12. Tampa Bay reached the end zone on its next series after Green Bay’s Corey Ballentine committed an 11-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-8.

Tampa Bay’s final touchdown came when David Moore turned a short completion into a 52-yard score on third-and-4. Mayfield had hit Godwin for an 11-yard completion on a third-and-4 situation earlier in the drive.

Packers rookie cornerback Carrington Valentine said the Bucs “schemed up some good stuff for us.”

“Some things you don’t see, you didn’t see on film, and then some things that you’ve just got to react too fast,” Valentine said.

The Packers must react to these two losses and figure out how to shore up their defense if they want to make an unlikely playoff run.

“We’ve got to get a win,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “Every game that we play is a must win.”