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In the stands with Rich

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

GREEN BAY – Although it didn’t turn out like most of us wanted, it was still a fun ride.

After not receiving photo credentials for the first round of the NFL playoffs two weekends ago, The Press Times was notified a few days before the NFC Championship Game Jan. 24 we were in – I felt a sense of euphoria not experienced since the first game I attended on the sidelines in 2017.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Lambeau Field and left with an exciting 31-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers and will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Florida.

It’s the first time in the history of the event a team will host a Super Bowl in its home venue.

Arriving at the stadium two hours before kickoff and going through the usual COVID-19 screening and security, I set up shop in the media workroom and headed out to the stadium bowl – there were already fans sitting in the stands.

Hours later, I never would have guessed 9,000 fans could create so much noise.

The Packers had passed out corrugated plastic signs to fans, and they made use of them.

Most fans didn’t wave the signs to show support for the team but to whack them as hard as they could on the seat in front of them.

I probably said to myself 10 times during the game, “Could you imagine if this stadium was full of screaming fans today?”

It would have been deafening.

Before discussing more about the game experience, I’ve always been a Tom Brady fan.

Brady, of course, is the quarterback for the Buccaneers.

Many don’t like him – he’s had some controversy over the years when he played for the New England Patriots – but he’s a former University of Michigan player.

My dad graduated from Michigan in the 1950s when tuition was $80 a semester.

Brady wasn’t expected to have much of an NFL career after being a sixth-round draft pick in 2000, but six Super Bowl rings later, he’s proved the doubters wrong.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, but in my opinion, Brady is the GOAT – the greatest of all time.

He did make a few bad throws – the Packers had three interceptions – but the touch he puts on the ball is incredible.

At 43 years old, he doesn’t move well in the pocket, but his jersey was still clean after the game – Green Bay didn’t generate much of a pass rush.

Many people claim Brady’s past success was a product of the system in New England, but that’s not the case.

I’m not going to break down the game film of the Packers’ defeat, but several things stood out to me, starting with the coin flip.

When Green Bay won the coin toss, they deferred to the second half.

In normal situations, I think this is okay, but not against the GOAT.

I would have taken the ball and let the offense score a touchdown.

The Packers defense didn’t offer much resistance on the first drive, and Tampa Bay scored to go up 7-0.

As usual, the defense adjusted and settled down later in the game.

Another big play happened at the end of the first half.

After Rodgers was picked off late, the Bucs scored with one second showing on the clock to go up 21-10 at halftime – that was a backbreaker.

Packers cornerback Kevin King – who I think played his last game in Green Bay – was beaten badly on the play by Tampa Bay wide receiver Scotty Miller on the 39-yard score.

I’m not a coach – my only football coaching experience dates back to 1996 when I led the Rhinelander eighth-grade team – but I also didn’t agree with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur kicking the field goal with 2:05 remaining in the game.

The score brought Green Bay to within five points, but I’m not sure giving the ball back to the GOAT, basically needing a first down to win the game, was the best idea.

The Packers defense has improved this season, but I’d put my money on Brady 99 percent of the time in that situation.

After the game, I left wondering about the status of Rodgers, center Corey Linsley and running back Aaron Jones going forward.

Rodgers still has three years remaining on his current deal, so in my opinion, he’ll be back – if he wants to be.

There are several scenarios that could play out, but I’m not going to get into those.

Pro Bowlers Jones and Linsley are unrestricted free agents and will bring a heavy price tag with their next contracts.

Tight end Robert Tonyan, wide receiver Allen Lazard and running back Jamaal Williams are other notable free agents who could cost the team some serious money.

If the Packers don’t pay their free agents, another team will.

With COVID-19 throwing a monkey wrench into everything, I’m happy to have attended four games this season – I thank the Packers for that.

Hopefully, next year will be different and I’ll be back on the field snapping close-up shots of the players.

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