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Against Tom Brady, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine aims to keep history from repeating itself
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Against Tom Brady, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine aims to keep history from repeating itself

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Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Packers on Oct. 18 in Tampa, Fla. 

GREEN BAY — Mike Pettine isn’t sure just how much of his vast experience coaching against Tom Brady will be applicable to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

But surely the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator is hoping the results will be different against the now-Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback than they were in his matchups against Brady and the New England Patriots.

Including the Packers’ 38-10 loss to the Buccaneers on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium, Pettine has coordinated a defense against Brady 13 times — nine times with the New York Jets (2009-12), twice with the Buffalo Bills (2013) and twice with the Packers (2018-present). He also faced Brady twice as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens (2002-08), but Pettine wasn’t in charge of any of those defenses. Pettine never faced Brady during the 2014 and ’15 seasons, when Pettine was the Cleveland Browns’ head coach.

In those 13 games in which Pettine’s task was to conjure up a game plan to slow down the future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Brady’s teams were 10-3 with his three losses coming to the Jets in the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons and the 2010 AFC divisional playoffs. Since then, Brady’s teams are 8-0 against Pettine’s teams.

“Just having gone against him so many times — being in Baltimore, playing him a bunch; and then New York twice a year, even three times the one year; and then Buffalo twice — it’s as big a challenge as you’ll face as a coordinator, as a defensive staff,” Pettine said Thursday afternoon during his regular Zoom video call with reporters. “Because he doesn’t miss anything.

“That’s the thing. If you have an area of weakness, whether it was in New England or now at Tampa Bay, they will exploit it and continue to exploit it until you make a correction and force them out of it. So, it’s a huge challenge. It’s pretty clear and obvious he’s going to go down as one of the best of all time. (But) I just love it, because it’s a great challenge for our guys. That, ‘Hey, to go to the Super Bowl, we have to beat Tom Brady.’ I think our guys are excited for the challenge, but we’re made sure we’ve stressed it all week, knowing what they’re in for.”

In that Oct. 18 meeting, the 43-year-old Brady completed 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (104.9 passer rating). The Packers failed to register a sack and were credited with only four quarterback hits.

Pettine’s only other meeting with Brady while with the Packers was in 2018, in his first year as defensive coordinator under then-head coach Mike McCarthy. In that game, Brady was 22-for-35 for 294 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (99.0 rating) in a 31-17 victory at Gillette Stadium. The Packers sacked Brady twice and hit him three times.

“I just think you have to understand who you’re going up against and just how detailed he is in his preparation and how far back he goes into things that he watches and he studies,” Pettine said. “Our guys, they’ve just got to be as on point as they’ve ever been on point.

“We always talk about winning the pre-snap and equating it to a poker game. You obviously don’t want to be the sucker at the table. And if you find yourself early in the game and he’s looking at you every play, then you’re probably holding your cards the wrong way.”

During the Buccaneers’ six-game winning streak, including last Sunday’s 30-20 NFC divisional playoff win at New Orleans and their 31-23 wild card win over Washington, Brady has completed 134 of 209 passes (64.1%) for 1,913 yards with 16 touchdowns, one interception and nine sacks (117.2 rating).

The Packers defense, meanwhile, has found itself during the team’s seven-game winning streak, including last Saturday’s 32-18 divisional playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams. Over that stretch, Pettine’s oft-criticized crew has allowed an average of 306.4 yards and 18.4 points per game.

“He’s stayed the course,” veteran safety Adrian Amos said of Pettine. “He listens to the players, and we’ve made adjustments with the different calls we have. Nothing has been stuck in stone. It’s not a real stubborn group, our defensive room. I commend him for that as a coach.”

The challenge now for Pettine is to devise a game plan that will force a quarterback who’s seen everything over his 21-year NFL career to hesitate in diagnosing what he’s up against from play to play on Sunday afternoon. After that, it’ll be about his players executing.

“If he knows 100% what you are in before the snap, you’re in for a long day. So you at least have to plant some seed of doubt,” Pettine said. “The scheme is important, but the National Football League is still a players’ league, and that’s why just the emphasis on putting our guys in the best position to succeed.

“We’ve played some good defense this year, and that’s gotten us here. And there’s no sense straying away from that. We’re re going to be who we are. We’re going to throw our fastball.”

Extra points

Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams officially joined the team’s practice squad and took part in practice, though what role the 37-year-old will play on Sunday is unclear. “It’s great to have him back. Just a great calming veteran presence,” Pettine said. “He proved this year that he can still do it. (But) we don’t have a great feel just yet of where he is and looking at his role. But we’re thrilled that he’s here and it certainly gives us some options.” … Punter Ryan Winslow was released from the practice squad to make room for Williams. … Other than tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee), who was given his usual Thursday rest day, every other player on the active roster took part in practice. … For Tampa Bay, wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) missed his second straight day of practice.


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