The Green Bay Packers turned in their worst overall performance of the season, falling 38-8 to the Arizona Cardinals on the road to drop to 10-5. The Cardinals improved to 13-2 and secured a first round bye in the playoffs.
While the Packers had already locked up a playoff spot, Green Bay still had a lot to play for. The NFC North title is still up for grabs, so the Packers were looking to maintain their edge over the Vikings heading into the season’s final week.
But despite the importance of the matchup with the Cardinals, the team did almost nothing right and performed embarrassingly against an Arizona team that will likely be the two seed in the NFC playoff field.
The game looked to be competitive at the beginning. Both teams were held scoreless in the first quarter, and Green Bay sacked Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer twice as they looked to set the tone early on defense.
But while the defense started out well, the offense failed to garner any momentum for the Packers. Green Bay punted on each of its first four drives, which the Cardinals turned into a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown reception and a short field goal to give Arizona a 10-0 lead.
After Mike Daniels intercepted Palmer on an attempted screen pass and set up the Packers at the Arizona 15-yard line, Aaron Rodgers threw an interception of his own in the end zone. With just under two minutes left in the half, Palmer drove the Cardinals 80 yards and found John Brown in the end zone to give Arizona a 17-0 lead at the half.
James Starks fumbled on the opening drive of the second half, which resulted in a touchdown run by stud rookie running back David Johnson and a 24-0 advantage for the Cardinals. On the Packers’ next drive, Rodgers fumbled after he was sacked—one of nine sacks given up by Green Bay on the day—which was returned for another Arizona touchdown.
Green Bay scored its first touchdown of the game on its next possession, a 28-yard catch and run by Eddie Lacy. With plenty of time on the clock, a Packers’ comeback, while incredibly unlikely, was still possible.
After forcing another Cardinals’ three and out to get the ball back, Green Bay looked like maybe they could at least make the game interesting. But Rodgers was sacked (again), fumbled (again), and the Cardinals returned the loose ball for a touchdown (again). At the end of the third quarter, the Packers were down 38-8.
With about ten minutes left in the game, the Packers threw in the towel and replaced Rodgers with Scott Tolzien. Tolzien had no more success than Rodgers, getting sacked on his first drive for what was nearly a safety. Around the same time, the Cardinals also sat most of their starters to let backups finish up the rout.
When all was said and done, the Packers were outgained 381-178 and committed four turnovers compared to just two for the Cardinals. Green Bay was largely unable to sustain drives, converting just five of their 17 third downs. The Packers also averaged a measly 2.8 yards per play for the game.
There were no real individual standouts for Green Bay in the game either. Rodgers ended the day completing 15/28 passes for 151 yards with the aforementioned touchdown to Lacy and the interception. He was pulled early in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Lacy led the ground game with 60 yards on 12 carries, while James Jones led Green Bay receivers with five catches for 46 yards.
The offensive line, already without David Bakhtiari entering the game, lost Bryan Bulaga to injury and was absolutely dominated for the majority of the contest. Don Barclay, playing in place of Bakhtiari, and Josh Walker, playing for Bulaga, were beaten routinely. Walker was quickly benched for J.C. Tretter.
Palmer led the Cardinals by throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns while completing 18/27 passes. Arizona rushed for 121 yards, which were split relatively evenly between Johnson, Andre Ellington, and Kerwynn Williams. Michael Floyd led the Cardinals’ receiving corps with 111 yards on six catches. Calais Campbell and Dwight Freeney combined for 5.5 of the Cardinals’ nine sacks.
The game does not bode well for Green Bay as they prepare for the postseason. To win the division, the Packers have to defeat the Vikings at home in Week 17. Once the playoffs begin, Green Bay needs to find a way to play drastically better or they won’t make it past wild card weekend.
If the Packers still have aspirations of making it to the Super Bowl, they will likely have to go through Arizona again. For now, Green Bay needs to approach the remainder of the season one week at a time and look to correct its issues heading forward. The Packers need to take care of business against Minnesota and find a way to fix some of their issues to build a little momentum heading into the postseason.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .