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There was lots about this game to be excited about...and a lot to create concern. The previous Sunday, the Cards had trounced Philadelphia 40 - 17 and clinch the NFC West leadereship, but in doing so lost the services for the season of their most versatile defensive player and arguably their most inspirational leader, Tyrann Mathieu (knee). Reports both inside and outside the Cardinal training facility resembled what you'd hear coming out of a funeral; raising the question: "Would the Cards rise to the challenge? Or wouldthey curl up in a fetal position while they mourned the loss of The Badger?
The Cards were going up against a Green Bay team who started the season like a house-afire but had suffered a rash of injuries and cooled down considerably since then. The Pack was in a battle for NFC North supremacy and would competing with the Cards for that elusive first round playoff Bye.
One little-known fact about the Desert is that lots of "snow birds" from the upper midwest (translation: Wisconsin natives and Packer fans) spend their winters in Arizona. Important buzz (official and otherwise) was that Packer fans had been quietly purchasing game tickets from Cardinal fans and threatened to hijack home field advantage. (The last thing Carson Palmer and Lyle Sendlein needed was having their signals disrupted by hostile crowd noise in their own home stadium).
Net-net - this game would be anything but a cake-walk.
Cards Put Away Pack 38 - 8.
The Bottom Line:
It was a cake-walk. Cards rose to the occasions and (with few exceptions) played at a very high level and took care of business.
To the Victor Go the Spoils: (1) Cardinals will be watching the first round of the playoffs in their comgfy chairs in front of a TV set. (2) Banged up and tired vets will have a week to rest & repair. (3) Sidelined players will have time to heal and return for action & (4) If there is a be "payback game", it won't be in the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field."
Once the Cards got rolling in the 2Q, the outcome was no longer in question. On offense, the passing game was solid. The running game was solid. special teams play was solid. But, when you reflect on this game, later in the week or perhaps in the offseason, what will leap out you was the outstanding play of the Cardinal defense. With the exception of one Packer 3rd quarter drive, the Card defense totally shutdown Aaron Rodgers and his depleted Packer offense. Card pass rushers racked up 9 sacks. They returned two recovered fumbles for touchdowns. The Packer run game went nowhere. By the time they reached the 4Q, it was mostly a matter of the Cards running the ball to eat up clock time and refusing to let the Packers have any more than the 8 points they'd already posted.
For most of this season, one question kept nagging at us - "Who were the Cardinals?" We knew they could play at a very high level, but could they do it consistently. (Did we really know which team would tline up to play each week - the talented team playing on all cylindars? Or the mistake-prone Cardinals likely to leave too many points on the field)? Was all the talk of "just keep grinding" and "listen to the veterans" and "one game at a time" a true Cardinal religion or just standard player interview cliche? Forget the score; the way the Cardinals played the Packers was poetry in motion and suggests that every Cardinal player - from Carson Palmer at the top of the roster to the most recently added player at #53 has bought into the "team-first", "lunch-pail" "pedal to the metal", "do it the right way" approach to to playing football and Cardinal fans may be in for a terrific month of January rooting for a team that's the real deal and does what it's supposed to do.
Cards received. K Williams returned KO to the Card 15. Three & out. Punt was fair caught at the GB 40 (so much for field position). A penalty-filled drive forced GB to punt from their own 46. Punt was downed at the Cardinal 5. After D Johnson turned a short pass into a 44 yard pickup to move the Cards into FG position at the GB 35, Palmer got sacked twice contributing to the Cardinals having to punt from the GB 38. Punt was downed at the Packer 4. GB ground out an initial 1st down and a defensive holding flag on Bethel secured another, but their drive stalled at their own 25.
GB penalty tacked onto the Cardinal return gave the Cards the ball at midfield. Four consecutive completions moved the Cards to the Packer 10 as the quarter ended.
1st Quarter Score: Cards 0 - Packers 0.
Cards moved to the Packer 3, where Palmer hit Fitz (who got position inside) TD.. Cards 7 - Packers 0.
TB on the KO. GB picked up a 1st down and got as far as their 38 before holding penalty and a minus-5 yard sack (by Calais) forced them to punt from their own 25. Muffed punt recovered by Cards at their own 27. A 17-yard completion to Floyd followed by a short pass turned into a 29-yard gain by D Johnson set up a 4th & one at the Packer goal line. Arians opted for a FG. Cards 10 - Packers 0.
TB on the KO. GB moved from their own 20 to the Cardinal 45 but Campbell then sacked Rodgers for minus-7 yards and Campbell and Golden then shared a second sack - this time for minus-8 yards.
Masthay's punt was fair caught by Peterson at the Cardinal 24. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer's pass over the middle was intercepted by McDaneils and returned to the Cardinal 15 with 1:52 left till halftime. Three plays later, Rodgers' pass for J Jones was picked off by Bethel in the end zone with 0:57 left.
On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer hit Floyd over the deep middle for 47-yards. A 12-yard pass to Fitz over the middle set up a 7-yard TD pass to John Brown with 0:11 left on the clock. (You could consider the Bethel interception and subsequent drive to be the momentum-changer in this game since it opened up a 17-point Cardinal lead). Cards 17 - Packers 0.
Rodgers took a knee to end the quarter,
First Half Score: Cards 17 - Packers 0
GB received. TB on the KO. (That first drive in the 2H is key because it often sets the tempo for the rest of the game). On the first play from scrimmage, Swearinger nailed Starks on a run up the middle. Ball came loose. POwers recovered at the GB28. Two plays later Johnson ran off right tackle for a 14-yard TD. (Yeah, I guess that sorta set the tempo). P). Cards 24 - Packers 0.
KO (net penalty) gave GB the ball on their own 9. Interesting series that included (a)a minus-8 yard sack by Freeney, (c) a minus-7 yard completion sack by Bucannon and (d) two consecutive 10-yard scrambles by Rodgers. But on the 9th play of the GB possession at the GB 49, K Martin sacked Rodgers for minus-10 yards with Corey Redding scooping up the fumble and returning it 36-yards for a Cardinal TD. Cards 31 - Packers 0.
TB on the KO. Palmer led GB on its only TD drive - capped by a 28-yard run by Lacy. Drive started out with three consecutive runs by Lacy (including one for +25 yards). All other passing and running gains leading up to tthe TD run were for 9 yardfs or less. Two point attempt was good. Cards 31 - Packers 8.
Onside KO downed by Cards at their own 48. Three & out. Punted from midfield. Punt fair caught at the GB 11. Check out the results of the next four carries. (1) Sack for minus-8 nullified by penalty. (2) Incomplete. (3) Sack for minus-8 by Rucker. (4) Sack for minus-9 by Freeney - fumble recovered by Powers and run in 7-yards for a TD. Cards 38 - Packers 8.
GB moved to the Cardinal 2 in 7 plays but gave up the ball on downs when their attempt to "go for it" on 4th down failed when Bethel broke up a pass in the end zone. Cards took over on their own 2 and Ellington ran around right end for +8 to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Cards 38 - Packers 8..
- Cards ran Ellington 3 more straight times, picked up a 1st down on a completion to Fitz and ran the ball a couple more time before Larsen was flagged (for the 3rd time in the game?) for hands to the face. Cards punted from their own 33. Returned for no gain at the GB 13. Tolzien in for Rodgers. He got sacked for minus-8 (by Freeney) on his way to a three and out.
- Punt fair caught at midfield. On the fifth play of the Cardinal possession, K Williams ran up the middle for +5-yards only to fumble. Burnett recovered it at the 20 and returned it 21 yards to the GB 41, where he was submarined by Drew ("Call Me Butkus") Stanton. (I consider this to be the play of the game - if for no other reason than it set and exemplified the entire tone of this football team (i.e. where its QB decleated a huge opposing lineman with a form tackle).
- 5:10 left. GB went 3 & out. Cards ran off three plays and two knees. Game over.
Final Score: Cards 38 - Packers 8.
Passing: Palmer was 18 for 27(265 yards, 2 TD and 1 pick).Rodgers was 15 of 28 (151 yards, 1 TD and 1pick).
Takeaways: Cards plus-2. Cards recovered 3 fumbles and picked off 1pass. Pack recovered 1 fumble and had one interception.
Rushing: Cards gained 121 net yards (4.7 ypc). GB runners were held to 101 (3.9 ypc). D Johnson gained 39-yards on 9 carries and scored 1 TD.. Lacys gained 60 yards on 12 carries.
Receiving: Floyd caught 6 for 111. DJ caught 3 for 88. Fitz had 4 catches and a TD. John Brown had 3 and a TD.
Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 26/Pass: 28). Philly Run/Pass Ratio: 26/29.
Tackles: Minter (8), Bethel (7, Campbell (6), Jefferson (6)
Sacks - Cards had 9. (Freeney 3.0; Campbell 2.5; Rucker, Bucannon and K Martin had 1 apiece. Golden 0.5).
Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 5 of 10 third downs (50%).Packers were 5 of 17 (29%). Cards were 3 of 4 in the Red Zone (75%). Packers were 0 of 2 (0%).
Penalties: Cards were penalized 10 time for 119 yards (Packers were penalized 7 times for 59yds).
Time of Possession: Cards 30:16/ Packers 29:44
Aside from the one GB drive in the 3Q, the Cardinal defense was 100% lock-down.
We beat an elite team led by an elite QB.
9 sacks !!!!
38 points !!!
We earned a 1st round Bye.
If we face GB in the playoffs, it won't be at frozen Lambeau.
Solid play by our OL.
Stanton's tackle (had little influence on game outcome, but I loved it).
The Darker Side
K Williams' ball issues.
We go into Week #17 without much to fear. We play Seattle at our place with little on the line other than #1 vs. #2 seed. And it's not like Tennis or Basketball (where your #1 seed is always great and your #16 tends to suck). Some mediocre teams catch fire at the end of the season are are scary playoff rivals. Other elite teams sustain late-season injuries and aren't as good as advertisied.
Keys for a 13 & 2 team are to (1) Don't believe everyone who tells you how great you are. (2) Stay healthy and rested but don't get rusty (physically or mentally). (3) Study film - Justin Bethel, I'm especially talking to you - You got to play a gazillion snaps against a great QB and elite receivers. You had your good moments and bad moments. Learn from the bad (are there things you can do to find the ball quicker or tighten up your techniques)? (4) (& this is tricky) - Feel how good it is when you're playing elite football (a little swag is OK) but put things in perspective and don't let it go to your head (you still have to work and focus hard if you want to be the best).
Game Ball: Despite how good Freeney and Calais played vs. GB, I'm still going with Stanton (I just loved that hit on Burnett).