A very solid all-around performance has the Green Bay Packers heading into their bye week feeling comfortable about their team and their chances of making the playoffs. They ripped off their fourth consecutive win on Sunday, holding off the Arizona Cardinals for a 31-17 victory at Lambeau Field.
It wasn't Aaron Rodgers' finest day, as he failed to complete 50 percent of his passes, but he threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns, plus one unlucky tipped interception. The Packers made up for it with their best performance on the ground this season, rushing for 176 yards on 39 carries, with 33 of those yards coming via Rodgers.
The Packers got off to a very solid start on both sides of the ball, though it took them until their second drive to convert for a score. Following a three-and-out performance by the defense, highlighted by a Mike Neal sack, a great return on a poor Dave Zastudil punt by Randall Cobb put the Packers into field goal range immediately. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Mason Crosby missed wide from 44 yards after they failed to pick up a first down.
Green Bay started their next possession at their own 16 yard line after Brad Jones forced a punt with a great third down knockdown, and proceeded to drive all the way down the field in 11 plays. Rodgers had two excellent runs on the drive, with the longest going for 25 yards, and Alex Green chipped in with a 21-yard run as well. Cobb finished off the drive with one of many highlight plays, taking advantage of blockers and a nifty spin move on a slant play to score a touchdown from 13 yards out.
That drive also featured a serious setback for the Packers offense. Jordy Nelson, who was questionable with a hamstring injury coming into the game, picked up a separate right ankle injury on the play before the touchdown. Nelson attempted to get down low for a short reception which was ruled good on the field, but overturned and called an incomplete pass after review. He twisted his ankle going down and did not return to the game, but did not go back to the locker room for x-rays.
John Skelton was able to find Larry Fitzgerald for one impressive 12-yard strike on 3rd down during Arizona's following drive, but their offense would stall once again. Fortunately for them, their defense came up big on the Packers' first play of the 2nd quarter, while simultaneously getting a bit lucky. Cobb appeared to make a catch on his back, then lose control of the ball before being touched down by William Gay, the ball bounced right into Gay's stomach and he held on for an interception, which stood up after a booth review.
Arizona showed signs of being able to make the game interesting with their first play of the next drive, an impressive 40-yard pass from Skelton to Andre Roberts. Larod Stephens-Holling finished off the drive with a nice run to the outside on 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, tying the game at 7-7 with 13:32 remaining in the 2nd quarter. They didn't score again until the 4th quarter, and ended up trailing by at least a touchdown from the Packers' following score until the end of the game.
The Packers answered immediately with a touchdown drive, which featured some great playcalling and a spectacular catch by Cobb to finish it off. The drive started with Cobb in the backfield, and he picked up 11 yards with a nice run, one of three on the day by the Packers receiver, which went for 29 yards in total. On a 2nd down play, Donald Driver dropped an easy catch, and almost managed to do it again on 3rd down. Instead, on that following play, he accidentally tipped the ball up to himself, then came down with his second effort and barely picked up a first down in the process. Rodgers went to Cobb on the next play and hit him with a perfect back shoulder pass in stride for a 21-yard touchdown.
This touchdown drive also featured a big injury. Bryan Bulaga appeared to injure his hip and had to go back into the locker room, and he did not return to the game. Evan Dietrich-Smith replaced him, with T.J. Lang moving to right tackle, and both players performed well for the remainder of the game.
James Jones, who was zeroed in on by the Cardinals' defense in the absence of Nelson and Greg Jennings, had a somewhat quiet day but managed to come up with four excellent catches on the day, including a highlight reel touchdown catch on the Packers' next drive. Green Bay got a bit lucky early in the drive when James Starks fumbled, but Rodgers was able to come up with a big recovery. A screen play to Green for 19 yards set up the touchdown play, a fantastic leap and grab by Jones in traffic. With Jones in one-on-one coverage, Rodgers simply asked his recievier to go get the ball, and Jones won the 50-50 battle to make the catch and put the Packers up 21-7 heading into halfitme.
Both offenses started slowly to begin the second half. Green Bay went three-and-out to begin the 3rd quarter, but got the ball right back thanks to an interception. On the Cardinals' first play of the half, Casey Hayward deflected a pass up into the air and Erik Walden was able to come down with the ball. The Packers didn't go anywhere with the ball, but the interception put them in scoring range, and Crosby converted a field goal to put the Packers ahead by three scores.
Skelton started to look more comfortable as the 3rd quarter progressed, while Fitzgerald upped his game considerably. Their next drive ended after three plays, but their third possession of the half was a much more successful one, going eight plays for 87 yards and a touchdown, capped off by a brilliant 31-yard Fitzgerald reception. They scored again on their next possession, notching a field goal to get within a touchdown.
That was the closest that the Cardinals would get. Suddenly, the Packers' offense woke up on their next possession, and it took them just two plays to score what turned out to be a dagger. On 2nd down and four from the Packers' 28-yard line, Rodgers hit Tom Crabtree over the middle in space for a 72-yard touchdown strike. Paris Lenon was tasked with covering Crabtree man-to-man, and the Packers' tight end had no problem getting two steps on him. There was no safety help over the top, and Crabtree was virtually uncontested for the first 40 yards of his run after the catch. He evaded tackles during the final yards of his run, powering into the end zone for a massive score.
Don't ever let anyone tell you that the 4th quarter matters more than the others. In this game, the 4th quarter was entirely inconsequential, as both teams picked up occasional first downs, but spent the quarter exchanging punts. On a desperation 4th down and three play by the Cardinals late in the quarter, Hayward came up with a brilliant knockdown, getting in front of Roberts to force a turnover on downs. The Cards got another chance at a possession with under two minutes remaining, but Patrick Peterson muffed Tim Masthay's final punt of the game, and Jarrett Bush recovered.
The Packers sent out the victory formation to end the game, signaling not only a win in this game, but mission accomplished ahead of a much-needed bye week. The three games between the one at Houston and the Week 10 bye have always been considered must-win games for the Packers, and they managed to come away with victories in all three. They now have a week off to get their injured stars back into the fold.