Aaron Rodgers was everywhere on a day when the Green Bay Packers needed their MVP quarterback most.
And when it wasn’t Rodgers, it was Tom Crabtree.
The Packers, with the start of a great team sitting on the sideline because of injuries and in the process of frittering away a 24-7 lead, got a 72-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree on the final play of the third quarter. That put the Packers ahead 31-17 and on their way to a 31-17 victory – their fourth in a row, putting them at 6-3 and into a desperately needed bye week.
Green Bay led 21-7 at halftime but allowed the Cardinals to hang around far too long. Its first three possessions of the second half started at its 48-yard line on Randall Cobb’s kickoff return, Arizona’s 17 on Erik Walden’s interception and midfield on a bad punt. The Packers got no first downs and just three points to show for it, a chip-shot field goal after the turnover.
The allowed the Cardinals to rally. Larry Fitzgerald turned a short third-down conversion into a 31-yard touchdown when he ran through Dezman Moses, Tramon Williams and M.D. Jennings. A third-and-1 stop from the 2-yard line helped the Packers escape with just a field goal at the end of a 74-yard drive, but that made it 24-17 with 50 seconds to go in the quarter.
That set the stage for the Rodgers-to-Crabtree connection. On second-and-4, Crabtree lined up at fullback, ran a circle route against linebacker Paris Lenon and beat William Gay to the end zone for the longest catch by a Packers tight end since Paul Coffman in 1979.
With Greg Jennings out for a fifth consecutive game, Jordy Nelson returning after a one-week absence only to exit on the second series, Bryan Bulaga taken to the locker room with a hip injury and Cobb temporarily sidelined after getting drilled on a punt return, Rodgers had limited options.
Rodgers finished 14-of-30 – his first sub-50 percent game since losing at Kansas City last season. He was brilliant during the first half, however, as the Packers took a 21-7 lead. He completed 11-of-19 passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns, and added 36 yards on scrambles.
Rodgers had runs of 25 and 9 yards on the opening touchdown drive, which he punctuated with a 13-yard, quick-hitting touchdown pass to Cobb, who followed blocks by Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley on the third-and-goal play.
On the second touchdown drive, drops by Crabtree and Driver made it third-and-10. Driver converted with a bobbling, 10-yard catch, and Rodgers hit Cobb for a 21-yard touchdown that put Green Bay in front 14-7.
On the third touchdown drive, James Starks fumbled but Rodgers saved the day with a hustling, diving fumble recovery. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Rodgers went deep to James Jones, who made a sensational, 28-yard touchdown catch over rookie corner Jamell Fleming.
The only blemish on Rodgers’ first-half record was an interception in which William Gay stole the ball from Cobb after it appeared Cobb had made a tumbling catch. John Skelton hit Andre Robert for 40 yards and LaRod Stephens-Howling ran around right end for the 1-yard score.