In two weeks, the Green Bay Packers will be playing in a postseason game for the seventh consecutive season.
For a team that represents a city nicknamed “Titletown,” it all seems rather pointless.
The Arizona Cardinals demolished the Packers 38-8 on Sunday. At 13-2, the Cardinals are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Nothing could be further from the truth for Green Bay (10-5), which had won three in a row. It will host Minnesota next week for the NFC North championship, the No. 3 seed and a first-round home game. Home or away for the playoffs, does it matter against quality competition? The league’s fifth-ranked scoring defense was torched and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense continued to go the wrong direction.
"Ugly loss to a very good football team," coach Mike McCarthy said. "The most important thing is how we respond to this. It’s definitely a hard one to swallow and the pain and humility is among us but we will shift gears in the morning."
The first half was a disaster, with Arizona storming to a 17-0 lead, but that couldn’t hold a candle to the start of the second half.
On the first play of the third quarter, James Starks coughed up the ball. Two plays later, Cardinals running back David Johnson blew through a big hole on the right side for a 14-yard touchdown.
On the next series, right tackle Bryan Bulaga dropped out with an ankle injury. Five plays later, Kareem Martin blew past fill-in right tackle Josh Walker for a sack and strip, with Cory Redding scooping up the loose ball, tossing aside Eddie Lacy and jogging the rest of the 36 yards for a touchdown. That made it 31-0.
The Packers finally got on the board, with Lacy scoring on a 28-yard screen. On their next possession, Dwight Freeney beat fill-in left tackle Don Barclay, who was starting for David Bakhtiari. Rodgers fumbled, which Jerraud Powers caught at the 7 and returned for another touchdown.
By the time Rodgers’ day mercifully came to an end, he was sacked eight times. He threw one touchdown pass but had three turnovers, again looking nothing like a two-time MVP quarterback — a stark contrast to Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer threw for 238 yards in the first half; the Packers finished with 178 yards for the game.
"Very concerned with the quarterback hits," McCarthy said. "That’s not the way we play. We knew we were coming in against an aggressive defense and you cannot let your quarterback get hit. I take that personal. That’s not a good job schematically, execution, any way you want to shake it. He cannot get hit like that and we’ve got to change that."
The Cardinals flat-out dominated the Packers in the first half en route to a 17-0 lead.
Two sequences were illustrative of the first 30 minutes. With Green Bay trailing 10-0 midway through the second quarter, coach Mike McCarthy called for a fake punt, with Chris Banjo, Jake Ryan and Nate Palmer leading the convoy as punter Tim Masthay ran for the first down.
What could have been a momentum swing, however, saw the Packers quickly go in reverse. After Lacy ran for 3 yards, Rodgers was sacked on back-to-back plays for a total loss of 16 yards. So, the big play by Green Bay wound up costing it 13 yards.
The Packers responded with a big play, though, as defensive tackle Mike Daniels stepped in front of Palmer’s screen to Johnson and gave Green Bay the ball at the Cardinals’ 15. On third down from the 10, Rodgers made a poor decision and threw the ball to James Jones, with Justin Bethel intercepting the pass in the end zone.
That was the start of a critical sequence. Starting at its 20 with 57 seconds left in the half, Palmer motored the Cardinals down the field for a quick touchdown. On the first play, Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a catch-and-run gain of 47. Finally, on third-and-goal from the 7, Palmer hit John Brown for the touchdown. While Rodgers was picked off by Bethel’s tight coverage, Palmer was pinpoint accurate against good coverage from Damarious Randall.
The first-half carnage showed 260 yards for the Cardinals compared to only 70 for Green Bay. The Cardinals had two plays of 40-plus yards while the Packers’ two longest plays went for 17 and 12 yards.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.