Packers Aren’t Lacking Confidence for Rematch at Cardinals

Said Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday: “We’re not going to be an underdog. We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

Along with shoulder pads and helmets, the Green Bay Packers will be packing plenty of confidence for their return trip to Arizona for the divisional playoffs.

After scoring 35 of the final 42 points to beat the Washington Redskins 35-18 in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game, the Packers will get another shot at the Cardinals on Saturday night. Two weeks ago, Arizona dominated the Packers in practically every fashion for a 38-8 victory. That might make the Packers an underdog in Las Vegas – seven points, according to Caesars Palace – but that’s not how coach Mike McCarthy views his team. And that’s not how he viewed his team heading into Washington, even though the Packers had lost two in a row and entered the playoffs as a No. 5 seed with zero momentum.

“We talked about the underdog deal,” McCarthy said on Monday. “I went with it, I think it was in the team meeting Wednesday, and I got halfway through it and I dumped it. I mean, that’s not us. I get what people are saying. We’re not going to be an underdog. We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

The hope is the Packers have turned a corner. After a 6-0 start, Green Bay lost three consecutive games after the bye and stumbled to a 4-6 record in the final 10 games of the regular season. Back-to-back games at undefeated teams and back-to-back Thursday night games were part of the challenge – a challenge that was heightened by injuries to star receiver Jordy Nelson and the offensive line.

“Frankly, I think you could see it coming just when the schedule came out,” McCarthy said. “I felt the stretch in the second half, particularly the third quarter of the season, was going to be rough. Frankly, I was hoping it wasn’t going to be as rough as it was. Those are all good things. Those are good experiences that you can draw from. And the fact of the matter and the reason why it felt good to us as a football team (to beat the Redskins) was all three phases played well. When we do that, we win. That’s the way we approach it.”

That type of three-phase performance will be much more difficult against the Cardinals, who finished the season with a 13-3 record. They ranked second in the NFL in points scored and seventh in points allowed to wind up second in point differential. Eight of their 13 victories came by at least 12 points, including five by at least 23.

While Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Arizona’s Carson Palmer again will be in the spotlight, the teams’ passing attacks could hardly be more different, which was evident in the first matchup. Palmer is a leading MVP candidate who led the NFL in yards per pass attempt. His three main receivers combined to catch 22 touchdown passes and rookie running back David Johnson added 13 total touchdowns.

In the first meeting, Palmer lit up the Packers in the first half before the Cardinals ran away in the second half behind a pair of defensive touchdowns. Rodgers, on the other hand, was sacked eight times and the Green Bay passing game managed 2.03 net yards per passing play, the second-worst figure in the entire league this season. For the season, Rodgers averaged 6.68 yards per passing attempt – fourth-worst in the league. Even against Washington’s inferior secondary, Rodgers averaged just 5.83 yards per attempt. So, while the offense showed signs of life against the Redskins, that unit will have to take another step forward against a defense that smothered Green Bay a couple weeks ago.

“It’s a new season,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “It’s the playoffs. That’s what the playoffs are all about. That urgency, that focus. I think our guys were really in tune with that and they knew going in we have a great opportunity in front of us – no different than this week. It’s another challenge ahead of us. But our plan is to go to Arizona with one goal in mind and that’s to win the football game and continue our path to greatness. That’s what it’s all about.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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