Two teams heading in different directions met Sunday and continued to head in those same directions. Green Bay won their fourth straight game Sunday 31-17 over Arizona, handing the Cardinals their fifth straight loss.
The Green Bay Packers rushed for 176 yards, their best total since October of
2009. None of those rushing yards went for a touchdown, and Aaron Rodgers had 33 of the yards, but it is a good sign the team still accounted for 143 yards on hand-offs.
"That's the way you want to run the ball," McCarthy said. "Aaron obviously made some plays with his feet and added to the total. I was very pleased with the rushing effort."
More significant were the injuries.
Already without five starters, Jordy Nelson injured his ankle late in the 1st quarter and did not return. Right tackle Brian Bulaga left the game early in the 2nd quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Clay Matthews injured his hamstring late in the 3rd quarter and also did not return.
It was a tale of two different halves for both teams.
Green Bay dominated the first half, forcing five Cardinal punts while having none of their own, and got on the board first.
An 11-play 84-yard drive lead to the first Randall Cobb touchdown catch of 13 yards. Rodgers threw a quick slant pass to Cobb who spun and ran between four Cardinal defenders, breaking a tackle on his way into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Arizona had very little offense in the first half but capitalized on in interception that bounced of Cobb's arms into those of William Gay. Three plays, and 43 yards later, LaRod Stephens-Howling bounced a run outside for a one yard score to tie the game 7-7.
Green Bay scored the next two touchdowns on long passes.
The first was a 21-yard toss to Cobb who had beat his man deep. The second was a great catch by James Jones. Rodgers slightly underthrew Jones who had his man beat. Jones was able to slow up and jump over the defending Jamell Fleming. The ball bounced off Flemings arm into Jones for the last score of the first half and a 21-7 Packer lead.
The Packers put up 253 first half yards including 126 rushing. Green Bay continues to run the ball as they have on their current four winning streak, albeit with actual success this week. The Packers were 5 of 6 on first down and racked up 16 first downs.
Green Bay avoided another potential disaster when James Starks, in his first extended action of 2012, fumbled the ball after gaining six yards. The ball bounced to the right and Rodgers came streaking in out of nowhere to dive on the fumble for the Pack. Gutsy play for a quarterback. Not many quarterbacks could make that play, even fewer would have tried to.
Arizona has been awful on offense during their four game losing steak and the first half was no different. They manged only 106 yards, while going just 2-of-7 on third down. John Skelton was under pressure for much of the half that resulted in two sacks and numerous pressures. Skelton was just 7-of-17 in the first half. He was also plagued by a number of drops.
The second half was a different story. Arizona managed 234 second half yards and avoided any sacks, including Skelton escaping the grip of Matthews before he left with the injury. While the Packer offense put up just 131 second half yards.
"We said at halftime, these are the kind of games where you can really put teams away if you play the way you want to play. We didn't do that in the second half," Rodgers said. "We kind of gave them a reason to hang around and hang around."
Hang around is exactly what Arizona did.
Mason Crosby extended the led to 24-7 after an Erik Walden interception on the Cardinal 17. The pass was deflected into the air by rookie Casey Hayward, making his second start for Sam Shields.
Arizona pulled within seven points when Larry Fitzgerald muscled his way into the end zone from 31 yards out. Fitzgerald caught the ball around the 25 and avoided multiple Packers before plowing his way into the end zone. The touchdown capped an eight play, 87-yard drive.
An 11 play, 74-yard drive led to a Jay Feely 20-yard field goal closing the gap to 24-17.
Two plays and :50 later Rodgers threw to a wide open Tom Crabtree who got behind the defense down the seam and outran everyone for a 72 yard score. It was Green Bay's longest touchdown of the season.
"It was huge," Crabtree said. "They had some momentum going there in the second half, and I think that kind of maybe took a little bit of wind out of their sails." Both teams looked sail-less, not scoring in the fourth quarter.
Crabtree lead Green Bay in receiving yards with that one catch. James Jones added four grabs for 61 yards and his eighth touchdown of the year. Two of Randall Cobb's three catches went for touchdowns.
James Starks lead the rushing attack with 61 yards on 17 carries. Alex Green had 53 yards on 11 totes. It appears Starks will take over the lead role if healthy. Despite the physical tools, Green appears to lack the vision, missing open holes. I expect he will continue to get some carries in an effort for him to work that out.
Rodgers finished the day 14-of-30 for 218 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, and a 96.9 passer rating. Despite the high passer rating Rodgers wasn't happy.
"No, I didn't throw it very well today," Rodgers said. "I threw it in the dirt and got Jordy hurt and then just was off. I just wasn't in a great rhythm. You know, I made a couple decent throws for touchdowns. But no, it wasn't one of my better games."
That is the beauty of Rodgers. Even one of his poorer performances leads to four touchdowns and a 96.9 passer rating.
Hayward not only caused the interception, but broke up a 4th down pass in the 4th quarter, lead the team with two passes defensed, and was second in tackles with seven. Shields will be lucky to get his starting job back when he returns from injury.
Brad Jones led the team in tackles with nine and has filled in extremely well for a third string middle linebacker, starting in place of Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, both out with injury.
Crosby missed another field goal today. He has missed at least one in the last four games he has an attempt, and is a dismal 9-of-13, (69.2%), on the season.
Andre Roberts lead all receivers with 86 yards on 4 grabs. Larry Fitzgerald had a game high six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Stephens-Howling carried 17 times for 51 yards and a touchdown. Skelton was 23-of-46 for 306 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and a 69.7 passer rating.
There may not be a deeper team in the NFL than Green Bay or a better coaching staff.
Missing their number one wide receiver, their number one rusher, leading safety, starting middle linebacker and his back-up, and the number two corner back coming into the game and three more players falling out during the game, the Packers continue to roll on with victories. A testament to the depth and coaching.
Green Bay has the best coaching staff in the NFL. They coach guys up and have them ready to step in when necessary. The coaching staff truly is incredible. Kudos also to Ted Thompson and the scouts for bringing in talent that is coachable.
That coaching will have to be on point moving forward if any of these players cannot return to action following the bye wee. Could the bye week have come at a better time?
"We need to get healthy, that's what bye weeks are for," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're 6-3 and we've got time to evaluate, step back, clean some things up and get ready for ... the grind."
Arizona also heads into a bye week with a 4-5 record.