Game Review: Packers Cruise To Victory In Playoff Preview
Sunday, January 3, 2010
With a playoff berth already clinched, Head Coach Mike McCarthy talked throughout the week about the importance of continuing to build momentum with a strong showing on Sunday, and Green Bay did just that with a dominant first-half performance on the way to a decisive win over the Arizona Cardinals.
After a 33-7 victory on Sunday in front of 67,597 at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Packers finished the season as the No. 5 team in the NFC with an 11-5 record. Green Bay won seven of its last eight games, the best finish since 1997 when Green Bay won 10 of its final 11 contests. The Packers will return to Arizona next Sunday to face the Cardinals in a Wild Card contest at 3:40 p.m. (CT).
When the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New York Giants earlier in the afternoon, the Packers and Cardinals knew they would face each other in the playoffs next weekend. McCarthy and Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt took different approaches, with Green Bay playing all its starters for three quarters while Arizona began pulling some of its front-line players in the first half, starting with quarterback Kurt Warner, who came out after two series.
The Packers were in control of the game from start to finish, outgaining Arizona with 345 yards to the Cardinals' 187, and dominating the time of possession by holding the ball for over 37 minutes.
"I felt it was clear that our football team needed to continue to stay on the pace, continue to make progress, and we wanted to come out here and win the game, keep our razor sharp and gain some momentum going into the playoffs," McCarthy said. "It didn't really matter who we were playing. I understand Arizona had a different agenda. We had 16 games to prove ourselves. We're an 11-5 football team. We like the way we've played the last eight weeks, and it was very important for our particular team to maximize this opportunity.
"Our goal going into the game was to play three quarters and see where the game stood. Obviously we made our changes there in the third quarter with about four minutes left, so feel very fortunate that we came out of the game healthy because I understand the risk as much as anybody and the concerns people would have by going with this plan. But in the best interest of our football team, to play their best football going into the playoffs, that's why we took this approach."
Green Bay scored on its opening drive of the game, capping off a 10-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard run from running back Ryan Grant. Wide receiver Donald Driver caught two passes for 21 yards, and wide receiver Greg Jennings drew a 28-yard pass interference penalty on Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams that put the ball at the Arizona 1 to set up the score.
Green Bay added to its lead on its next possession on a 1-yard plunge for a touchdown by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. On the previous play, wide receiver Jordy Nelson beat Adams down the middle and Rodgers found him for a 51-yard gain down to the Cardinals' 1.
Arizona forced the Packers to punt on its next drive, but Steve Breaston fielded Jeremy Kapinos' 54-yard punt at the Cardinals' 1-yard line and was tackled by cornerback Josh Bell at the 2. On third down from the 3, guard Reggie Wells held outside linebacker Clay Matthews in the end zone on a Matt Leinart pass, which resulted in a safety and a 16-0 lead for Green Bay.
On the Cardinals' next possession, cornerback Charles Woodson jumped a slant route by Larry Fitzgerald to pick off a Leinart pass on third down. Woodson returned the interception, his career-high ninth of the season, 45 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown and a 26-0 halftime advantage.
Green Bay's No. 1 offense took the field for just one series in the second half, but made the most of it with a 14-play, 94-yard scoring drive. Rodgers connected on 9-of-10 passes on the series for 82 yards, completing passes to four different receivers, and found tight end Jermichael Finley on a jump-ball pass over cornerback Greg Toler for a 5-yard touchdown.
"You take some confidence I think, but you've got to realize once their first unit went out they really didn't blitz much, if at all," said Rodgers, who wasn't sacked on Sunday. "They played kind of against their statistics up to that point with the kind of style of defense they played. So we'll look at the film obviously and critique it, but the body of work we'll focus on will be really the last four or five games they played before this game.
"I think the way we were playing the last eight games, winning seven of them, and we're one pass short (at Pittsburgh) of winning the last eight. That says a lot about the direction we are going and the kind of identity we've got on offense and on defense. We really played well in the second half of the season and we wanted to keep that going."
Rodgers threw for 235 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-26 passing for a 117.1 rating before resting the entire fourth quarter along with some other veterans on offense.
With a shutout for the Packers in reach, Arizona got on the board with just over three minutes remaining in the game. On third down in the red zone, backup quarterback Matt Flynn's pass intended for wide receiver James Jones was intercepted by cornerback Ralph Brown and returned all the way to Green Bay's 7-yard line. A low block penalty on Flynn on the return moved the ball to the Packers' 3, and third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre found wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the next play for the touchdown.
While the Packers will be prepared for a different Cardinals team next weekend, they left Arizona a confident and relatively healthy team as they look ahead to their second season.
"We know that they are going to come and do some different things next week, and we will too," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We'll be ready and they'll be ready too. It's going to be a great game.
"Obviously playoff games, both of our backs are against the wall and neither one of us wants to go home. They've got some great players and we've got some great players, so it's going to be a great battle."
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