All of the odds were stacked against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football. They were playing an undefeated team in the Arizona Cardinals, and the Packers were missing star players like Davante Adams, David Bakhtiari, Allen Lazard, Jaire Alexander, and Za’Darius Smith. Green Bay was also missing its defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, because of a positive COVID-19 test earlier in the week.
Shorthanded and playing on a short week on the road in the desert, all the Packers did was go into Glendale and come away with a 24-21 win over Kyler Murray and the previously undefeated Cardinals.
Green Bay is now on a seven-game win streak and looks like the cream of the crop in the NFC once again. The Cardinals, on the other hand, suffered their first loss of the season and fell to 7-1.
Arizona looked like it was marching down the field and on the way to staying undefeated with just seconds left in the game, but then Green Bay’s defense came up big and sealed the game for the Packers.
The Green Bay Packers’ defense came up big in the biggest moments of the game
With Green Bay up by three points with 4:46 to go in the game, Packers’ running back Aaron Jones took a dive up the middle and appeared to score a dagger touchdown to put the Packers up 10 points. It was a close play that was called a touchdown on the field, but it was ultimately overturned due to the fact that Jones’ backside came down right at the one-yard line before the ball crossed the goal-line.
Credit the Arizona defense at that point.
Rather than fold and give up to a Packers’ offense that was rolling, the Cardinals forced Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense into a turnover on downs. A delay of game penalty forced Green Bay back off the goal line and Devon Kennard tipped Rodgers’ fourth-down pass to give the Cardinals a chance to tie or win the game with just 3:26 to go in the half.
Murray, an MVP candidate in his own right, led the Cardinals down the field in a methodic drive to get Arizona to the Green Bay five-yard line. With a second down and goal with no timeouts left, Murray took a shot to veteran wide receiver A.J. Green in the end zone. Green either didn’t see the football or was running a different play, because he never turned around. Rather, Packers’ cornerback Rasul Douglas picked the ball off and won the game for Green Bay.
Notably, and ironically, Green Bay signed Douglas off the Arizona practice squad earlier in October.
Down multiple star players, the Packers stepped up and slowed down an explosive Arizona ofense
Heading into the Thursday Night Football contest, Arizona had the second-best offense in the league, only behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury made his name as an offensive maven in college football, and he’s brought the same kind of scoring explosion he was known for at Texas Tech to Arizona. Heading into the contest against Green Bay, the Cardinals were scoring 32.1 points per game and 422.6 yards per contest. Murray looked like an early MVP candidate and Kingsbury was at the helm of an unstoppable-looking offense. The Cardinals had scored over 30 points in six of their seven wins.
Not only did Green Bay pick off Murray to win the game, but the interception was the Arizona quarterback’s second of the game. Down 10-7 to start the second half, Murray threw an interception after second-year Green Bay safety Henry Black snagged a tipped pass that went off Arizona rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore’s hands. Green Bay capitalized on that turnover with a two-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb, who finished the game with three receptions and two touchdown catches.
In all, Green Bay’s defense absolutely stiffed Murray and the Cardinals’ offense.
Murray completed 22-of-33 passes for 274 yards, but he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. Green Bay also did a great job of containing Murray when he tried to run. The normally elite dual-threat quarterback was able to notch only 21 total yards on six rushing attempts, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
Aaron Rodgers finally has a defense that can help him win another Super Bowl
Rodgers has never really been the problem for Green Bay in the playoffs. The three-time MVP is 1-4 in NFC Championship games since the Packers won the Super Bowl in the winter of 2011. That includes two losses in a row in the title game in Matt LaFleur’s last two seasons as head coach, but those losses haven’t really been the MVP’s fault.
In 2020, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 37-20. San Francisco’s backup running back, Raheem Mostert, rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns on the Packers’ defense. Last season against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cornerback Kevin King gave up an easy touchdown pass to wide receiver Scotty Miller with just a second left in the second half. Green Bay ended up losing that game, 31-26.
The fact of the matter is that for as long as Rodgers has been playing in Green Bay, outside of their Super Bowl-winning season, the Packers have consistently let him down on defense.
That may have been a direct result of Rodgers being so good that Green Bay’s front office hasn’t felt the pressure to focus on the defensive side of the ball. It could have also been bad luck, though, because general manager Brian Gutekunst has brought in players like Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and De’Vondre Campbell over the past few seasons.
Whatever the case may be, Green Bay’s defense is finally starting to play up to expectations.
The Packers’ defense looked really good on the road against Arizona, and that was while their defensive coordinator was back at home and unable to call plays. Green Bay’s defense also did what it needed to do against the Cardinals in order for the Packers’ offense to thrive.
With Adams and Lazard out due to COVID and players like Bakhtiari and rookie center Josh Myers missing on the offensive line because of injury, the Packers’ defense went out and played the type of football that allowed Rodgers to keep up with the Cardinals despite throwing to players like Juwann Winfree and Josiah Deguara. Neither player has played remotely anywhere near the type of role they did on Thursday Night Football for the Packers, but Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur were able to trust these hardly used offense weapons due to the fact that Green Bay’s defense kept them in the game against a very tough Arizona offense. The Packers also did that with Za’Darius Smith, Alexander, and King unable to play.
The Packers’ defense held Murray and the Cardinals to 334 total offensive yards and they won the turnover battle 3-0. Green Bay forced the Cardinals into converting just 4-of-10 on third down, and the Packers’ defense played a big role in the team winning the time of possession battle, 37.35 to 22.25.
It was a Super Bowl-worthy performance from Green Bay’s defense. Now just imagine what the Packers will be able to do once they’re back at full strength.