On the road on a short week, Green Bay, a team without its top three wide receivers, starting center, top two cornerbacks, All-Pro left tackle, All-Pro pass rusher, and defensive coordinator, beat Arizona, the last undefeated team in the league, 24-21. These Packers are infuriating.
They are far from perfect, and yet, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’ve written this before. Most of the NFL world has spent the last two offseasons shouting about how the Packers need better receivers, and in this game, they showed us they might not actually need any receivers. Aaron Rodgers struggled to connect with Amari Rodgers, Juwann Winfree and Equanimeous St. Brown, the young receivers who were stepping in for Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but it was all perfectly fine because he still had his old buddy Randall Cobb and the run game was flowing.
The Packers won this game by beating Arizona on the ground, and absolutely controlling the time of possession. Green Bay ran the ball 34 times for 151 yards, and had the ball for 37:35. Arizona only ran the ball 20 times for 74 yards, well below their season average of 128.8 yards per game. Green Bay running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon churned through the Cardinals defense all night, fighting for extra yards with pure leg strength.
The offense wasn’t even particularly organized in some parts of this game. Rodgers was nearly picked off in the first quarter when tight end Robert Tonyan never turned around to look for the ball. Green Bay used its last timeout with 5:41 left in the game, and then had to take a delay-of-game penalty right in the middle of their last chance to score when tight end Josiah Deguara had no idea where to line up on the play. (Deguara was seeing more snaps because Tonyan was injured in the third quarter.) And this error came just two plays after Jones’ one-yard touchdown run was surprisingly overturned.
The Cardinals defense didn’t make anything easy for the Packers, particularly in the red zone. The league’s second-best goal-to-go defense stopped Rodgers and the Packers from scoring touchdowns on two separate trips into the red zone, including a huge stop on Green Bay’s last drive. On fourth down from the one with 3:26 left in the game, Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard rushed Rodgers and got close enough to tip his ball, sending it off its intended path, and preventing Green Bay from adding to their three-point lead.
Arizona had 99 yards to go, but for the first time in the game, it felt like Kyler Murray could really pull this off and take the Cardinals to 8-0. And he nearly did, completing three different 20-plus-yard passes on the final drive. Eventually, Arizona would call a timeout with 15 seconds left from the Packers’ five. Kicker Matt Prater was warming up on the sideline, but there was plenty of time to win this game outright.
Murray threw a fade to A.J. Green in the endzone, but Green never turned around to look for the ball. Rasul Douglas picked it off instead and then Green finally spun around, confused, throwing his hands into the air to ask what the hell had just happened. Well, A.J., what happened was the Packers had added another unlikely win to their 7-1 record.
Murray laid on the ground for several seconds, in disbelief at what head coach Kliff Kingsbury called “a miscommunication, obviously.” When he did get up, he hung his head and slowly limped off the field. His arms hung by his sides, totally lifeless. Rodgers said he told Murray after the game that he’ll see him in the playoffs. And he’s probably right. These two teams are the class of the NFC, right up there with the Buccaneers.
Douglas, who made the game-sealing end zone interception, was signed off the Cardinals practice squad on Oct. 6 after Jaire Alexander was injured. “This is why I love this squad,” Rodgers said. “The guy who made the pick, he was with them four weeks ago.”
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said after the game that he was still kicking himself over some of his red-zone play calls, because the Cardinals defense stacked the front with bigs. He told reporters what he said to his team after the win, “I tried to screw it up but you guys wouldn’t allow it.”