Cards not expecting another rout of Pack
The confident Arizona Cardinals are prepared to face a much tougher challenge this weekend than they did in last month’s meeting with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Following the winningest regular season in franchise history, the Cardinals host the motivated Packers in Saturday night’s NFC divisional matchup.
Arizona extended its winning streak to nine with a 38-8 home rout of Green Bay on Dec. 27. It recorded more sacks (nine) than points allowed and held the Packers to 178 yards – their second-lowest total of the season. The Cardinals also scored twice on defense in one of their most dominant efforts of 2015 and perhaps Green Bay’s worst.
But after the Packers overcame an 11-0 deficit to win 35-18 at Washington in Sunday’s wild-card round, the Cardinals’ eyes were opened.
“We know Aaron is probably licking his chops wanting to play us again,” cornerback Jerraud Powers, who took a Rodgers fumble back seven yards for a TD in December, told the Cardinals’ official website.
The Packers signal-caller wasn’t as colorful in his description of the rematch, but no less confident.
“We kind of felt like this was a possibility to be able to go back there after that loss,” said Rodgers, who was sacked eight times and threw for 151 yards at Arizona. “We’re coming off, obviously, a big win, and in (the Cardinals’) last game they got beat by a lot. So it’s going to be a more competitive game, I bet.”
Green Bay scored 14 more points at Washington than it did in losing the previous two games to the Cardinals and Minnesota.
”It’s huge for us,” said Rodgers, who threw two TDs without an interception, was sacked once and backed by 141 yards from the running game. ”We needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going.”
Though personnel issues still linger on the offensive line and receiver Davante Adams (knee) won’t play, coach Mike McCarthy is similarly confident.
“We’re no underdog going to Arizona,” he said. “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 Cardinals are ready for the challenge.
”We believe that if we play our game,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, ”we can beat anybody.”
A franchise-record 13 wins gave Arizona the West Division title, the second seed in the conference and a first-round bye. With Carson Palmer injured and third-stringer Ryan Lindley under center, the Cardinals lost 27-16 on the road to Carolina in last season’s wild-card round.
However, they’re 4-0 at home in the postseason and beat Green Bay 51-45 in overtime in their most recent meeting in the desert during the 2009 season. Rodgers threw for 423 yards, four TDs and an INT in his first playoff start but was sacked and lost the ball, with Karlos Dansby picking it up and running 17 yards with for the winning score.
Rodgers has enjoyed much more postseason success since, and the Cardinals expect to get his best. They also expect to play better than they did in a 36-6 home defeat to Seattle in the regular-season finale.
With its playoff position locked in, Arizona had little on the line. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t make anything of an outcome that ended that nine-game run.
”We had a very great stretch and now I see the same thing in their eyes,” Arians said. ”There’s something to play for. There’s something to prepare for, just like we did for nine weeks.”
After setting franchise records with 4,671 passing yards and 35 TDs, the 36-year old Palmer tries a third time for his first playoff win. He leads a team that ranked first in total offense at 408.3 yards per game and second in scoring at 30.6 points.
Palmer was 18 of 27 for 265 yards with two TDs and one INT against the Packers last month.
“He’s extremely excited and raring to go,” Arians said.
The Packers sacked Palmer twice, but recorded six against the Redskins.
“(Defensive coordinator Dom Capers) always had good outside pass rushers, and inside guys now that are very disruptive,” Arians told the Packers’ official website. “Then you’ve got to handle the fire zones, too. It’s a challenge.”
Arizona’s Michael Floyd caught six passes for 111 yards and 1,000-yard receivers Fitzgerald and John Brown each scored against Green Bay. Rookie running back David Johnson had 127 rushing and receiving yards and scored one of his 13 TDs in that contest.
“Guys just can’t wait to be in our home stadium (Saturday),” Powers said.
Fellow starters linebacker Alex Okafor (toe) and defensive tackle Cory Redding (ankle) are out for the rest of the postseason due to injuries. Redding returned a fumble 36 yards for a TD against Green Bay.
Veteran Jason Babin was brought in to help replace Okafor, who apparently suffered a non-football related injury during the off week.
”It’s real tough,” linebacker Sean Witherspoon said of losing a player with the team not playing. ”You didn’t plan for that at all. It puts our (general manager) and our coach in a bind.”
The Cardinals won’t feel sorry for themselves.
“(Green Bay) will be better (than last time),” linebacker Markus Golden said. “And we will be ready.”
Packers tight end Andrew Quarless is also out.