Aaron Rodgers has no intention of pretending to be someone else. In a league where coaches and players hide their joy behind a worn veil of detachment — one week at a time, one game at a time — the Packers’ star quarterback openly admitted how he is taking in each victory, the most recent of which was Thursday’s 24-21 victory over the Cardinals in a showdown between NFC powers.
In a crowded press conference at State Farm Stadium, he added, “I love the crap out of them, I honestly do.” “Last year, I changed my mindset and did certain things off the field that put me in a great frame of mind, and I’ve been enjoying life and football to a whole new level. I simply feel more connected to my colleagues and have a stronger respect for situations like these. In the locker room after the game, I advised them to enjoy these moments because these are the kinds of things you’ll remember and speak about 20 years from now when you’re done playing — the unique locker room celebrations, the ecstasy on the sideline after a game-winning play. This game is unlike any other.”
Onlookers could struggle to discover a more odd conclusion than Thursday’s. The Cardinals held the ball at the Green Bay 5-yard line with 15 seconds remaining in the game, behind by three points. A field goal to force OT seemed a certain conclusion, but Arizona chose to try for the score instead, which is when things went sideways.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury called for a pass play to the left, but quarterback Kyler Murray spotted a better matchup to the right, where veteran A.J. Green was one-on-one with journeyman cornerback Rasul Douglas, according to a person familiar with the event. Murray then signaled a back-shoulder fade to Green, but according to the source, Green missed the change and failed to turn around while the ball was in the air, thinking the throw was going to the other side of the formation.
Douglas deflected the end-zone throw with one hand before catching it and stepping out of bounds for his first interception since December 30, 2018.
When asked what went wrong, Murray answered, “I honestly don’t know — miscommunication.” “I couldn’t tell you, but we just have to improve.”
Kingsbury continued: “Obviously, there was a misunderstanding. We think it’s a safe toss if he knows the path to go. Without a doubt… It was the ideal location for the ball. The man just didn’t communicate on whatever level, and then he made a great play.”
The Cardinals’ reign as the league’s last undefeated club came to an end with the loss, tying them for the fewest losses in the league with the Packers (7-1), Buccaneers (6-1), Rams (6-1) and Cowboys (5-1). They knew heading into the game that it would be a statement game for them since some questioned their viability as an NFC force. Even though Arizona made a game of it on a night when so many things went wrong, the skeptics are certain to stick around.
They had three turnovers for a total of ten points. On four of their first five offensive drives, they were limited to four plays or less. Due to a strained hamstring, star-wideout DeAndre Hopkins was in and out of the lineup (mainly out), while a handful of other regulars were injured throughout the game.
The Cardinals struggled to find a rhythm offensively for much of the first two-plus quarters because the Packers used a lot of umbrella coverages in the secondary and had their ends rush conservatively upfield in passing situations, knowing Murray was a significant threat with his legs as well as his arm. Murray’s ability to gain yards was limited when he attempted to run up the middle since the ends and linebackers usually closed in fast.
Murray, though, found his way in the third quarter, after the Packers had taken a 17-7 lead. James Conner scored from the 2-yard line after he led the team 81 yards in 12 plays. After Rodgers replied with a 91-yard drive that finished with his second touchdown throw to Randall Cobb, Murray countered with a 75-yard drive that ended with another Conner touchdown run, this time from 9 yards out, to tie the game at 24-21.
Late in the fourth quarter, officials called a 1-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones, giving the Packers a two-score lead. However, after a review, the call was overturned for no gain, followed by another run for no gain, a delayed penalty, a Rodgers sprint to the 1-yard line, and finally a batted throw on fourth down.
That set the tone for Murray, who came into the game as a front-runner for MVP. He completed passes of 23 and 29 yards to get the Cardinals from their own 1 to the Green Bay 5. But it just set the table for heartache, as their seven-game winning run came to an end, as did their aspirations of going unbeaten this season.
Murray, who finished 22 of 33 for 274 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions and 21 yards on six runs, said, “As far as the undefeated season, sure, I think it’s a thing that you dream about, but you’re going to encounter adversity.” “This is the National Football League. We expected it to happen at some time. Throughout the game, we battled. We just ran out of time. We’re not going to speak about this if we make the final play. It’s just the way it is.”
There was a lot of conversation about the perspective from the Packers’ side. Throughout the season, Green Bay has encountered both genuine and contrived hardship, but the squad has persevered. Consider:
A 38-3 defeat to the Saints in Week 1 sparked a national debate about whether Rodgers’ absence from the club throughout the preseason was a distraction that had carried over into the season. Answer: Seven victories in a row.
Mason Crosby missed three field goals in a row after making a franchise-record 27 in a row in Week 5 against Cincinnati. Two of the three were possible walk-offs in the last three minutes of regular or overtime. As a result of the offense and defense’s efforts, he scored another try and booted the game-winner.
Nothing, however, compared to Thursday night, when they were on the road against an unbeaten club in a short week without their top three wide receivers, defensive coordinator, starting left tackle, and two great cornerbacks. They refused to blink or buckle as a result.
Perspective? Douglas, a third-round selection of the Eagles in 2017, has bounced around the league, spending one year with Carolina and never making an active roster with Las Vegas, Houston, or Arizona. It’s the kind of voyage that puts a man’s resolve and commitment to the test, which is why Douglas referred to his interception as “fortunate.”
He remarked, “I’ve been in the league for five years and have never been on a practice squad.” “You get the impression that you’re laboring for nothing. Then a call comes through from someplace else. So all I can say is that I’m grateful.”
Perspective? Listen to Rodgers, who realized that in order to restrict Murray’s possibilities, the team needed to manage the time and run the ball. One week after earning just 57 yards on 15 carries, the Packers gained 151 yards on 34 runs. Without Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the passing game struggled, but enough plays were made to put Green Bay on pace for a third straight trip to the NFC Championship Game.
“Every year is so different,” Rodgers said after completing 22 of 37 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. “You never know how the team will gel, how the chemistry will develop, how the relationships will develop, and how people will stand up and cope with injuries and adversity. We have a great collection of men on our team. Even compared to a previous couple of years, the squad has a distinct vibe. I’m not sure how it’ll end, but I appreciate the atmosphere in the locker room right now.”