The Green Bay Packers could have taken a much more conventional approach to upset the Arizona Cardinals, but they needed some lucky bounces, a few Cardinals mistakes, and contributions from up and down the roster to escape the desert with a 24-21 win. Missing some of their top offensive weapons, the Packers controlled the time of possession and made some opportunistic defensive efforts to move into a tie with Arizona with a 7-1 record atop the NFC.
The hits kept coming for the Packers in the short week. They learned that they would be without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard with COVID-19 related issues. Marquez Valdes-Scantling wasn’t going to be ready to return from a hamstring injury, missing his fifth consecutive game. The offense continued to take hits during the game after Kylin Hill got injured on a kickoff return and Robert Tonyan went down after a long catch-and-run in the third quarter.
Through all of that, Green Bay somehow had opportunities to win Thursday night’s game comfortably. A muffed punt by Rondale Moore left the Packers with the ball on the doorstep on the end zone, but three incomplete passes led to a Mason Crosby chip shot to give the visitors a 10-7 lead. Late in the fourth, Green Bay had a chance once again to punch the ball into the end zone to all but seal up a win, but a stuffed run by Aaron Jones, a scramble by Aaron Rodgers after a delay of game, and a batted-down pass on fourth down gave the ball to Kyler Murray with a chance to steal a victory.
The fact that the Packers had first down and goal to go and A.J. Dillon wasn’t involved at all has to be telling. Dillon has had issues with ball security; perhaps the Green Bay coaching staff couldn’t entirely trust the second-year back in the place he’s needed most.
On cue, Murray escaped the shadow of his end zone to connect to A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and used his legs to put the Cardinals in position to stay perfect. A miscommunication with Green in the red zone and an impressive interception by Rasul Douglas allowed Green Bay to somehow, some way leave Arizona with the win.
The game plan for the Packers was evident from the start. Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett would use heavy doses of Jones and Dillon to help control the clock and allow Rodgers to move the chains with short passes when necessary. There weren’t deep threats available at his disposal. To his credit, Rodgers bought in. The longest pass play was the 33-yard rip across the seam to Tonyan. Other than that, if you had a Packers jersey on, chances are you caught a screen pass from Rodgers.
The Green Bay quarterback didn’t light up any fantasy football scoreboards, but he masterfully distributed the ball to eight different receivers, moving the chains for 184 total yards. Each had potentially costly mistakes, but the likes of Juwann Winfree, Josiah Deguara, and Equanimeous St. Brown all came up with crucial catches that helped the Packers hang on.
Perhaps the biggest reason Green Bay was able to win the game was their ability to control the clock. The Packers knew exactly what Kyler Murray was capable of and decided the best way to contain him was to keep the Arizona offensive unit off the field. Green Bay ran the ball 34 times for 151 yards, with Dillon (16 carries for 78 yards) and Jones (15 for 59) tag-teaming the rushing attack all night long. The Packers picked up 24 total first downs. Eleven of them came on the ground, 10 through the air, and three via penalty. That’s about as balanced as you can get. Green Bay was in possession of the ball for 37:35 of the 60 minutes of regulation, good for 63% of the total game time. It wasn’t quite doubling up the Cardinals, but it was close enough to help keep Murray and Co. at bay.
What’s encouraging is that, despite all of the players that the Packers were without, they found a way to win without being perfect. Don’t forget that they didn’t have David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, and more. Even the most optimistic Green Bay fan had to know there was a very narrow margin for error for the Packers to be able to pull the upset. Somehow, down to the very last play, they were able to do just that.
With the upcoming 10-day mini bye week ahead, Green Bay can get healthy, clean up some issues, and get ready to try to duplicate the success from the first half of the season. With one of the most difficult schedules remaining, the Packers are still in great shape as they head into the final two months of the regular season. Even if it’s because a bit of luck was involved, 7-1 sounds a whole lot better than 6-2.