Coach Mike McCarthy wanted to make a bold statement by getting a big win and playing well in the season finale in Arizona last Sunday. The Green Bay Packers did exactly that by thumping the Cardinals 33 – 7. The Packers’ 2009 regular season thus concluded with a respectable 11 – 5 record, a huge improvement over last year. Having clinched their entry into the playoffs last week, the Packers will now travel again to Phoenix next week for a rematch with the Cardinals to determine which team advances into the next round.
It was interesting that McCarthy brought his all-guns-blazing strategy into this game, knowing the outcome would not have an impact on the post-season pecking order. Aaron Rodgers once again led the Packers’ potent offense to a 26 – 0 halftime lead and the rout was on. Interestingly, Rodgers and most of the Packers’ starters were kept in the contest long after the outcome was obvious and the Cardinals had inserted some of their backup players.
While Rodgers and company were clicking on all cylinders offensively, the Packer defense turned in one of their best performances of the season. Charles Woodson has had a phenomenal season and may just end up with the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. In the second quarter Woodson once again unleashed his uncanny football instincts to intercept his ninth pass of the season and return it for a touchdown.
After starting the season in mediocrity at 4 wins and 4 losses, causing Cheeseheads major heartburn observing a pathetic offensive line that could not protect Rodgers, the Packers rallied to win 7 of their last 8 games. To his credit, McCarthy had the sense to replace Allen Barbre with Mark Tauscher at right tackle and hence much of those quarterback protection issues disappeared. The Packers’ defense also has gelled in the second half of the season. Woodson has played lights out football all season, but rookie Clay Matthews and a whole slew of converts to Dom Capers’ defensive scheme have propelled the Packers’ defense to be the NFL’s stoutest defense against the run. The ascent to the best in the NFL is a remarkable turnaround from their #26 rank last year, when they seemingly couldn’t stop anyone.
How far can the Packers go in the playoffs? We shall see next Sunday. The psychological effect of a blowout loss in their house, combined with a couple injuries to key Cardinal players could play a factor next week. On the other hand, the playoffs are a different arena in which to play professional football, and could McCarthy’s “blow-out” strategy of last week backfire? It could, but who knows.
Look for the Packers to try to capitalize on their league-leading ability to create turnovers next week. If they are victorious, it could set up a grand matchup with Benedict Favre and just perhaps the stars are lining up for an incredibly delicious Cheesehead delight in two weeks.