What the Cardinals were able to accomplish as 14 point underdogs at iconic Lambeau Field under the classic December snow and wind—-was nothing short of astonishing.
Heading into the game, the Packers were 4-0-1 at Lambeau this year—-they were getting help around the league in their pursuit of another playoff berth—-it was Aaron Rodgers’ birthday—-Rodgers was 19-1 in December games at Lambeau—-he said it was the healthiest he has felt all year——his offense was pretty much at full strength (save his starting RT)—-and he had all of his top skill players RB Aaron Jones, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Devonte Adams and WR Randall Cobb primed and ready for big days on the tundra.
By contrast, the Cardinals were starting rookie QB Josh Rosen (his 9th start), with RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Christian Kirk and TE Ricky Seals-Jones behind yet another makeshift offensive line (rookie LT Korey Cunningham, veteran LG Mike Iupati, rookie C Mason Cole, mid-season free agent Oday Aboushi and a Tuesday practice squad signee RT Will Holden).
To be perfectly honest, after commenting last week as to how cutting RT Andre Smith was leaving the Cardinals precariously thin at tackle, especially seeing as D.J. Humphries has been inactive due to a knee injury, when Humphries was listed as inactive and Will Holden announced as the starting RT, it was very difficult to accept—-especially from a team that was so concerned about protecting rookie QB Josh Rosen that they had him strictly handing off the ball his last two series in a 45-10 thrashing the Cardinals took in Los Angeles.
To make matters worse—-the lone pre-season projected starter still playing, Mike Iupati, was injured during the game and he was replaced by Colby Gossett, an untested rookie who was added to the roster a couple of weeks ago.
What is amazing —-is the incredible job that OL coach Ray Brown is doing to prepare this motley crew of linemen—-Cunningham incurred 2 holding penalties and a false start, but did not surrender a sack, Gossett was very physical and helped to spring some key runs, Cole had a couple of bad snaps with the wet ball, but otherwise was the glue in the pivot, Aboushi played with strength and Holden miraculously (off 3 days practice) looked like an upgrade over Andre Smith.
What is perplexing—-is how many fans are criticizing Josh Rosen in the aftermath of this game. Yes, he overthrew some passes—-some due to haste and some due to the wind—-and yes he nearly committed the one egregious turnover of the game when on the run he threw a ball up for grabs that hit former Cardinals’ safety Eddie Pleasant in a bad place—-both hands.
However, Rosen’s mobility was a significant factor in the Cardinals stunning upset. His 33 yard scramble helped the Cardinals outscore the Packers 10-0 in the 3rd quarter. And then with the score tied at 17, one play after his worst mistake of the game and facing a 3rd and 23, Rosen again flushed from the pocket to his right and this time threw a laser beam throw that blazed through the the snow and wind into the clutch diving hands on Larry Fitzgerald for an incredible chain moving 32 yard completion, that minuted later would lead to the game winning FG.
The Cardinals defense was just as amazing as Rosen, an inspired Chase Edmonds whose mom and sister were in attendance (5/53/10.6/2TD), the makeshift offensive line (133 yards passing, 182 yards rushing, yielding 2 sacks) and the receiving combo of Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk who combined for 6/102 yards.
The defense held Aaron Rodgers in check and to a season low 4.7 yards per pass attempt. While they only sacked Rodgers once (Chandler Jones’ 12th), they adjusted by putting Patrick Peterson more on Devonte Adams after a limping Budda Baker was having trouble sticking with the Pro Bowler—-by clamping down on Aaron Jones in the running game (11/36/3.3) when he’d been averaging close to 6 yards a carry this season—-AND—-most of all, by the pass rushers having the discipline to stay in their lanes in order to try to keep Rodgers in the pocket. It meant for fewer sacks, but it also meant for fewer back-breaking chunk yard plays from Rodgers—-THIS—-all the while playing a much steadier and effective diet of man-to-man coverage—-a nice swift departure from last week’s soft zones.
Some of the recent fill-in players on the defense, turned in solid performances. LB Gerald Hodges, in for Josh Bynes, led the team with 13 tackles. RCB David Amerson, in for recently waived CBs Jamar Taylor and Bene Benwikere, contributed 6 tackles and 1 clutch pass breakup.
FS Antoine Bethea (10 tackles, 1 pass breakup), once again excelled in a leadership role. Budda Baker (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) played on his sore knee and played as hard as he could. Haason Reddick had 5 tackles and was sticky in coverage. Chandler Jones had 4 tackles, 1 sack and 3 QB hits on Rodgers.
The Cardinals won the kicking game at snowy Lambeau. Andy Lee furthered his case for All-Pro with a 6 punt for 44.8 yard average with 3 clutch punts inside the 20, the best of which came off a booming 64 yarder that stopped on a dime at the Packers’ 5 yard line.
Rookie K Zane Gonzalez was steady, smooth and clutch, hitting two big second half 44 yard FGs the second of which came with 1:41 remaining in the 4th quarter—-which turned out to be the game winner. And kudos to Brandon Williams for leading the team this week with 2 special team tackles.
This win can very much be considered a signature win by Steve Wilks and his staff—-because this win was a manifestation of Wilks’ prescribed formula for winning: a steady running game to set up the passing game, paired with an aggressive defense that closes out games in the 4th quarter and clutch performances in the kicking game.
The question now is how often Wilks and the players can duplicate this conservative formula—-in a league that is tending toward high powered passing attacks that set up the run in an effort to outscore the opponents like the Chargers did to the Cardinals a week ago and in stunning come-from-behind fashion to the Steelers in Pittsburgh last night.
Wilks had the Cardinals’ players doing their own versions of the “Lambeau Leap” in the locker room after the game when he brought back an old and effective one of BA’s staples—-”Victory Monday.”
Cardinals fans can celebrate “Victory Monday” by reveling the most positive takeaways from this surprising win:
- Rosen’s increased mobility and the added pressure that puts on defenses.
- Kirk’s explosiveness and Edmonds’ balance and toughness.
- A young, stalwart makeshift offensive line that produced 315 yards of total offense on the frozen tundra.
- The gift that never stops giving in WR Larry Legend.
- A more disciplined pass rush, more cognizant of keeping contain.
- Stickier man-to-man coverage.
- Closing out a win on defense versus one of the most clutch QBs in NFL history.
- Winning the battle of the kicking games, particularly under such inclement weather in such a hostile and fabled environment.
- Most of all, the younger players, sprinkled with a host of determined veterans—-striving to succeed and learning how to win.
- First Cardinals’ victory at Lambeau Field since 1949.
As Miles Hubbard, a great coaching mentor of mine, always said, “there is nothing wrong with getting a little excited.”