GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers had a powerful incentive to beat the Arizona Cardinals.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave his banged-up team the whole week off after the Packers beat Arizona 31-17 Sunday. Less than a minute after Arizona kicked a 20-yard field goal to pare what had been a 17-point lead to a touchdown, Tom Crabtree chugged 72 yards for a late third-quarter score that sealed the victory.
"It's amazing what they'll do for an extra day off," McCarthy said. "It's well deserved. I think it's important for us to just step away, so we'll have a week off."
Green Bay (6-3) takes a four-game winning streak into the bye, which it desperately needs. Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson and Cedric Benson headline a laundry list of injured Packers, and three more got hurt against Arizona.
Clay Matthews tweaked his hamstring, Bryan Bulaga hurt his hip and Jordy Nelson, who missed last week's game and much of practice this week with a bad hamstring, injured his ankle.
On the very first ball Aaron Rodgers threw him, no less.
"I like where we're at," Rodgers said. "We've had some adversity early in the season, we've come together, we've taken some heat and it's brought us closer together. We went on the kind of run we need to go on with four big wins in a row to get to the bye week, and now we can get healthy, and hopefully we can get some of our guys back.
"We've got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off."
The Packers are second in the NFC North behind Chicago, with five of their last seven games against division opponents.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, limp back to Arizona for their bye week looking for a way to regroup. Arizona has dropped five straight after beginning the season with four wins.
John Skelton threw for more than 300 yards, and he was able to find enough holes in the Green Bay defense for big gains time and again. But the Packers did a good job bottling up Larry Fitzgerald, and Arizona's other receivers had too many drops. Early Doucet and Rob Housler were targeted 13 times and had just five catches.
Criticized all year for their anemic efforts on the ground, the Packers broke free for 176 yards, their most since gaining 202 against Cleveland on Oct. 25, 2009. Four players – Rodgers, Randall Cobb, James Starks and Alex Green – had 25-plus yards rushing, the first time that's happened since 2003.
All that running must have left them tired, however, because the Packers came out sluggish in the second half. They failed to pick up a first down on any of their first four drives, and got only a 33-yard field goal from Mason Crosby despite getting the ball at their own 48, Arizona's 17 and midfield.
"We said at halftime, these are the kind of games where you can really put teams away if you play the way you want to play. We didn't do that in the second half," Rodgers said. "We kind of gave them a reason to hang around and hang around."
The Cardinals caught a break when LaRod Stephens-Howling was tripped up behind the line of scrimmage only to land on a Packer instead of the ground. He got up and kept going for a 5-yard gain, and the ruling was upheld on review because officials said only his wrist had hit the ground.
On the next play, Fitzgerald shook off tackles by Tramon Williams, M.D. Jennings and Dezman House for a 31-yard touchdown that cut Green Bay's lead to 24-14.
With Matthews in the locker room with a hamstring injury, Skelton went 7 of 9 as he moved the Cardinals 74 yards to the Green Bay 2. But Stephens-Howling was stuffed on third-and-1, forcing Arizona to settle for a 20-yard field goal that cut the lead to 24-17.
• RB Cedric Benson
• OL Bryan Bulaga
• WR Greg Jennings
• LB Clay Matthews
• WR Jordy Nelson
• DB Charles Woodson