'Gritty football team' just keeps finding ways to win

Wild ending in Arizona tilts in Packers’ favor this time

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

A picture-perfect half-minute drive for a walk-off field goal at San Francisco.

The kicking game madness in Cincinnati.

Then a last-second interception at Arizona.

The home games have been rather blasé but when this 2021 Green Bay Packers team hits the road, buckle up.

Thursday night's 24-21 triumph out in the desert is the latest craziness, this time emerging from perhaps the most difficult circumstances yet – a depleted receiving corps, an absent defensive coordinator, on a short week, against an undefeated team.

Yet, somehow, the Packers prevailed.

"I think we're a gritty football team," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think nobody probably expected us to win tonight. Maybe to be in the game but definitely not to win with the guys that we had out. I'm really proud of the guys."

The three-time MVP attributed the uplifting victory to two things – the right attitude, and the right leadership.

"I was texting with some friends today and I said, 'I love when the odds are stacked against us,'" Rodgers said. "I feel like it takes all the pressure off. And we just kind of relaxed and played really loose.

"With the guys that we've got leading us, we know how to deal with adversity. And we've been in pressure situations before and we know how to handle those situation the right way."

They've been handling something or other all season long, from getting blown out Week 1, to not having various All-Pro players for long stretches (David Bakhtiari, Za'Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander), to losing other key players for games here and there (Elgton Jenkins, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Preston Smith, Kevin King).

And that was all before receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, along with defensive coordinator Joe Barry, had to skip the trip out west due to COVID issues.

Arizona wasn't full strength either, losing defensive star J.J. Watt and then having big-play receiver DeAndre Hopkins limited by a hamstring injury. But Green Bay was in command of the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team from the middle of the first quarter until the last few minutes of the fourth despite digging the furthest it has all season into its depth chart.

The attitude and leadership dominate the obstacles.

"We don't look at it, at least I don't, as a whole bunch of adversity," veteran safety and defensive captain Adrian Amos said. "It's the NFL. You have players hurt each and every week. You're expected to go out there and play. If we lost, I don't think too many people would give us a lot of excuses.

"We came here expecting to win. It's not we hope to win without Tae or Lazard or Ja. It's not hope. We're coming out here expecting to win."

Head Coach Matt LaFleur continues to praise the right type of guys who fill the locker room. He's the first to admit this team's play is not always the cleanest, and can be pretty frustrating to watch when big opportunities slip away.

The Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals faced off on Thursday Night Football on Oct. 28, 2021.

But he's most grateful for the buy-in to the team concept, which is part and parcel of the attitude and leadership. Wins like this develop a mentality that whichever unit is on the field last will find a way.

"Our guys believed, no doubt about it," LaFleur said. "I just think these guys always believe going into every game. That's pretty powerful."

Cincinnati was one of the flukiest games in recent memory, and could have been won or lost multiple times. But San Francisco and Arizona required that belief LaFleur and Amos referenced, the grit Rodgers mentioned.

Those qualities are the difference between a 7-1 record and a ton of regrets.

The plan is for better health – Robert Tonyan's new knee injury notwithstanding – to be right around the corner, and for the experience others have gained lately to benefit the team down the road.

There's reason to believe in that, too.

After all, if a victory can be pulled out under those circumstances, in that fashion, in Arizona of all places – where playoff dramatics a dozen and half-dozen years ago went the other way – it feels like anything might be possible.

"Just a special ending," Rodgers said, "at a place we've had a couple rough endings."