GLENDALE, Ariz. – Packers Coach Mike McCarthy referred to it as an "ugly loss," and focused on how his team would respond to it 38-8 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.
"They're clearly the better football team today," McCarthy said in a hard-edged postgame interview. "Offensively, we didn't do much at all. Defensively, tackling and big plays jump out. They played well in the first half."
The Cardinals went into the game playing arguably the best brand of football in the NFL. They cemented that belief with their dominant win over the Packers, on a day when the Carolina Panthers lost for the first time. The Cardinals remain alive for the No. 1 spot for the NFC playoffs.
Arizona's win featured two defensive touchdown returns in the third quarter, when the Cardinals pulled away and left little doubt as to the outcome. The turning point in the game, however, occurred late in the second quarter following a Mike Daniels interception that left the Packers at the Cardinals 15-yard line. On third-and-5 from the 10, Aaron Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Justin Bethel.
"That was a huge swing there. That was the break we needed," McCarthy said of Daniels' interception.
Rodgers was sacked eight times. Two of those sacks produced fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. The Cardinals have ridden a wave of takeaways in recent weeks. They have won nine consecutive games.
"Ugly loss to a very good football team. The most important thing is how we respond to this. Pain and humility are among us," McCarthy said.
"We'll respond. I'm not concerned with that. I have great belief in our players. This isn't time for big-picture analysis. The two losses, Denver and here, are ugly. You can't do negative fundamentals in games like this. Good teams like Arizona make you pay for it," McCarthy added.
The Packers will close the regular season against the Vikings at Lambeau Field next Sunday, in a game that'll decide the NFC North title. With a win, the Packers will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs; with a loss, they'll be No. 5 and would travel to Washington.
"The ability to get a run and pass flow was the mindset going in. From the middle of the third quarter on, you're playing in a different game and you can't evaluate that," McCarthy said.
Rodgers threw for only 58 yards in the first half. He finished the game having completed 15 of 28 passes for 151 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 66.2 passer rating.
"We didn't have a ton of guys open. We have to find a way to get guys open schematically with motion and formations," Rodgers said.
"Stretch the field?" McCarthy said in repeating a question referring to a lack of a deep threat. "It's all in there. I would definitely say the execution of our passing game … we are what our stats are.
The Packers visited the Cardinals for the first time since 2009 in a Week 16 matchup. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.
"I'm very concerned with the quarterback hits. You cannot allow your quarterback to get hit. He cannot get hit like that. We have to get open quicker. We have to beat man-to-man. We have to quit worrying about plays and worry about execution."
Rodgers was hit hard on several occasions, once taking a savage blow to the head that was flagged.
"Aaron was under duress today. He has to take care of the ball. We had four giveaways," McCarthy said.
"They brought some good pressures. We had a lot of them picked up. We had a guy for a guy," he said.
"I'm OK. I took some shots. I'm disappointed in myself. It's disappointing I let it go a couple of times. That's not good football and I have to clean it up," he added.'
This will be a week dedicated to clean up, but the Packers are running out of weeks to fix an offense that continues to struggle.