The Green Bay Packers welcomed the arrival of their much-needed bye week with a 31-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy was already turning his thoughts ahead to the Detroit Lions.
"Six and three is the position we're in," McCarthy said of the Packers' record at the bye. "That's the last thing I told the team. I think it's time to take a step back and look at how we got to 6-3, and then commit. It's a time to get healthy and get ready for the grind, and the grind begins in Detroit."
That game in Detroit on Nov. 18 will kick off the stretch run for the Packers, a seven-game schedule that will include five games against NFC North opponents. They are five games that will decide the Packers' fate in 2012, as the Packers try to close the gap on the division-leading Chicago Bears, 7-1.
Battered and depleted, the Packers bowed their neck and positioned themselves for a second-half-of-the-season run by swamping the visitors from the desert with a trio of first-half touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, despite claiming to have been off his game, pitched another touchdown pass in the second half, giving him 25 for the season.
"Very commanding victory for us. I'm proud of the football team for the way they battled through injuries," Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers' injury reported lengthened on Sunday when Jordy Nelson, who was in his comeback game from a hamstring injury that idled him the previous week, sustained an ankle sprain early in the game and did not return to action. The Packers also lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga (hip) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) to injuries.
The critical moment in the game occurred late in the third quarter, with the Packers leading 24-14 and the Cardinals facing third-and-one from the Packers 2-yard line. That's when Packers rookie defensive lineman Mike Daniels stopped running back LaRod Stephens-Howling for a one-yard loss that forced a field goal.
If that didn't kill the Cardinals' momentum, the next play from scrimmage did. Rodgers completed a short pass to reserve tight end Tom Crabtree, who beat the Cardinals to the end zone for a 72-yard, catch-and-run touchdown that erased any doubt as to what the outcome of the game would be.
"It's time to evaluate, step back and clean things up heading to Detroit and the third quarter (of the schedule)," McCarthy said, emphasizing his Detroit theme.
The Packers hope they'll be able to take a healthy team to Detroit. They will certainly be taking with them one of the bright new stars in the game, Randall Cobb, who turned 12 touches into 208 yards on Sunday.
Cobb caught touchdown passes of 13 and 21 yards in the first half. He rushed from scrimmage three times for 29 yards, returned a kickoff 44 yards and a punt 28. He is the Packers' do-it-all guy, and his impact has increased weekly, especially while the Packers have been forced to play without Nelson and Greg Jennings.
"Randall Cobb is a playmaker. That's how we view him. Playmakers need the ball in their hands. He played injured today, which tells you a little bit about him," McCarthy said. Cobb was playing with a shoulder hurt.
The Packers might even be taking with them to Detroit a running game, which came to life for 176 yards against the Cardinals. Rodgers scrambled for 33 of those yards, but running backs James Starks (61) and Alex Green (53) combined for 114 yards, and that's a significant improvement over the 62 yards for which the two men combined in the previous game.
"I was pleased with the rushing effort today. That's the way you want to run the ball," McCarthy said.
McCarthy was complimentary of just about everything his team did, except for Rodgers' daring recovery of a fumble.
"I'm not a fan of it. It scared the hell out of me. He plays the game the way it should be played. I get paid to worry," McCarthy said.
Now it's time to "worry" about what the Packers have to do to make it into the postseason. Ten wins will usually get a team into the playoffs.
"Division games are the most important games," McCarthy said.
Clearly, then, the most important part of the season is dead ahead, after a short break.
"They got some extra time off. It's well deserved," McCarthy said. Additional coverage - Packers vs. Cardinals