GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Tom Crabtree caught the ball at the Green Bay 45 and chugged up field, looking over one shoulder and then the other to be sure the two Arizona Cardinals who were giving chase were still behind him.
They were. Barely.
Crabtree had just enough gas to “outrace” the Cardinals, tumbling into the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter that sealed Green Bay’s 31-17 win Sunday. Arizona had pulled within a touchdown before Crabtree’s score, but could manage only one more first down the rest of the game.
The touchdown was Green Bay’s longest play of the season, and Crabtree’s longest TD catch since “probably high school.”
“Honestly, I’m still really tired,” Crabtree said. “I need to spend this bye week doing some gassers or something.”
The Packers (6-3) take a four-game winning streak into their bye week, which they badly need after losing three more players — Clay Matthews (hamstring), Jordy Nelson (ankle) and Bryan Bulaga (hip) — to injuries during the game.
“We need to get healthy, that’s what bye weeks are for,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re 6-3 and we’ve got time to evaluate, step back, clean some things up and get ready for … the grind.”
Arizona (4-5) is off next weekend, too, and the Cardinals need to find a way to regroup after dropping their fifth straight. 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.
Fitzgerald finished with six catches for 74 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.
“That’s like a broken record. If you look at our five games that we’ve lost — which is extremely disappointing — the one thing that’s consistent is that we’ve had opportunities to make plays and we haven’t done it,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Green Bay’s a good football team. But today, in my opinion, was as much about what we didn’t do as what they did do.”
Randall Cobb had a pair of touchdown catches for the Packers, and James Jones had his eighth of the season, a career high. Aaron Rodgers didn’t have his best game, throwing for 218 yards and four touchdowns but going 14 of 30. Rodgers did break off a 25-yard run to help set up Green Bay’s first score, and jumped on a fumble to keep alive another scoring drive.
“No, I didn’t throw it very well today,” Rodgers said. “I threw it in the dirt and got Jordy hurt and then just was off. I just wasn’t in a great rhythm. You know, I made a couple decent throws for touchdowns. But no, it wasn’t one of my better games.”
Perhaps most promising for the Packers was that their running game finally showed up. Green Bay finished with a season-high 176 yards rushing on 39 carries, its most since Oct. 25, 2009.
This was Green Bay and Arizona’s first game since the NFC wild card in January 2010, a 51-45 Arizona victory that set playoff records for points, touchdowns (13) and yards (1,024). But it was clear from Green Bay’s second drive, when the Packers rushed for 61 yards — five shy of their total for the entire game last week — that there would be no sequel to the shootout.
They rushed for 126 yards in the first half, most in a half in almost four years, on their way to a 21-7 lead.
“That’s the way you want to run the ball,” McCarthy said. “Aaron, obviously, made some plays with his feet and added to the total. I was very pleased with the rushing effort.”
All that running must have left them tired, because the Packers came out sluggish in the second half. They failed to pick up a first down on each 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 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 catch that cut Green Bay’s lead to 24-14.
“We wanted to come out and try to attack down field, make some plays and try to get the running game going a little in the second half,” Fitzgerald said.
With Matthews in the locker room with a hamstring injury, Skelton and the Cardinals had perhaps their best drive of the day. Skelton threw on seven of the first 10 plays of the drive, completing eight of them to bring the Cardinals to the Green Bay 2. But Mike Daniels and A.J. Hawk stuffed Stephens-Howling on third-and-1, forcing Arizona to settle for a 20-yard field goal that cut the lead to 24-17.
But two plays later, Crabtree ripped off the 72-yard score. As Crabtree mustered what energy he had left for a Lambeau Leap, Rodgers jumped on McCarthy, nearly tackling the Packers coach.
“It was huge,” Crabtree said. “They had some momentum going there in the second half, and I think that kind of maybe took a little bit of wind out of their sails.”
NOTES: Green Bay has won 17 of its last 18 regular-season games at Lambeau Field. … The Packers won their game before the bye for a third straight year. They are now 5-2 in the week before the bye under McCarthy. … Green Bay’s 39 rushing attempts also were its most in three years. … The Packers had a season-low one penalty. … After a career-best seven catches in each of his last two games, Arizona WR Andre Roberts had four for 86 yards. … After coming into the game tied for the NFL lead with 26 sacks, Green Bay got two more and Arizona had one.