The Panthers gave up the NFL’s longest winning streak with their loss to the Falcons on Sunday, leaving the Chiefs with the spot after their win over the Browns and the Cardinals with a chance to join them in the late window.
They didn’t leave any doubt about whether they’d grab it or not. After a scoreless first quarter, the Cardinals caught fire on both sides of the ball and simply flattened the Packers on the way to a 38-8 victory. It’s nine in a row for Arizona, the first time the franchise has pulled that off since 1948, and the win gives them a chance to earn the top seed in the NFC next week if they win and the Panthers lose again.
Whether they are the No. 1 or the No. 2, the Cardinals look like they’re going to be a very tough out come January. Their offense put up 381 yards, Carson Palmer threw two touchdowns and rookie running back David Johnson continued to thrive before all the starters took a rest in the fourth quarter. Good as the offense was, the defense was the reason this one got out of hand.
The Cardinals sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times and returned two of his fumbles for touchdowns before Mike McCarthy decided to let Scott Tolzien play out the string. Dwight Freeney had three sacks, Calais Campbell added 2.5 more and the Packers offensive line looked incapable of putting up any fight for much of the afternoon against a defense that didn’t seem to be missing Tyrann Mathieu this weekend.
It didn’t help that they were missing left tackle David Bakhtiari all day and right tackle Bryan Bulaga for most of the second half, but the offensive issues for the Packers started long before they arrived in the desert. Mike McCarthy took back the play calling duties, but nothing was working for the Packers until way after the game had been decided and it wasn’t like they caught fire at that point in the proceedings.
They’ll need to find some answers by next Sunday’s game against the Vikings, which will decide an NFC North race that is going down to the wire.