LANDOVER, Md. -- If this is who the Green Bay Packers really are -- a complete and balanced team that didn’t panic when it trailed by double digits in Sunday’s 35-18 wild-card playoff victory against the Washington Redskins -- then perhaps the Arizona Cardinals and the rest of the teams still alive in the postseason have reason to fear them.
Aaron Rodgers looked like the quarterback we talked about as an MVP candidate when the Packers were 6-0 heading into their bye week. He led the Packers on five straight scoring drives (four touchdowns -- including one two-point conversion -- and a field goal) after they fell behind 11-0 early.
He got back to drawing penalties and taking advantage of free plays. He threw the ball down the field and hit James Jones for a 34-yard pass down the seam and connected with Davante Adams for 20 on a critical third down.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a defense that’s good enough (not great, but good enough) to complement the offense when it at least resembles its once-potent self. On Sunday, Rodgers and the offense played much better than their rankings (23rd overall in total offense and 25th in passing yards in the regular season). It was the Packers' highest-scoring output since their Week 3 win (38-28) against the Kansas City Chiefs.
What it means: The Packers get another shot at the Cardinals, who embarrassed them 38-8 in Week 16. It marks the fifth time in the past six years that coach Mike McCarthy has taken the Packers to at least the divisional round of the playoffs.
One reason to get excited: Shortly after the Packers’ loss at Arizona, linebacker Clay Matthews was asked why a rematch with the Cardinals might be any different from the blowout in the first meeting. Matthews said: “Can’t be any worse than that.” It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s something.
One reason to panic: Roll the video of that Dec. 27 loss at Arizona and you can see the Cardinals’ potential. Their pass rush battered Rodgers, sacking him eight times (they also got Scott Tolzien once in garbage time). The Packers also don’t know if they’ll have left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed his third straight game. The streak started with the game at Arizona.
What were they thinking: The Packers were without Bakhtiari (ankle) for a third straight game, and they tried their third different option there, JC Tretter, after Don Barclay and Josh Sitton didn’t work out. Why wouldn’t McCarthy give Tretter help early on when the Packers were backed up on a third-and-13 play from their own 5-yard line (after a Tretter false start)? Instead, running back Eddie Lacy went to the other side to help right tackle Bryan Bulaga, and Tretter allowed Preston Smith to sack Rodgers for a safety.
Ouch: Adams, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, left in the third quarter with a right knee injury. The Packers also lost cornerback Quinten Rollins (quadriceps).
Game ball: Yes, Adams and Jones caught touchdown passes. James Starks and Lacy both ran for touchdowns. But the Packers needed their two-time MVP quarterback to elevate his level of play, and he did. Sure, he still missed a couple of throws, but Rodgers got the ball out of his hands quickly and got as many people involved as possible.
What’s next: The Packers will be on a short week because they play Saturday night against the Cardinals. They most likely will travel on Friday, although it’s possible McCarthy might want to go early to practice in Arizona. The Packers held a practice at Scottsdale Community College the day before their Week 16 game there.