Early and late mistakes doom Packers in 51-45 loss to Arizona

By Andrew Bagnato, AP
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Three turnovers help send Packers to 51-45 loss

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With seven wins in eight games to close out the regular season, the Green Bay Packers entered the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFC — and with one of the best defenses to boot.

They exited the playoffs by giving away the football early and late in a 51-45 overtime loss to the Cardinals in an NFC wild card game on Sunday.

In between, the Green Bay defense had no answer for Kurt Warner and the Cardinals, surrendering the most points in the franchise’s 41 postseason games.

“We’re done now, so that’s what I’ll be thinking about laying in bed tonight,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw an interception and had a fumble returned for the winning touchdown.

The turnovers and defensive collapse were uncharacteristic for a team that led the NFL in turnover margin and finished second in total defense.

This wasn’t the same squad that dismantled Arizona 33-7 on the same field a week ago, with many Cardinals regulars resting. That much was clear from the start.

On the game’s first snap, Rodgers rolled to his right and tried to hit Donald Lee in traffic. Arizona’s Karlos Dansby deflected the ball and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted at the Green Bay 40-yard line, setting up an Arizona touchdown.

On Green Bay’s third offensive snap, wide receiver Donald Driver was stripped by Dansby at the Packers’ 22. Arizona recovered, and two plays later the Cardinals led 14-0.

“The start of the game was a hump that we really never totally got over,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “If you had told me we would have came in here and went interception, fumble, sack on our first three series, I would never have believed it.”

This wasn’t the start the Packers had envisioned after they charged into the playoffs with a strong stretch run.

“We stunk the joint up in the first quarter,” offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. “You’ve just got to weather the storm. We let it get a little bit out of hand. We didn’t weather it quick enough.”

Still, the Packers managed to make a game of it. Down 31-10 midway through the third quarter, the Packers launched a furious rally, tying the game twice in the fourth quarter.

With their offense clicking, the Packers felt confident after winning the coin toss to start overtime. But on the first snap, Rodgers overthrew an open Greg Jennings deep downfield.

Two plays later, Rodgers fumbled on a hit by Arizona’s Michael Adams, and Karlos Dansby grabbed the ball out of the air and sprinted 17 yards for the decisive touchdown.

“The last three plays of the game, I think, is an excellent microcosm of the football game,” McCarthy said. “You’re so close to winning on first down, and you lose the game on third down.”

Green Bay led the NFL in turnover margin this season, forcing 24 more than it committed.

The Packers might have survived the mistakes if their defense had played as well as it did as they made their push for the playoffs.

Green Bay’s defense ranked second in the NFL, allowing 284 yards per game. The Cardinals gained 531 on Sunday.

The Packers also had the league’s best rushing defense, allowing 83.5 yards rushing per game. Arizona had 87 yards at halftime and finished with 156.

Green Bay didn’t force a punt until 11:53 to go in the fourth quarter. Arizona had seen only three third downs to that point.

The Packers’ secondary seemed to be a step behind the Cardinals’ receivers all day — and Arizona played without the injured Anquan Boldin. Green Bay rarely pressured Warner.

“Blame it on missed assignments, blame it on missed tackles, that sort of stuff,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said.

The Packers came to the desert thinking that they could contend for a Super Bowl berth. Instead, they have the rest of the winter to think about what went wrong.

“The guys in the locker room believed that this was a team that could make a deep run,” Rodgers said. “We ran into a hot quarterback and made too many mistakes today.”

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