TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — After Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers shredded the Arizona Cardinals’ defense, imagine what Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints might do.
The Cardinals’ defense made the big play that won the game in Arizona’s 51-45 overtime thriller over the Packers, but before that Rodgers’ offense moved up and down the field with little resistance.
Arizona’s offense left Sunday’s win — the highest-scoring game in NFL playoff history — with its already strong reputation bolstered going into the divisional playoff game at New Orleans on Saturday. The defense is perceived as a weakness that could well prevent the Cardinals from a return trip to the Super Bowl.
It’s a perception that left the players, well, defensive after their first day of practice since Sunday’s’ exhausting encounter.
“It’s not going to always be a defensive struggle. It’s not going to always be a one-sided game,” defensive end Bertrand Berry said after Tuesday’s workout. “Sometimes you have to win a shootout. The main thing about this is win and move on. We did that, so regardless of what people want to think, they can watch us be a bad defense next week, too.”
With a short week of practice before Saturday’s game, the Cardinals have little time to fix what went wrong.
“The biggest thing that concerned me was tackling,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We didn’t do a good enough job tackling. We had guys around receivers when they caught the ball, and we didn’t get them on the ground.”
The Cardinals held Rodgers to just 2 yards passing in the first quarter. He finished 28 of 42 for 422 yards and four touchdowns. The Packers had 32 first downs.
“What they call ‘yac,’ yards after catch, we didn’t do a good job,” nose tackle Bryan Robinson said. “That goes for everybody. We don’t single out our DB’s or whatever.”
There were a few positives, most notably the final play, when Michael Adams — burned by Rodgers time and again earlier in the game — knocked the ball loose from the Green Bay quarterback on a blitz on the third play of overtime. The ball bounced off Rodgers’ foot into the hands of Karlos Dansby, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
Then there were the game’s opening minutes, when Dansby broke up Rodgers’ pass and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted. On Green Bay’s next possession, Dansby stripped the ball from Donald Driver and Alan Branch recovered for the Cardinals. Arizona converted both turnovers into touchdowns.
Arizona added a field goal a short time later, but a 17-0 lead was hardly enough as Rodgers, throwing the ball all over the field, brought the Packers back twice to tie it.
“It’s hard to say anything positive when you give up as many yards as we did on defense,” Whisenhunt said, “not just the cornerbacks, but everybody.”
Rodgers-Cromartie said “stuff like that can be easily fixed.”
“Come on that practice field and get back to doin’ what you’re doin’.” he said. “Just stay focused. Don’t take the 17 points for granted.”
Brees downplayed Arizona’s defensive problems, saying it was just that kind of game.
“I’m sure that after watching the film, those guys are going to say ‘Well, we need to correct these things,'” the Saints quarterback said. “It seemed like every big play that could have been played in that game was made, on both sides of the ball. Whether it was great throws, great catches, broken tackles, and like I said, it seemed like it was a perfect storm.”
Despite sputtering a bit down the stretch, the Saints finished first in the NFL in scoring (31.9 points per game) and total yards (403.8).
“They have so many different weapons on offense,” said defensive end Calais Campbell, who played Sunday’s game with a cast to protect his broken left thumb. “Their quarterback’s a great quarterback. We’ve got our hands full this week.”
Despite the showing, the Cardinals’ defense still has its swagger, Dansby insisted.
“Definitely, man. We won the ball game,” he said, “so we’ve got all the swag we need.”