Aaron Jones. AJ Dillon. Jones. Dillon. Jones. Dillon.
Those were the two main ingredients who set the tone for Green Bay in its dramatic 24-21 win over previously unbeaten Arizona in the desert Thursday night.
The winning recipe was rounded out by a Packers defense which played above and beyond expectations.
And, of course, a veteran receiver who entered the contest under pressure to perform and delivered.
“Quadzilla,” “Quadfather,” the thunder to Jones’ lightning (we’re circling back to this) -- call him whatever you’d like -- Dillon was an absolute problem all night, rushing 16 times for 78 angry yards.
The second-year back looked like one of those monster trucks that crushes dirt, cars and everything in its tracks. His power was supplemented by his graceful cutbacks and surprising wiggle between the tackles.
Obviously, Dillon sounds more like thunder than he moves like lightning when he runs the rock, and vice versa for Jones, but the proof was in the pudding in prime time -- they’re capable of swapping bits.
Jones was a tackle-breaking menace whenever he touched the football -- he corralled seven of 11 targets for 51 yards and carried 15 times for 59 more and one score -- and displayed major cojones when he overpowered 6-foot-4, 238-pound linebacker Isaiah Simmons at the goal line in the second quarter.
Green Bay’s one-two punch propped up a defense that was on the field for just 22:25 but played spectacular in spurts. The Cardinals punted or turned the ball over on four of their first five possessions, and gained a paltry 3.7 yards per carry, totaling 74 rushing yards, well off their per-game average of 137.
That veteran wideout we hinted at, aka Randall Cobb, blocked his tail off most the night and caught three short passes for 15 yards on five targets. Sure enough, two checked out as tuddies. Cobb might have boxed out Arizona defensive back Byron Murphy to notch the elusive hat trick with under 3 1/2 minutes remaining, but Aaron Rodgers’ fourth-down pass was thwarted in midair, so we’ll never know.
The Cardinals came yards away from causing unspeakable pain and nixing Green Bay’s win streak, but the football gods interfered -- or A.J. Green ran a mistaken route -- and Rasul Douglas called the game.
Let’s devour the latest and perhaps greatest Packers win this season:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
We considered the dynamic backfield duo, and rightfully so. We also considered the leader of Green Bay’s undermanned and understated defense, middle linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who recorded seven tackles (two for a loss) one sack and one quarterback hit against his former team (how in the heck did Arizona let Campbell walk?). But we’re tweaking our POTG requisites this week and, well, singling out a coach, instead, because Matt LaFleur was damn impressive. The third-year head man called close to a flawless game on offense despite missing the league’s finest receiver and fielding an unheralded group of pass catchers. Green Bay chewed nearly 40 minutes off the clock and outgained the Cards 335 to 334. LaFleur also demonstrated his belief in his team, which is vital to victory in marquee games -- the Packers went for it on fourth down on four separate occasions, albeit they converted only twice. All in all, LaFleur deserves his slice of applause for drawing up a winning effort without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Nobody is forgetting about you, Mr. Douglas. That’s the honest-to-god truth. At least not anymore. We could have given Douglas POTG distinction or rehashed his hero moment, below, but this blurb is better suited for the Packers cornerback who picked off Murray in the end zone with 12 seconds to go because it brought his season full circle. Douglas was signed by Green Bay 22 days ago off Arizona’s practice squad. He made his third appearance as a Packer on Thursday night and finished with a game-high nine tackles, two passes defensed and the game-clinching interception. Douglas never appeared in a contest for the Cardinals -- he was originally signed as cornerback insurance early in September after being waived by Houston when Malcolm Butler was abruptly added to Arizona’s reserve/retired list -- but made arguably the biggest play of his NFL career at State Farm Stadium. Which ex-practice squad player ended his former team’s undefeated season? Sounds like an answer to a future jeopardy question.
Troy Aikman called it “the best catch you’ll ever see that won’t count.” Marcedes Lewis plucked a Rodgers fastball with his right mitt in the back of the end zone, paused to wait for confirmation that he scored then proceeded to crater the earth with a supersized spike. The prospective Packers points were quickly wiped off the board when replay review revealed the 16-year vet failed to get his left foot in bounds on his way to the ground. The 37-year-old Lewis laughed it off as he retreated back to Green Bay’s huddle, probably as floored as the rest of us by his near touchdown with 6:43 left in the second.
We chose this moment for reasons both good and bad. Lewis may not have secured the catch, but the Packers did secure their first lead of the game on a Mason Crosby kick two plays later. Of course, the field goal wasn’t Green Bay’s first choice of outcomes -- the Pack were rewarded with the football at Arizona’s 3-yard line after Cardinals receiver Rondale Moore muffed a perfect 48-yard punt by Corey Bojorquez.
Ultimately, this moment didn’t come back to haunt Green Bay. The Packers defense held up their end of the bargain and then some, limiting Arizona to seven first-half points and intercepting Murray on a tipped screen pass during the Cards’ first series of the third quarter. Rodgers and Co. turned the team’s second takeaway into a two-yard Cobb touchdown one play after converting on fourth-and-3 from Arizona’s seven. We still were awfully impressed by “Big Dog’s” one-handed trap -- even if it didn’t count.
The total number of receptions by Juwann Winfree, Josiah Deguara, Equanimeous St. Brown and Amari Rodgers. For context, Rodgers, the reigning MVP not the rookie, completed 22 of 37 throws for 184 yards, his lowest total since passing for 133 in Week 1. Winfree, who was elevated off the practice squad four hours before kickoff, paced the four players with four grabs -- his first four career receptions -- for 30 yards on six targets. Deguara hauled in his two looks for 20 yards. St. Brown gained 12 yards on two catches and Rodgers, the third-round draft choice out of Clemson, caught one of three targets for seven yards -- he also trotted for a pickup of 11 and a first down on a reverse in the first half. All four were forced into larger roles -- they combined for five receptions on the year entering Thursday’s showdown.
THEY SAID IT
“Blessed. Blessed. Blessed, man. You’re in a crazy mental state being in the league five years, never been on a practice squad before. … One day you’re just on a practice squad, you feel like you’re working for nothing, kinda, and then you get a call and you’re somewhere else, and you’re just playing. So I’m just thankful.” -- CB Rasul Douglas on his emotions following his game-sealing interception
“I didn’t even know because I never check the schedule.” -- Douglas on whether he was aware he’d have the chance to play against his former team so soon after joining Green Bay
“So proud of Rasul. What a great story. How special is this game? Guy’s on the street, comes in, starts for us, finishes the game out for us. Amazing.” -- QB Aaron Rodgers
“I thought Matt did a good job mixing it up. We were on the field for so many minutes. That was a big focus of the game -- keeping Kyler and that offense off the field.” -- Rodgers on the run-heavy assault
“I think we’re a gritty football team. I think nobody probably expected us to win tonight -- maybe to be in the game, but definitely not to win with the guys that we had out. I’m really proud.” -- Rodgers
“Just really happy and kind of relieved at the same time. There’s a lot to clean up. This is an imperfect game. There’s some stuff, I know that I’m looking at myself, specifically, in the red zone about -- not necessarily proud of everything that happened down there but we’ll get better from it and we’ll learn from it. But I can’t say enough about just everybody stepping up.” -- head coach Matt LaFleur
Green Bay treks to Kansas City with an NFL best seven-game win streak intact. The reeling Chiefs (3-4) host the Giants on Monday night and could really use some momentum ahead of their meeting with the Packers after they were thumped 27-3 by Tennessee in Week 7. Green Bay, hopefully, will regain one or two, if not all three, of its top receivers (Adams, Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling) before next Sunday. The matchup marks Rodgers’ first opportunity to go toe-to-toe with 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes.