In their last get-together in the desert, the Arizona Cardinals trounced the Green Bay Packers by 30 points. The loss was the biggest December setback in 10 years for the visitors who departed with their tail between their legs.
Arizona and Green Bay meet again, this time in a divisional playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Everyone, it seems, wants to know if the Packers can be more competitive.
Arizona’s 38-8 triumph over Green Bay on Dec. 27 was its second-most dominant of the season, second only to a 47-7 rout of the 49ers in September. For the Packers, it was their greatest December misstep since the Ravens blew them out 48-3 in 2005.
The Cardinals needed but two quarters to produce all their points in crushing Green Bay. They scored 17 in the second and 21 in the third.
The quarters in which this outpouring occurred is mentioned for two reasons: one trivial and one a bit more substantial.
Only twice before had a Packers’ opponent invoked such a high score with points limited to two quarters. The Colts did it in a 41-21 win in 1950 (14 in 2nd; 27 in 4th) and the Giants in a 42-40 squeaker in 1971 (28 in 2nd; 14 in 3rd).
More to the point: the timing of the Cardinals’ scoring highlights the importance of these two quarters to the team. Arizona is the league leader in yards generated in the 30 minutes surrounding halftime, and its point production is second only to that of the Panthers.
If Green Bay is to have a chance, it must be especially wary of those two periods. The Cardinals are 13-0 when they score a touchdown in either the second or third quarters.
Don’t get the wrong idea. Arizona is formidable at any time. However, the team raises the bar during the middle of games.
Statistics bear this out. The differences between the club’s midgame production and what’s manufactured elsewhere — though far from awe-inspiring — suggest a team that is on task.
» Third-down conversion percentage: 47.9 to 46.1.
» Turnover differential: plus-six to plus-three.
» Completions of 20 or more yards: 36 to 30.
The biggest numbers involve points and yards. Ask the Packers if they saw enough of those on their last visit.
Arizona scored 295 points in second and third quarters. They posted 194 elsewhere.
Only Carolina (297) put up more. Not surprisingly, the Panthers were also good (15-0) when scoring a touchdown in either the second or third quarter.
The 295 by the Cardinals is more than what the team had overall (250) in 2012. Bruce Arians was named coach after that disappointing 5-11 season.
Arizona gained 3,393 yards in the two periods that bookend halftime. That’s 253 yards more than what it accumulated elsewhere.
Seven teams broke the 3,000-yard barrier. The Seahawks (3,258), Panthers (3,157) and Patriots (3,029) also made the playoffs.
While quantity is good, quality is even better. The Cardinals (6.77) were one of three teams — Steelers (6.27) and Seahawks (6.26) – to average better than six yards a play
What makes these performances more intriguing is the fact that Arizona, on average, lost the time of possession tug of war in both periods. The team that led the NFL in average time of possession (32 minutes, four seconds) clocked in at 7:11 (second quarter) and 7:09 (third).
This is a team that uses its time wisely.
Carson Palmer and his receiving corps are responsible for inflating many of these numbers. Palmer’s third-quarter passer rating (133.5) is the league’s best.
Arizona averages 9.52 yards per attempt in the period, nearly two yards more than second-place Buffalo (7.62). The Cardinals’ 11 TD passes also are unmatched.
Palmer didn’t need to work up a third-quarter sweat against Green Bay; he attempted only three passes in the period. Arizona was too busy turning Packers’ turnovers into 21 points.
Which leads to one final note: The Cardinals scored 137 points as the result of turnovers. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those points (103) were tallied in the second and third quarters.
Overall: tied 1-1.
At University of Phoenix Stadium: Cardinals lead 1-0.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (7-5 overall; 0-1 vs. Arizona).
Cardinals: Carson Palmer (0-2; 0-0 vs. Green Bay).
Detroit is the only team in NFL history to lose both a regular-season and a playoff game by 30 or more points to the same team in the same season. In 1991, Washington blanked the Lions 45-0 in Week 1, then knocked them out 41-10 in a divisional playoff game.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Email him at email@example.com.
Heart of the matter
In 2015, teams that gained 3,000 or more yards in the second and third quarters combined (regular season only).