GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when the Arizona Cardinals racked up nine quarterback sacks (the most they’ve had in a game since 1986), forced four turnovers and scored twice, there were enough defensive highlights to fill a 30-minute television show.
But one stood above the others on the importance scale.
Cornerback Justin Bethel picked off an Aaron Rodgers pass in the end zone with under a minute to go in the first half. What could have been a 10-7 game at the break turned into a 17-0 Arizona lead as Carson Palmer marched the Cardinals on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the two-minute drill.
The Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers 38-8 in front of 64,878 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium, clinching a first-round playoff bye in the process.
Arizona led by 10 and took over on their own 24-yard line after a Tim Masthay punt with two minutes left in the second quarter. On first down, Palmer tried to hit running back David Johnson on a screen pass, but it was intercepted by lineman Mike Daniels, who returned it to the Cardinals’ 15-yard line.
Rodgers got the Packers down to the 10-yard line and faced a 3rd-and-5 from there. He targeted receiver James Jones in the right corner of the end zone, but Bethel deflected and caught the ball for his second pick of the season.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) December 27, 2015
Palmer then hit Michael Floyd on a 47-yard pass on first down, which took the Cardinals to the Green Bay 33. Six plays later, he’d connect with John Brown on a 7-yard touchdown strike that stretched the Cardinals’ lead.
Bethel knew he was going to get picked on by Rodgers and the Packers, with Patrick Peterson continuing his season-long lockdown of one side of the field and the Cardinals missing starting safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson.
“You kind of have to know it’s going to happen,” Bethel said. “It’s not like I’m surprised. I don’t know how many times they threw at me. They kept on doing that back-shoulder (throw). That’s like one of the hardest routes to cover. There are definitely some things that I can get better at. I’m going to keep working and get ready for the playoffs.”