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Big Red Recap: Cardinals beat Packers to secure first-round playoff bye

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) signals safety after a sack in the end zone against the Green Bay Packers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Make the playoffs, check.

Win the division, check.

Clinch a first-round bye, check.

The Arizona Cardinals’ road to Super Bowl 50 will have one less stop—two rather than three—to make with a goal of closing the season in Santa Clara.

With a 38-8 victory over the Green Bay Packers in front of soldout crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, the Cardinals secured no worse than the two-seed in the 2015 postseason.

Considering the stakes and the opponent, it was perhaps the most impressive performance of the season by the Cardinals (13-2), who won their ninth straight, the second-longest winning streak in franchise history.

Carson Palmer, celebrating his 36th birthday, passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinals took advantage of several mistakes by the Packers (10-5).

Over a four-possession stretch covering the second and third quarters, the Cardinals forced three turnovers: Justin Bethel picked off Aaron Rodgers, leading to a John Brown touchdown catch; Jerraud Powers recovered a James Starks fumble on the second half kickoff, leading to a David Johnson touchdown run; and Cory Redding picked up the loose football after a Kareem Martin strip-sack and rumbled 36 yards for a touchdown and 31-0 lead at 9:34 of the third quarter.

Two Green Bay possessions later, the Cardinals added a second defensive touchdown with Jerraud Powers returning a Rodgers fumble seven yards for a score, the last of the 38 points scored.

Rodgers was 15-of-28 for 151 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked eight times.

The Cardinals outgained the Packers, 381-178.

Michael Floyd topped 100 yards receiving (111) for the fifth time in seven games, while David Johnson totaled 127 yards from scrimmage, including 88 receiving.

Should the Cardinals beat Seattle and Carolina lose to Tampa Bay next week, the Cardinals will be the No. 1 seed and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

THE GOOD

On just the third play of the game, Larry Fitzgerald caught a 6-yard pass on third down, giving him 100 receptions in a season for the third time in his career and first time since 2007. There have been six 100-catch seasons in Cardinals history and Fitzgerald has half of them (Anquan Boldin 2, Larry Centers 1). Fitzgerald also now has at least one reception in 178 straight games, extending both the NFL’s longest active streak and franchise record.

On 3rd-and-goal at the Green Bay 3, Palmer shot a pass over the middle to Fitzgerald for a touchdown. The score was Palmer’s 33rd of the season, setting a new single-season career-high, and Fitzgerald’s eighth, though the first since Nov. 1 at Cleveland. It was also his fifth receiving touchdown in four career games against the Packers, including the postseason. The play gave the Cardinals a 7-0 lead at 14:07 of the second quarter.

Just an absolute monster second quarter for Calais Campbell. Entering the game with 2.5 sacks, Campbell matched that season total in two possessions, a stretch of nine defensive snaps early in the period. Campbell’s 2.5 sacks gave him 48.5 for his career, moving him past Ken Harvey (1988-93) for fourth place on the franchise all-time sacks list. The third time Campbell got to Rodgers, Markus Golden did the same, giving each player half a sack.

Twice in the third quarter and once in the fourth quarter, Dwight Freeney got to the quarterback. His three sacks tied a single-game career-high and moved him past Robert Mathis for 19th place on the NFL’s all-time sacks list with 119.5. Overall, the Cardinals sacked Rodgers and Scott Tolzien a combined nine times, the most in almost two decades. Back in 1987, the Cardinals sacked Cowboys quarterback Danny White eight times on Sept. 13.

THE BAD

Twice in three plays on the Cardinals second possession of the game, Palmer was sacked. He was first dropped by Mike Pennel (throwing aside Ted Larsen) and then Mike Neal (beating Mike Iupati) got him. The latter, coming on 3rd down-and-4 at the Green Bay 29, pushed the Cardinals out of field goal range and thus meant a punt.

The Packers special teams caught the Cardinals off guard in the second quarter. Punter Tim Masthay rushed seven yards for a first down on 4th-and-2 at the 45. The fake punt went down as the longest Packers run of the first two quarters. Eddie Lacy, who carried the ball seven times for 20 yards in the half, had a long of six yards.

All good things must come to an end, and for the Cardinals their franchise-best four-game run without a turnover ended on a Palmer interception (10th of season) late in the second quarter. Mike Daniels picked off Palmer, his first interception thrown in 187 pass attempts, a franchise-best and at the time the longest active streak in the NFL.

STAT OF THE GAME

28: The number of points the Cardinals scored off four-Green Bay turnovers

HE SAID IT

“To come out in two big games and be able to dominate like that is huge. We’re playing good team ball,” left tackle Jared Veldheer.

NOTED

– The Cardinals’ second first-half touchdown—a John Brown 7-yard catch—set a new franchise record for touchdowns in season with 54.

– The Cardinals improved to 25-5 against teams outside the division, including a perfect 6-0 mark vs. the NFC North, under head coach Bruce Arians.

– Arizona secured its third month (September, November and December) with an undefeated record, a first in franchise history.

– Redding and Powers became the 18th and 19th different Cardinals players to score a touchdown this season, the most in the NFL.

– Palmer became the third Cardinal to play on his birthday this season, joining Mike Leach (10/18 at Pittsburgh) and Redding (11/15 at Seattle).

– Among the Cardinals inactives were starting safety Rashad Johnson (ankles) and backup defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf).

– Among those in attendance were singers Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani; they were the guest of team president Michael Bidwill.

UP NEXT

It’s the regular season finale.

The Cardinals host Seattle on Sunday, Jan. 3. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:25 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Not since 2009 have the Cardinals swept the season series from the Seahawks, but with a victory in Week 17, the Cardinals can do just that, putting an end to a six-year drought.

The Cardinals won the first matchup, beating the Seahawks 39-32 at CenturyLink Field in front of a Sunday night primetime audience on Nov. 15.

Palmer passed for 363 yards and three touchdowns—two went to Floyd, who caught seven balls for 113 yards. Fitzgerald also went over 100 yards receiving with 10 catches for 130 yards. Chandler Catanzaro kicked three field goals and the defense scored when Frostee Rucker tackled Russell Wilson in the end zone for a safety.

The victory was the Cardinals’ first in three tries against Seattle, which has won the past two meetings in the Valley, including a 35-6 win last season.

Overall, the Cardinals lead 17-16 in a series that dates back to 1976.

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