GREEN BAY, Wis. - The NFL's reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, made a little play. One member of Rodgers' supporting cast, Tom Crabtree, made the biggest play.
Rodgers threw four touchdowns passes, one after he recovered a fumble and one to a backup tight end used primarily as a blocker, to lift the Green Bay Packers to a 31-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Both teams get a much needed bye next week. Despite having six starters on the inactive list and losing three more during the game, the Packers (6-3) won their fourth in a row. The Cardinals (4-5) lost their fifth in a row after a 4-0 start.
Arizona didn't wilt, even while trailing 21-7 at halftime. The Packers' first three possessions of the second half started at their 48, Arizona's 17 after an interception by Erik Walden and midfield, but Green Bay failed to gain a first down on any of those drives and had to settle for a field goal after the turnover.
The Cardinals cut the deficit to 24-14 midway through the third quarter when John Skelton, on third-and-five, hit Larry Fitzgerald, who ran through the Packers' defense for a 31-yard touchdown.
After a fourth consecutive Packers drive failed to gain a first down, the Cardinals drove to the Packers' 2, but LaRod Stephens-Howling got stuffed on a third-and-one run. Still, the chip-shot field goal made it 24-17 with 50 seconds to go in the quarter.
"We've had drives and we just haven't been able to capitalize," Skelton said. "That's kind of been the story all year."
The Packers got the back-breaking score on the final play of the third quarter. On second-and-four, backup tight end Crabtree lined up the backfield, ran a short route over the middle and got behind Paris Lenon, with Crabtree making the catch and going the distance for a 78-yard touchdown.
"It was huge," Crabtree said. "It kind of shifted the momentum. They had some momentum going there in the second half, and I think that kind of maybe took a little bit of wind out of their sails."
The Packers were in control at halftime behind Rodgers' touchdown passes of 13 and 21 yards to Randall Cobb and 29 yards to James Jones.
Rodgers, playing without Greg Jennings for the fifth consecutive game and losing Jordy Nelson to an ankle injury on the second series, carried the offense to the early lead. Not only was he 11-of-19 for 137 yards in the first half, but he ran for 36 yards and recovered a fumble. Rodgers had runs of 25 and 9 yards on the opening touchdown drive. On the third touchdown drive, James Starks fumbled, but a hustling Rodgers dove on the loose ball seven yards downfield.
"It's a play you, I think as a young coach, you're patting the guy on the back and everything, but it scared the hell out of me, frankly," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "When I saw him dive in there, I just thought the worst. I think it tells you about him as a football player, which I obviously have great respect for that. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, but I get paid to worry and I was worrying. That was a heck of a play by Aaron."
The Cardinals got their lone touchdown of the half when cornerback William Gay stole the ball from Cobb for an interception. Skelton hit Andre Roberts for 40 yards and LaRod Stephens-Howling ran around right end for the one-yard score.
"Obviously, we didn't start out fast, which was something we tried to make a point of coming off a short week," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I thought we battled. I know at one point in the third quarter it didn't look good but our guys hung in there and fought."
NOTES: The Packers' inactives list included six starters: defensive backs Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, fullback John Kuhn, outside linebacker Nick Perry, wide receiver Jennings and defensive end Jerel Worthy. The Cardinals' inactives included guard Adam Snyder. ... The Packers lost tackle Bryan Bulaga to a hip injury in the second quarter and he did not return, and Clay Matthews jogged to the locker room in the third quarter with an injured hamstring. McCarthy didn't have updates on any of the game's injuries ... Rodgers finished 14-of-30, his first sub-50 percent passing day since going 17-of-35 in a loss at Kansas City on Dec. 18. ... Rodgers is the first quarterback in NFL history with 25-plus touchdown passes in his team's first nine games in two seasons. ... Arizona had given up 39 sacks in the first eight games, putting it on pace for second-most in NFL history, but allowed only two against Green Bay. The Packers and Cardinals entered the day tied for the NFL lead in sacks. The Cardinals dropped Rodgers once.