Updated at: 11/05/2012 6:05 AM
By NANCY ARMOUR
(AP) GREEN BAY, Wis. - The Green Bay Packers had a powerful incentive to beat the Arizona Cardinals.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave his banged-up team the whole week off after the Packers beat Arizona 31-17 Sunday. Less than a minute after Arizona kicked a 20-yard field goal to pare what had been a 17-point lead to a touchdown, Tom Crabtree chugged 72 yards for a late third-quarter score that sealed the victory.
"It’s amazing what they’ll do for an extra day off," McCarthy said. "It’s well deserved. I think it’s important for us to just step away, so we’ll have a week off."
Green Bay (6-3) takes a four-game winning streak into the bye, which it desperately needs. Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson and Cedric Benson headline a laundry list of injured Packers, and three more got hurt against Arizona. Clay Matthews tweaked his hamstring, Bryan Bulaga hurt his hip and Jordy Nelson, who missed last week’s game and much of practice this week with a bad hamstring, injured his ankle.
On the very first ball Aaron Rodgers threw him, no less.
"I like where we’re at," Rodgers said. "We’ve had some adversity early in the season, we’ve come together, we’ve taken some heat and it’s brought us closer together. We went on the kind of run we need to go on with four big wins in a row to get to the bye week, and now we can get healthy, and hopefully we can get some of our guys back.
"We’ve got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off."
The Packers are second in the NFC North behind Chicago, with five of their last seven games against division opponents.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, limp back to Arizona for their bye week looking for a way to regroup. Arizona has dropped five straight after beginning the season with four wins.
John Skelton threw for more than 300 yards, and he was able to find enough holes in the Green Bay defense for big gains time and again. But the Packers did a good job bottling up Larry Fitzgerald, and Arizona’s other receivers had too many drops. Early Doucet and Rob Housler were targeted 13 times and had just five catches.
"We’ve got to get back," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We’ve got seven more games to play. We’ll get some guys back from injuries. This bye week is going to be very humbling and we need to take advantage of it."
Criticized all year for their anemic efforts on the ground, the Packers broke free for 176 yards, their most since gaining 202 against Cleveland on Oct. 25, 2009. Four players _ Rodgers, Randall Cobb, John Starks and Alex Green _ had 25-plus yards rushing, the first time that’s happened since 2003.
All that running must have left them tired, however, because the Packers came out sluggish in the second half. They failed to pick up a first down on any of their first four drives, and got only a 33-yard field goal from Mason Crosby despite getting the ball at their own 48, Arizona’s 17 and midfield.
"We said at halftime, these are the kind of games where you can really put teams away if you play the way you want to play. We didn’t do that in the second half," Rodgers said. "We kind of gave them a reason to hang around and hang around."
The Cardinals caught a break when LaRod Stephens-Howling was tripped up behind the line of scrimmage only to land on a Packer instead of the ground. He got up and kept going for a 5-yard gain, and the ruling was upheld on review because officials said only his wrist had hit the ground.
On the next play, Fitzgerald shook off tackles by Tramon Williams, M.D. Jennings and Dezman House for a 31-yard touchdown that cut Green Bay’s lead to 24-14.
With Matthews in the locker room with a hamstring injury, Skelton went 7 of 9 as he moved the Cardinals 74 yards to the Green Bay 2. But Stephens-Howling was stuffed on third-and-1, forcing Arizona to settle for a 20-yard field goal that cut the lead to 24-17.
"Going back to last year, we always had rough starts but in the second half we always found a way to make the plays that we didn’t make in the first half," Doucet said. "When you get behind on a team like Green Bay at home, it is kind of tough to overcome."
Sure enough, two plays later Crabtree caught the ball at the Green Bay 45 and rumbled up field, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Paris Lenon and William Gay weren’t going to catch him.
They didn’t _ barely _ and Crabtree tumbled into the end zone.
"Honestly, I’m still really tired," Crabtree said. "I need to spend this bye week doing some gassers or something."
Good thing he’s got some extra time off.
NOTES: Green Bay has won 17 of its last 18 regular-season games at Lambeau Field. ... Green Bay’s 39 rushing attempts also were its most in three years. ... The Packers had a season-low one penalty. ... After a career-best seven catches in each of his last two games, Arizona WR Andre Roberts had four for 86 yards. ... Arizona is oh-for-Wisconsin since 1949, losing its last nine road games against the Packers.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)