Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (left) and quarterback Kurt Warner watch as the Packers control Sunday's 33-7 win over the Cards.
The motivation was gone before kickoff, after the Vikings steamrolled the Giants in an early game to steal the Cardinals' chance at a No. 2 playoff seed.
The emotion was robbed soon after, when Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd in stunned silence when he hurt his left knee and was carted off the field.
It all provided a strange vibe during a lopsided 33-7 dominating win by the Packers, a game that had many markings of the preseason by the Cards – and one the Cards hope provides similar meaningless aftereffects.
"Obviously it didn't go quite the way as planned today," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "The Minnesota game affected our team. We were geared up and ready to play. If Minnesota didn't win we had a plan and if Minnesota won, we had another plan. From the standpoint of mentally being prepared to play a certain way, it affected us.
"I would like to see our team respond a little better than that."
The Cardinals finished the season 10-6 and the Packers 11-5. The Packers return to Arizona next Sunday for the playoff rematch at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time. Since the Cards won their division and the Packers did not, Arizona is the No. 4 NFC seed and Green Bay No. 5.
Getting healthy is a concern. In addition to Rodgers-Cromartie – who suffered a contusion when he was spiked by the cleats of tight end Jermichael Finley and whose status for next game remains in doubt – the Cards also saw defensive end Calais Campbell hurt his left thumb and wide receiver Anquan Boldin hurt his left knee and ankle.
Whisenhunt said all three will be reevaluated this week. Boldin was optimistic he would be OK. The other two reserved judgment until further medical tests.
Even if they play, it should be a completely different Cardinals' team the Packers see in the postseason. While the Packers let quarterback Aaron Rodgers play three quarters to eclipse Brett Favre's best season for passing yards, the Cardinals actually used all three of their quarterbacks. Kurt Warner was pulled after a quarter, and then third-stringer Brian St. Pierre played the fourth quarter in relief of Matt Leinart.
Almost every Arizona defensive starter – Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, Gerald Hayes among them – were mostly done for the day after the Packers' initial possession.
"We wanted to come out here and win the game and keep our razors sharp and gain some momentum," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I understand Arizona had a different agenda."
Said Boldin, "This week we put together a basic game-plan as far as knowing we'd have to see them again next week."
Because of that, the Cardinals – aside from the injuries – didn't seem overly affected by the game, or the lopsided score.
"You watch what they do, you watch how they approach things, you look at players, you see them up close and personal, and you understand you have your work cut out for you," Warner said.
With Rodgers running the show most of the game, the Packers ended up with a 345-187 edge in total yards. The Cards' biggest offensive highlight was St. Pierre's first NFL touchdown pass, which happened to go to Larry Fitzgerald for Fitzgerald's career-best 13th of the season.
Whisenhunt said his decision to take certain players out was based on a "pitch count" of number of plays each guy had worked during the season. "You can't sit everybody," Whisenhunt said.
"If (the Packers) want to celebrate it, they can go ahead," Dockett said. "Us personally, we have work to do and our main focus is this weekend."
And that's what the Cardinals had in their sights Sunday night. The result to end the regular season will mean nothing if the Cards come back with a win against Green Bay next weekend.
"To me, everything starts right now," Warner said. "After what we have done in the past, what we did last year, it doesn't matter. It's time to go play football. It's one and done. You don't show up and play, you go home."
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