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Game Review: Packers Lose Playoff Heartbreaker In OT

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It’s almost impossible to believe that game could end that way. In an NFC Wild Card playoff shootout that saw so little defense that more points were scored than in any NFL playoff game in history, it was a defensive play that decided it, in overtime no less. - More Packers-Cardinals Game Center | Game Photos | Game Stats (PDF)


Arizona CB Michael Adams sacks Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, knocking the ball loose. Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby recovered the fumble in midair and raced 17 yards for the game-winning TD in OT.

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It's almost impossible to believe that game could end that way.

In an NFC Wild Card playoff shootout that saw so little defense that more points were scored than in any NFL playoff game in history, it was a defensive play that decided it, in overtime no less.

Arizona cornerback Michael Adams' blitz and sack forced a fumble by Aaron Rodgers that deflected into the arms of Karlos Dansby, and the Cardinals linebacker returned the ball 17 yards for the game-winning score, ending the Packers' season in heartbreaking fashion, 51-45 in front of 61,926 at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

"The end, I don't know, it was like a dream -- you don't think it's happening, but unfortunately it did," receiver Donald Driver said. "We sat there for a while in shock."

Shocked because the offense had done no wrong since halftime, scoring touchdowns on five straight possessions in the second half to erase a 21-point deficit. The Packers were on such a roll that not one of the five TD drives, which covered 80, 57, 80, 67 and 71 yards, took even four full minutes off the clock, with five different players finding the end zone.

It seemed as though all the Packers needed was one break, and they got it when Arizona's Neil Rackers pulled a potential game-winning 34-yard field goal well left with 9 seconds remaining in regulation. So when Green Bay won the overtime coin toss, no one on the Packers' sideline had any doubt they were going to score and advance to next week's NFC Divisional round.

But it wasn't to be. On the first snap of overtime, receiver Greg Jennings got behind the defense, only to have Rodgers overthrow him on what looked like a sure 80-yard TD. Then a holding penalty wiped out a first down gain, and two snaps later came the decisive turnover, just 78 seconds in all into the extra session.

"I just think that series, the last three plays of the game, I think it's an excellent microcosm of the football game," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "You're so close to winning the game on first down and you lose the game on third down."

It appeared the Packers might have lost the game much earlier, and several times in between, due to a couple of early turnovers and a rough day on defense.

Having posted multiple giveaways in only six of 16 games in the regular season, the Packers turned the ball over twice in their first three offensive plays. Rodgers threw an interception on the first snap, making a poor decision to throw across his body after scrambling to the right, and Dansby deflected the ball to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Then on the second play of the next series, Driver was stripped by Dansby after a short reception, with Alan Branch recovering for the Cardinals.

Arizona took advantage of both miscues, scoring a pair of touchdowns for a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game, a jump start that was only the beginning of a dynamite day for quarterback Kurt Warner.

Avoiding any and all pressure with a quick release and his trademark accuracy, Warner played a flawless game that saw him throw more TD passes (five) than incomplete ones (four) in going 29-of-33 for 379 yards and a sterling 154.1 passer rating. Receiver Steve Breaston, starting for an injured Anquan Boldin (ankle), posted seven catches for 125 yards, while Larry Fitzgerald (6-82) and Early Doucet (6-77) caught two TD passes apiece.

Combined with a ground game that posted 156 yards, nearly double the Packers' average as the No. 1 run defense in the league this season (83.3 ypg), the Cardinals were so efficient they faced third down just five times on the day in nine total possessions.

"Today it just seemed like Warner had our number," rookie linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It was tough."

An Arizona TD drive on the opening possession of the second half, capped by Fitzgerald's 33-yard catch-and-run after a collision with Charles Woodson knocked the Packers' top defender down, established the Cardinals' biggest lead of the game at 31-10.

But the Packers rallied time and again behind Rodgers and an equally dangerous receiving corps led by Jermichael Finley and Jennings.

Rodgers threw for a franchise playoff-record 422 yards on 28-of-42 passing, with four TDs and the one interception for a 121.3 rating. Finley set a team record for receiving yards in the playoffs with 159 on six grabs, and Jennings made two spectacular catches, one a one-hander for a TD and another a tip-toe job down the sideline, among his eight receptions for 130 yards.

The rally began in earnest when the Packers got back-to-back touchdowns in the third quarter, with the help of a surprise onside kick in between, to get within 31-24. Then the shootout was in full force.

Arizona answered by going 73 yards in three plays, the biggest a 42-yard run by Beanie Wells (14 carries, 91 yards) to set up a diving 11-yard TD grab by Fitzgerald to restore a 14-point lead.

The Packers responded with an 80-yard march, getting a 30-yard TD pass to James Jones on fourth-and-5. Then the defense got its lone stop of the second half (and first since a second-quarter turnover began the initial comeback from a 17-0 hole), forcing Arizona's sole punt of the game early in the fourth quarter.

The Packers then needed just three plays to tie the game, with fullback John Kuhn's 1-yard dive knotting things at 38 with 11 minutes left.

The Cardinals had yet another answer, as Breaston's TD catch capped an 11-play, 80-yard march, but the Packers had one more score in them, too, as Rodgers' 11-yard TD pass to Spencer Havner re-tied the game at 45 with 1:52 left.

{sportsad300}That set up the drive that ended in Rackers' miss, leading to the overtime. All the while it seemed like one more defensive stop might have finally shifted momentum for good, but the Packers couldn't get it. Ultimately, the Cardinals did, and in dramatic fashion.

"Yeah, we'd been saying that for a while as a defense," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We knew if we could get off the field the offense was going to score and get the lead. A lot of times we didn't get that stop and our offense kept coming back for us.

"It was one of those things where we needed a big stop, a turnover, something to change the tide of the game. We didn't get that when we needed to and obviously they did at the end."

It was about as difficult a way to fall in the playoffs as anyone could imagine, particularly after such a heart-stirring, never-say-die comeback on top of a 7-1 run in the second half of the season to get a playoff shot.

"Woulda, coulda, shoulda," Jennings said. "What if? If this, if that. The reality of it is our season is over."

Too soon for sure, in a game so close several players afterward were pondering many of Jennings' same thoughts, unfortunately now with a long offseason to do so.

"This one's going to hurt for a while," Driver said. "We felt like this was our year."

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