GREEN BAY – When the Packers and Cardinals last met in the playoffs six years ago, history was made in a game for the ages.
The Packers rallied from 21 points down in the second half with the help of a successful onside kick and tied the score two different times in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals shanked a field goal in the waning seconds of regulation. On the first play of overtime, Aaron Rodgers just missed connecting with Greg Jennings for what would have been a game-winning 80-yard touchdown. A few snaps later, Karlos Dansby was running the other way with the ball on a sack-fumble-TD that ended the highest-scoring postseason game ever, 51-45.
Whew! No matter the opinion of the style of play, it was not a game for the faint of heart.
Is there any chance Saturday night's showdown will turn into another shootout? Sure, there is. There are also plenty of reasons to think history isn't about to repeat itself. So, let's have some fun.
First, the rationale for another potential track meet:
- The Cardinals have a receiving corps just as explosive, if not more so, than their crew from '09. Instead of Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald is now joined by John Brown and Michael Floyd. The '09 trio caught 236 passes for 2,828 yards and 20 TDs. The numbers for this year's group are 226-3,067-22. The only difference between Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer is the playoff pedigree, but Palmer is playing the best football of his life and might be the NFL's MVP this year if not for Cam Newton.
- The Packers do not have an offense as explosive as six years ago, but they may have hit their stride last week in scoring 35 points for the first time in 3½ months. These Packers, like the '09 team, also have shown the ability to come from behind if they need to. Furious fourth-quarter rallies against Carolina, Detroit (twice) and Minnesota only resulted in one win, but more often than not these Packers have shown they're never out of it.
- Both teams have potential game-breakers in the return game, and nothing runs up a score faster than special-teams touchdowns. Arizona's Patrick Peterson returned four punts for TDs as a rookie in 2011, and David Johnson took a kickoff back 108 yards this year. Green Bay's Micah Hyde has three punt-return TDs in his career, and a couple of times Jeff Janis has been maybe one block away from going to the house on a kickoff.
Then again, here are the reasons to think this time will be different:
- Arizona's defense is ranked fifth in the league in yards and tied for seventh in points. Except for Week 17 when their coach admitted they weren't fired up to play, the Cardinals haven't surrendered more than 20 points in a game since before Thanksgiving. Back in '09, Arizona's defense actually gave up more yards (5,543) than its high-powered offense gained (5,510).
- The Packers' defense is much better comparatively speaking, too. The unit's last truly shaky game was at Carolina in Week 9, and the Packers have surrendered just 51 points all season in the fourth quarter, an average of precisely a field goal per game through 17 contests. Six years ago, the Packers were ranked No. 1 in the league against the run but had shown vulnerability to high-flying passing attacks, giving up 500 passing yards and 37 points to Pittsburgh just three weeks before the playoffs.
- The record from '09 hasn't stood long enough. That game broke a combined playoff scoring record from 14 years prior – the 95 points scored when Philadelphia beat Detroit, 58-37, in a 1995 NFC wild-card game. The previous mark of 79 points, from the famous Dolphins-Chargers 41-38 OT classic in the 1981 AFC divisional round, also had stood for 14 years (though it was tied in '92 in Buffalo's historic comeback over Houston).
The last one is the clincher. The record obviously is on a 14-season cycle, so it can't go down again until 2023.