In Shootout of Epic Proportions, Warner and Cardinals Survive
Instead, it was another testimonial (as if we needed one) to the longevity and brilliance of Arizona veteran Kurt Warner.
Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, as the reigning conference champion Cardinals outlasted the Packers in a one-for-the-ages, 51-45 overtime thriller before a crazed and sold-out University of Phoenix crowd.
"Tell me those numbers again," Cardinals tight end Anthony Becht said. "That's just sick."
This one was full of sick numbers, plus a crazy ending.
A game that featured 96 points, 1,024 yards, 62 first downs, 13 touchdowns and just two punts was decided -- of all things -- on defense when Rodgers, on the first series of the extra period, was sacked by blitzing cornerback Michael Adams. The ball popped loose, caromed off Rodgers' foot and hopped into the hands of Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who went 17 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The victory moved the Cardinals (11-6) into this upcoming weekend's divisional round in New Orleans, where they'll face the NFC top-seeded Saints (13-3) Saturday at the Superdome.
"I know that has to be one of the best games that has ever been played in the playoffs," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "And for that to happen, it takes two good teams."
This one was about the two great quarterbacks.
Warner's near-flawless performance -- a mere 154.1 quarterback rating (158.3 is perfect) -- came hours after reports surfaced that the 12-year veteran and former Super Bowl MVP would retire at the end of the season.
"Right now, I'm just playing football as long as I can," Warner said after throwing more touchdowns than incompletions against a defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL during the regular season. "When that's done, we'll step away and we'll figure out what's the best thing moving forward. Right now, it's about one thing. I play for the playoffs."
Rodgers, the fifth-year pro in his second season as a starter, was playing in his first playoff game. All he did was rally the Packers (11-6) from a 21-point second-half deficit by hitting 28 of 42 passes for 422 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Unfortunately, the heir to the Brett Favre crown will remember -- and likely be remembered -- for how he started the game (with an interception that led to a quick Cardinals touchdown) and how it ended (sack/fumble/TD/loss).
"It's disappointing," Rodgers said. "Score 45 ... and lose."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy wore a glaze-eyed look in his postgame news conference. Probably from shock.
"I'm sure it was a great game to watch," he said.
Unless you were a defensive coordinator. Take Green Bay's Dom Capers, for example. The Cards finished with 531 yards of total offense.
"When [Warner] gets in that kind of rhythm, it's going to be difficult," Capers said.
The result was a lot different than just seven days earlier when Green Bay came to the desert and dismantled the home team 33-7 in a regular season-ending laugher, with the Cardinals opting to rest select starters while the Packers played for postseason momentum.
This time, the Cardinals fed off Rodgers' turnover on the first play of the game (a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interception) and took a 17-0 first-quarter lead. The margin was 31-10 five minutes into the second half before Rodgers got hot and led Green Bay to five straight touchdown marches, including one after a successful onside kick.
Unfortunately for the Pack, though, the Cardinals went nearly score-for-score (one punt early in the fourth quarter). Not only was Warner carving up the Green Bay secondary, Arizona rushed for 156 yards against a defense that was No. 1 overall against the run during the regular season.
"We couldn't stop the pass, we couldn't stop the run, couldn't get any turnovers," Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We couldn't do anything."
Neil Rackers, who was 16-of-17 on field goals this season.
Wide left. Hello, overtime.
When Green Bay won the coin toss, a sense of uneasiness (if not doom) fell across the hostile venue.
"I felt good about it," Rodgers said.
Rodgers was probably ecstatic about it on first down when he dropped back and saw wideout Greg Jennings running five yards behind safety Antrel Rolle; probably too ecstatic. Rodgers sailed the pass five yards too long.
"When he threw it deep," Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, "I was like, 'Uh-oh!' "
The Packers were called for holding on second down, pushing them back to their own 10. A 14-yard completion set up a third-and-6. The Cards came with the corner blitz and one of the greatest displays of offensive fireworks in NFL playoff history ended with one of the only defensive plays of the game.
"We dialed it up in overtime," Dansby said. "I just made a play on it."
Rodgers, helplessly prone on the turf, could only watch.
"I was trying to unload it," he said. "I should have held on to the ball."
A week earlier, Rodgers was the one doing the celebrating under the dome. In the first quarter of the Pack's rout, he scored on a 1-yard run and after crossing the goal line, preened to the crowd by pretending to wrap a championship belt around his waist.
Several Cards remembered.
"Now," Dockett said, "Aaron Rodgers can go home, put on his belt and start shoveling the snow in his driveway."
Yes, Green Bay's season officially went on ice, but Rodgers announced himself on the postseason scene.
Speaking of scenes, Warner took a victory lap around the stadium after the game, waving to an adoring fan base he has helped guide from the dregs of the NFL. It could easily have been interpreted as a farewell lap.
"Everybody relax," said Warner, now 9-3 all-time as a starting quarterback in the postseason. "That was my way of saying thanks for everything they've done this year, and what they did today."
They were great Sunday.
Warner was magnificent.