The game in Week 16, the Arizona Cardinals versus the Green Bay Packers was a blowout. The Packers were handled offensively and defensively in that game as they lost 38-8. Many wondered what would happen with the Packers after that game. They looked lost offensively and in the Arizona game, the defensive secondary looked like they were not up to snuff either. As for the Cardinals, they were flying high and it seemed like people had the Arizona and the Panthers on a collision course to meet each other in the NFC Championship. Well, the Packers were able to back into the playoffs after they lost the NFC North division at home against the Vikings. But the Packers were not alone. The Cardinals were blasted at home by the Seattle Seahawks in their last game as well and limped in. There were some that expected the Packers to lose against the Redskins on the road in the Wild Card Round. They looked so bad going into the playoffs right? Well, they found some magic offensively and shut the Redskins down for the Wild Card win. Their prize: going back to the desert to see the Arizona Cardinals. That team that blew their doors off in the regular season was going to see them again. But this time, the game was different.
Green Bay hung in with the Cardinals in this game. They were harassing Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer all game long. And to their credit, they helped him throw two crucial interceptions, with one being an interception in the endzone. Fortunately for Palmer, the Packers never really capitalized on all his mistakes. On those drives where Carson threw interceptions, the Packers were only able to muster seven points, which happened to be the points that put them up 13-7 in the third quarter. Being down and not playing their best game, the Cardinals could have given in. But instead of giving in, the Cardinals dug deep and found a way. Arizona would answer the Packers’ touchdown with ten straight points to take a 17-13 lead with 3:44 left in the game, including a touchdown that was deflected by a Packers defender and landed in the arms of wide receiver Michael Floyd. At that point, all the Cardinals had to do is stop the Packers once or twice and they would win the game. Arizona stopped the Packers on their first drive late in the game, turning them over on downs. And following that, the Cardinals were able to add a field goal to put them up 20-13. But what happened in that drive to get that field goal was interesting. The Cardinals inexplicably threw the football on 2nd and 8, saving time for Green Bay, which was out of timeouts after using their last one on 1st down. With that, the Cardinals saved the Packers about 40 seconds. And they needed every bit of that as well. The Packers were floundering on their last drive and were down to a 4th and 20. The Cardinals inexplicably blitzed and when they did, Aaron Rodgers escaped and found wide receiver Jeff Janis for a 60 yard gain. The play gave Green Bay new life, but it also allowed them to get down the field and in position for a Hail Mary. They botched downing the ball in favor of trying to run another play and that left the Packers with 12 seconds and 41 yards to go after a five yard penalty. And what happened next was magic. On the final play of the game, Aaron Rodgers rolled away from pressure coming at him and heaved a pass into the endzone. And unbelievably, Janis came down with another huge catch, this time in the endzone. The Packers did the unbelievable and tied the game to send it into overtime. The crowd and the Cardinals looked stunned. But could they overcome this and still win?
The Cardinals got the ball after that amazing play and there was some question as to how they would respond. Would they fold under the circumstances of what just happened or would they decide to step up and win this game? Well, the later happened and it happened behind the strength and determination of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran wide receiver out of the University of Pittsburgh had been making play after play all season long. And in this game, he was definitely making it happen. Every time a big catch was needed, you knew where Carson Palmer was going. And in overtime, the first play showed the magic that Palmer and Fitzgerald have. Palmer dropped back on 1st and 10 and was somehow able to avoid the rush from the Packers. He escaped to his right and was running looking down the field when he saw Fitzgerald on the opposite side of the field all alone. From there, he stopped, set his feet and threw a catchable football to Fitzgerald. Larry took that pass and raced through the Packers defense and down to the Packers’ five yard line. And from there, two plays later the Cardinals gave Larry the ball via a shuffle pass that would win the game, 26-20. The team celebrated by surrounding Fitzgerald, as he surely saved them from an early exit. His will to win would not let his team lose. And despite the many mistakes made to finish this game, the Cardinals hung on to win.
Going forward, the Cardinals need to learn from this one. The first thing they may want to do is find a way to get Carson Palmer back to making plays and not the careless ones he made Saturday night. The pressure to win a playoff game is now off Palmer, so that may help him relax a little more next time out. But his mistakes in this one almost cost them their playoff lives. Another thing they have to fix is the way they attack closing teams out. A few things happened there. The first thing is the all-out blitzes the Cardinals sent on Green Bay’s two huge passing plays. They should have known that Rodgers is even more dangerous with less people in coverage and bigger windows. He has enough mobility to escape the pass rush and he showed the Cardinals the mistake they were making twice. They should have made Rodgers have to dink and dunk down the field. And lastly, one of the best cornerbacks in the game made a mistake on something that’s taught all the way back to youth football. They always teach you as a defensive back to go catch the ball at its highest point. And in this situation where Rodgers is heaving the football towards the goal line, Patrick Peterson is supposed to be there to either catch that ball at its highest point or knock it down. Peterson did neither and helped the Packers get the game into overtime.
The game was pure excitement down the stretch and was great reality television for NFL fans across the world. But the real reality is the Cardinals were almost their own destruction down the stretch. And if it was not for the heroics of Larry Fitzgerald, then they could potentially be sitting at home right now wondering what could have been. Instead of that, now they are waiting to see if they have to travel to Charlotte to face the Panthers or stay home to host the Seahawks. Whichever situation presents itself, the Cardinals have to play better if they have any hope of making it to the Super Bowl by beating either one of those teams.