Aaron Rodgers' Heroics Not Enough to Save Packers in Instant-Classic Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2016

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) points to a receiver during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

There have already been a couple of wild endings in the 2015-16 NFL postseason, but Saturday night's finish between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals topped all of them.

In fact, that game probably produced the craziest conclusion football fans have been treated to since last year's Super Bowl. 

This one had a last-second Hail Mary that defied belief, a coin flip that didn't flip, an absolutely insane overtime play and a walk-off touchdown.

The end result is that the Cardinals move on the NFC title game, while Green Bay goes home.

The Packers, though, will be back in contention in the near future. Even though the game resulted in a loss, Saturday's action all but proved as much. 

For football fans, it will likely go down as one of the greatest games in recent memory. The opening half, while not necessarily drama-filled, was competitive. Arizona went into the half with a one-point 7-6 lead.

Things really got going in the second half, though. The Packers took a 13-7 third-quarter lead when quarterback Aaron Rodgers found wideout Jeff Janis for an eight-yard touchdown pass (we'll be talking about these two later). That score came after Rodgers and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer traded interceptions.

Arizona pulled within three points with a third-quarter field goal from Chandler Catanzaro. The Cardinals had one opportunity to take a lead early in the fourth quarter, but Palmer was picked off in the end zone.

The Cardinals did take a lead on their next drive. Yet that score only happened after the team was forced to challenge a long pass to Packers tight end Richard Rodgers, Palmer was forced to thread the needle through several defenders, and the touchdown pass was tipped into the hands of receiver Michael Floyd.

Green Bay got the ball back with only 3:44 remaining in the game. It went four-and-out after head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it from the Packers 25, and the Cardinals added a field goal to their lead.

Oh, did we mention that receiver Randall Cobb had been knocked from the game before all of this? This left Green Bay rather short-handed on offense.

The Packers' last gasp came with less than two minutes remaining and deep in Green Bay territory. Facing a 4th-and-20 from the Green Bay 4-yard line with 55 seconds remaining, Rodgers found Janis wide open for an unbelievable 60-yard play.

A couple of plays later with only four seconds remaining, Rodgers heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone. It fell into the arms of Janis (this guy again), and the Packers tied the game with no time remaining. 

Because of an illegal-motion penalty, Rodgers and Janis actually covered more than 100 yards on the drive.

Calling the series of events that ended regulation incredible wouldn't do it justice. Yeah, that Hail Mary Rodgers tossed up against the Detroit Lions in the regular season doesn't seem quite so special now, does it?

The opening of overtime was nearly as unbelievable as the plays that preceded it. The Cardinals won the coin toss—well, the second one. The first toss didn't flip, which was an oddity in and of itself.

On the Cardinals' first play of the extra period, Palmer scrambled out of pressure and found a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald. The future Hall of Fame receiver took the ball 75 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal. Fitzgerald then took a well-designed shovel pass up the middle and into the end zone for the walk-off score.

For Green Bay, it was a heartbreaking way to kill the joy that came from Rodgers' (and Janis') late-game heroics. It was also a telling reminder that the Cardinals are a championship-caliber football team.

The fact the Packers took Arizona into overtime should remind Green Bay fans (and the rest of the NFL) this is a squad that will be right back in contention next year. This game really was that close. 

"Bizarre plays made by both teams," Rodgers said after the game, per NFL Network. "And unfortunately it comes down to that."

A lesser team might not have even come this far.

Injuries and inconsistencies plagued Green Bay throughout the regular season. Star receiver Jordy Nelson was lost to injury before the regular season even got underway, running back Eddie Lacy lost his mojo for long stretches, and an injury-plagued offensive line was too often ineffective in front of Rodgers.

Yet the Packers still found their way into the postseason. They didn't win the NFC North, sure, but they were close. They lost two games to end the regular season, including a division-deciding matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. However, Green Bay then went on to batter the Washington Redskins in a 35-18 contest on Wild Card Weekend.

Green Bay then took the 13-3 Cardinals to their absolute limit in a game that could have been very different had Nelson been on the playing field.

Actually, Green Bay's entire season likely would have been different with Nelson on the field. Without him, Rodgers saw his completion percentage take a one-year dip from 65.6 in 2014 to 60.7 this season. His passer rating fell from 112.2 to 92.7.

Rodgers was still rated eighth overall among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus this season.

With a healthy Nelson, and presumably a few new pieces, the Packers should be back and better than ever this time next year. They certainly proved Saturday that as long as Rodgers is under center, this team is rarely going to be out of it when it matters most.

Sure, he doesn't have the best overtime track record.

However, this latest loss is extremely difficult to place on the quarterback's shoulders. He didn't even touch the football in overtime. Had Rodgers and Co. received the overtime-opening kickoff, we might well be talking about a legendary Packers comeback instead of one that almost was.


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