Both agonizingly talented and fatally flawed, the 2009 Green Bay Packers season seemed predestined to end in heartbreak.
Their wild-card matchup with the Arizona Cardinals delivered just that on Sunday.
Picked apart by another elite quarterback and a far-from-elite performance by the officiating crew, the Packers fell in excruciating fashion, 51-45 in overtime.
Continuing an unsettling string of stunningly poor performances against great quarterbacks, Kurt Warner dissected the Packers' vaunted pass defense just as Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre had before him.
Factor Warner's cartoonish numbers (29-33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns without a turnover) into the performances turned in by Big Ben and Favre and the Packer secondary has been astonishingly inept against the only great quarterbacks they faced in 2009.
Here are the raw stats over those four games: 99 completions in 138 attempts (71.7 percent completion rate) for 1,397 yards, with 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions for an average passer rating of just under 135.
Two words: Holy #%*!
After another matador performance, you can throw out all of the accolades and positive attention the defense has gotten this season.
Against great passing attacks the Packers just didn't get the job done.
The Cardinals and their bunch formations had their way with the Packers all day, with receivers coming open across the middle from the opening kick.
And while losing safety Atari Bigby was a blow to an already injury-depleted secondary was undoubtedly a factor, facts are facts.
Those performances are flat-out unacceptable for a playoff team to surrender, and it goes without saying that the Packers will never reach the next level giving up those kinds of numbers to playoff-caliber quarterbacks.
Just imagine for a moment the kind of numbers Drew Brees would have put up on that D next week. Yikes.
But while allowing a quarterback to throw for more touchdown passes than incompletions is generally a recipe for disaster, the prolific Packers offense, led by Aaron Rodgers in a masterful playoff debut, nearly brought Green Bay back from the dead.
Rallying back from a nightmarish start, Rodgers established a Packers playoff record with 422 yards passing and accounted for five total touchdowns as he desperately attempted to keep pace with Warner and the Cards.
Recovering from deficits of 17-0 and 31-10, Rodgers and his receivers went up and down the field on the Cardinals all day, picking on backup cornerback Michael Adams in one-on-ones whenever possible.
Unfortunately, the officials didn't pick on the Cardinals nearly enough as they missed a number of calls that ultimately crippled the Packers comeback efforts.
On what turned out to the be final play of the game, the aforementioned Adams blitzed Rodgers and got a handful of facemask while forcing the decisive fumble that Cards' linebacker Karlos Dansby housed for the winning score.
Here is a good link to a shot of the missed facemask.
But that wasn't the only highly questionable miss.
Referees allowed the Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald to club Charles Woodson aside on his 11-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, while also missing a highly visible holding call on Cullen Jenkins on the same play.
Jenkins was tackled into Kurt Warner on the play and not only was the hold not called, Jenkins was flagged for roughing the passer on the play.
Even the robotic Troy Aikman found that play dubious on both levels.
Throw in a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers earlier in the contest that went unflagged, and you have several missed calls on absolutely critical plays in the game.
Larry Fitzgerald is tough enough to stop without any help. Allow him to assault the corners covering him downfield and you might as well just put the points on the scoreboard.
While it's tough to pin a loss on the referees when a team gives up 51 points, several key missed calls along with the huge early deficit proved to be too much for these Packers to overcome.
Though an extremely tough loss for Packer fans to take, the heartbreaking defeat was ultimately symbolic of Green Bay's season as a whole.
A team brimming with talent alternately displaying its firepower along with its maddening flaws. A tease of potential and inconsistency.
A team I wouldn't want to deal with next season.
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