Cardinals Get Badly Needed Wake-Up Call in Wild Win vs. Packers

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 17, 2016

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) leaves the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 26-20 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

In 2015, the Arizona Cardinals have been one of the NFL's best teams. They possess a potent offense brimming with talent. A swarming defense capable of shutting down opponents.

But to win the Super Bowl, that isn't all you need. You need a bit of luck. And sometimes you need a reminder that all the teams in the postseason tournament are good. That one slip-up can send you packing.

Well, the Arizona Cardinals got all those things Saturday night against the visiting Green Bay Packers, and while the team didn't win style points doing it, the Redbirds are on their way to the NFC Championship Game after a 26-20 overtime win in one of the weirder playoff tilts in at least a week.

This was a game with everything.

Deflected touchdown passes? You bet.

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A Hail Mary by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (again) to send the game to overtime? Sure, why not?

An overtime coin flip in which the coin didn't actually flip, causing a re-do that gave the Cardinals the ball to open overtime? Believe it or not, yes.

And finally some OT heroics by the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, which resulted in the touchdown that sealed the game.

While speaking with NBC's Michele Tafoya after the win, Fitzgerald lauded his team's grit in overcoming its many mistakes Saturday night:

We're a resilient team. We have a lot of guys that believe in each other. We work hard in practice every day. We believe, and coach [Bruce Arians] has always instilled that in us. We just gotta keep on fighting every week.

We're glad to get this one behind us. This [Packers] team is really good. We tip our caps to them. They did a really great job today. But we just found a way to win. That's what it's all about.

Fitzgerald, who was the game's star with eight catches for 176 yards and a touchdown, was no doubt telling the truth about wanting to put this game behind them. Because these Cardinals looked very little like the team that destroyed the Packers 38-8 in Week 16.

Sure, at first glance quarterback Carson Palmer's stats look pretty good. Twenty-five completions in 41 attempts for 349 yards and three scores. But Palmer also missed several open receivers, threw a costly interception in the red zone and by all rights should have had a couple more passes picked off.

Frankly, as Football Perspective tweeted, Palmer just didn't play well. A few of his throws (including that red-zone interception) were just awful:

Football Perspective @fbgchase

Carson Palmer finished with 349 yards and 3 TDs and was a disaster for large stretches of the game.

Rookie running back David Johnson, who torched the Packers for 127 yards on just 12 touches a few weeks ago, was a complete non-factor, averaging all of 2.3 yards per carry.

For most of the night, the Cardinals looked nothing like the NFL's most prolific offense.

The defense gets its share of the blame too. After sacking Green Bay quarterbacks nine times in Week 16, the team managed only one on Saturday. A penalty nullified a 100-yard interception return by Patrick Peterson.

But wait, there's more!

Even the coaching staff dropped the ball. For reasons known only to God and Arians, the Cardinals chose to throw the ball deep in Green Bay territory up four with just over two minutes left. The Cardinals were able to get a field goal to go up seven, but they also left Rodgers and the Packers an extra 40 seconds to play with.

Rodgers did this with that extra time:

Then things got really weird. The Packers chose tails in the coin flip. But it never flipped.

No, really.

The re-flip gave the ball to Arizona, and at that point Fitzgerald decided he'd had enough nonsense and wanted to go home.

First the Cardinals' elder statesman turned a short throw on a hot read into a 75-yard gain.

Then Fitzgerald did what he does—he got things done, scoring the game-winning touchdown:

Arizona Cardinals @AZCardinals

You think @LarryFitzgerald wanted to play in another NFC Championship? Yep. #BeRedSeeRed #GBvsAZ https://t.co/Mri93EkxNr

And just like that it was over. Next week the Cardinals will either host the Seattle Seahawks or travel to Carolina and face the Panthers with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line—despite being outplayed for much of the game.

Make no mistake. The Cardinals got lucky. Or maybe the Packers got unlucky:

Arizona Cardinals @AZCardinals

The Clincher. @LarryFitzgerald put the #AZCardinals on his back and into the NFC Championship. #BeRedSeeRed #GBvsAZ https://t.co/uLVWsrOEey

And the weirdest thing of all is this: It may just be the best possible thing that could have happened to the Cardinals.

Whether it was the week off, residue from the pasting they took from the Seahawks in Week 17 or just an off night, the Cardinals did not play especially well Saturday. At all.

Rick Strom @RickStrom

Aaron Rodgers in OT: 0-7 3 of those have been played in the playoffs. #GBvsAZ #Packers #Cardinals

And it's a good bet Arians is going to remind them of this about 37,000 times between now and next Sunday. Play that sloppily against Seattle or Carolina, and odds are Arizona's season will end with a loss in the NFC title game.

But despite not putting their best foot forward, the Cardinals still managed to win. To survive and advance. In the end, that's all that matters.

Champions find a way to win ugly. The Cardinals did that Saturday night.

And now only 60 minutes of football stand between them and Santa Clara, California. Between them and the possibility of the first Super Bowl win in franchise history.

If, of course, they can get things tightened up in time.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.


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