Cardinals advance to NFC Championship Game with heart-pounding 26-20 OT win over Packers

Photo: azcentral.com

Photo: azcentral.com

BY: ED COLE

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It was only fitting that the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers would take it to overtime to decide who would be one half of the participants in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday afternoon.

In one of the wildest finishes in NFL history, the Cardinals were able to outlast the Packers 26-20 in free football, on a five-yard shovel pass for a touchdown by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald from quarterback Carson Palmer, which was setup by a 75-yard pass play on the first play in overtime between the two. Fitzgerald seemed to run forever for those 75 yards, but Arizona needed every inch of it to come out victorious in the contest.

“Sometimes you’ve got to play harder for more than 60 minutes,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. I think we made it tougher than it should have been, especially at the end.”

Here’s the end Arians is referring to:

With 1:55 left in the fourth quarter, Arizona had a 20-13 lead after kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit his second field goal of the game – a 36 yarder.

15.5 seconds is too much time for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, let alone 1:55. Rodgers did his best magic act, taking his team on an incredible six-play, 86-yard drive, which culminated with him throwing an unbelievable 41-yard Hail Mary to third-string wide receiver Jeff Janis, who pulled it down right in front of Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson with 0:00 on the clock.

The score locker happened in huge part because Rodgers scrambled in and out of the end zone and tossed it 60 yards to Janis, who caught it right in front of cornerback Justin Bethel on 4th and 20 from their own four-yard line.

Only fitting in a Cardinals/Packers playoff game, that Arizona pulled out again in stunning fashion.

Quarterback Carson Palmer didn’t have his best game, but he was effective enough when his team needed him to be, and he did just enough to guide his team to the NFC title game.

Palmer was 25-of-41 for 349 yards, three interceptions and two interceptions and a 92.4 rating.

Palmer gave much respect to the Packers for a hard fought game, but he’s relieved that he and the Cardinals came out on the winning end of an instant classic.

“It was a wild game,” Palmer said. “We knew they were going to play well. You’ve got to take your hat off to them. They fought, they played really, really good on defense; they made plays on offense obviously. We just didn’t give up hope. We were talking in the locker room at halftime about how we were right where we need to be. We came out on top, and we just kept the faith and kept believing, and found a way at the end.”

Fitzgerald was as quiet as the offense was in the first half. He had one catch for six yards, and the offense had only 75 yards in the first 30 minutes of playing time, yet they had a 7-6 lead going into the locker room.

The second half and overtime were two completely different situations for Fitzgerald, as he exploded in a major way. He ended up with eight catches for 176 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

Palmer says it was Fitzgerald being Fitzgerald.

“Special. He’s (Fitzgerald) just a special player. He plays well in big games,” Palmer said. “He just did a good job (of) moving, getting open and doing something special with the ball in his hands at the end.”

The #RedSea was out in full force on Saturday night, and they were phenomenal in helping Fitzgerald and the Cardinals get the win. As loud as the crowd was throughout the game, and in overtime, Fitzgerald says he couldn’t hear anybody yelling his name or any of that. He says everything was running in “slow motion” and he had his mind on his job, and what a job he did in willing his team within one win of Super Bowl 50.

“I think some of the defenders may have thought that Carson (Palmer) was going to get sacked because he ws under duress at that time (the long pass play in OT),” Fitzgerald said. “He made a great play just to get out of the pocket and then to be able to find some freedom and find me. Carson’s just great at (it) even when pressure’s around, he keeps his eyes up field and he was able to find me.”

That shovel pass from Palmer to Fitzgerald was something them and Arians have been working on for the last 18 weeks, according to Arians, and like Arians said, “it finally was the right time to use it.”

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run that shovel in practice, and (I was) just waiting for my opportunity, and lo-and-behold, the second round of the playoffs you get your number called on a shovel,” Fitzgerald said. “My eyes lit up in the huddle.”

So now the Cardinals get a chance to rest up tomorrow, and see who they’ll play in the NFC Championship Game, as the Seahawks and Panthers will do battle at Bank of America Stadium.

Regardless of who they play, the Cardinals know they lived up to their end of the bargain.

“We always had confidence in ourselves. But, to win a game like this in the playoffs that we knew was going to be a nitty-gritty game; we knew it was going to come down to the wire,” Peterson said. “We found a way to win. We’re just blessed. We’re blessed to be still practicing next week. That’s what I’ve been preaching to the guys all week this week. I’m trying to practice next week. I thank the Good Lord for pouring out His good graces upon this Arizona Cardinals team here today.”