NFL: Cardinals beat Packers to soar into NFC Championship

Jim Slater 08:15 18/01/2016
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Celebrations: Larry Fitzgerald.

In one of the most dramatic finishes in NFL playoff history, the Arizona Cardinals outlasted the Green Bay Packers 26-20 in overtime to advance to the NFC conference final.

A back-and-forth thriller featuring one astonishing play after another at the finish was not decided until Carson Palmer threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a five-yard “shovel pass” up the middle to Larry Fitzgerald a minute into extra time.

A scrambling Palmer earlier eluded Green Bay defenders to find an unguarded Fitzgerald on a 75- yard pass play that set up the winning score, but only after the Packers forced overtime with two of the most amazing plays ever made.

Trailing 20-13 in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter, the Packers needed 20 yards merely to keep the ball on a fourth-down play when Aaron Rodgers hurled a long pass downfield and unlikely hero Jeff Janis caught it for a 60-yard gain to sustain Green Bay’s slim hopes.

Janis, who had only four career catches before the game, then followed with another miraculous grab for an equaliser touchdown. Rodgers launched a desperate pass into the end zone at double-covered Janis, who leaped into the air and pulled down the ball for a stunning TD with no time left on the clock.

“I didn’t know where anybody was really,” Rodgers said. “I saw Jeff briefly, and I just tried to put some air on it to give him a chance.”

Kicker Mason Crosby followed with an extra point to level the score at 20-20. Palmer – who ended the unfortunate record of having 159 regular season games under his belt with no playoff wins – completed 25-of-41 passes for 349 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd to open the scoring and a 9-yard TD toss to Floyd with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Arizona a 17-13 lead.

“It was a roller coaster on the sidelines,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “You’ve just got to keep all your emotions in check and go to the next play. No matter what happened on the last play, you’ve got to go good, bad or ugly, and that’s basically what our football team did.”

Rodgers, who went 24-for-44 for 261 yards that included an earlier 8-yard touchdown throw to Janis, failed on a fourth-down pass and the Packers surrendered the ball deep in their territory, setting up a Cardinals’ field goal that produced a 20-13 lead and set the stage for the closing spectacle.

Overtime produced drama even before it started as the first attempted coin flip failed, forcing a repeat that ended up giving Arizona the ball and setting up their response to Rodgers’ miracle.

“It comes down to a coin flip sometimes after a long hard-fought game,” Rodgers added. “Back and forth, bizarre plays made by both teams, and unfortunately it comes down to that.”

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