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Larry Fitzgerald's heroics push Arizona Cardinals into NFC title game

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 17, 2016 at 2:23 AM
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GLENDALE, Ariz. - In a game most football fans probably didn't ever want to see end between the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers, Larry Fitzgerald concluded it with a dominating performance in overtime Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

And it overshadowed yet another Hail Mary touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers.

On the first play of overtime, Fitzgerald turned a short catch from Carson Palmer into a 75-yard gain by running through defenders. On the third play, he took a shovel pass from Palmer and went 5 yards up the gut for the game-winning touchdown, lifting the Cardinals to a dramatic 26-20 victory that advances them into the NFC Championship Game next Sunday.

The Cardinals, who improved to 5-0 in playoff games in Glendale, will meet the winner of Sunday's other NFC divisional game between the Seattle Seahawks and host Carolina Panthers.

"As simple as a word as 'special' is, it describes him probably the best," Palmer said of Fitzgerald, who caught eight passes for 176 yards.

Fitzgerald becomes just the seventh player in NFL history with at least 10 touchdowns receptions in the postseason. His overtime score was his 10th.

"As an elder statesman on this team I just try to elevate my game and make plays for my teammates," the 32-year-old Fitzgerald said.

Arizona thought it had the game won after Chandler Catanzaro's 26-yard field goal with 1:55 left to play extended the Cardinals' lead to 20-13. Earlier, the Cardinals got the bounce of a lifetime when Palmer's pass intended for Fitzgerald bounced off the left arm of Packers defensive back Demarious Randall, went up into the air and right into the hands of Arizona's Michael Floyd for the go-ahead 9-yard touchdown.

But the Packers weren't through.

After Catanzaro's field goal, the Packers still had a chance. Out of timeouts and starting at their own 14-yard line, they had 1 minute and 50 seconds to go 86 yards and tie the score. Rodgers threw two incompletions, was sacked and dropped for a 10-yard loss by Markus Golden, but on fourth down he heaved a 61-yard pass to Jeff Janis to keep Green Bay's hopes alive.

On second-and-15 from his own 41 and with only five seconds left to play, Rodgers and Janis came through again when Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket and threw another Hail Mary pass toward the end zone. With Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson on each side of him, Janis came down with the ball for the touchdown, sending the game into overtime.

The Cardinals oddly brought a full blitz against Rodgers on the Hail Mary and Rodgers spotted it right away.

"Aaron recognized it, bought himself some time and slid to his left and made it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Shoot, I don't know if anybody could make that throw. Then just an incredible effort and catch by Jeff Janis; a tremendous football play. Blood and guts, or however you want to describe it, I think that was a great reflection of our football team."

It was Fitzgerald's backbreaking 75-yard catch and run, however, that spoiled things for the Packers.

"He got a big-(bleep) play," Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews said. "We'll have to go back and look at it. I'm sure with pressure on the quarterback that coverage softened up a bit, but I don't know for sure. He obviously got open and on that play we should have somebody on him if we don't make a play in the backfield. It got us right there."

Early in the fourth quarter, Palmer was intercepted by Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Green Bay wasted little time converting the turnover into a touchdown, using a 61-yard run from Eddie Lacy to set up a 6-yard scoring pass from Rodgers to Janis for a 13-7 lead.

The Cardinals countered with a 28-yard field goal from Catanzaro toward the end of the third.

If the first half was any indication, both teams knew this game wasn't going to be anything like the shootout they had back in the 2009 wild-card round when they set the record for the most points ever scored in a playoff game during Arizona's 51-45 overtime victory in Glendale.

On Saturday, the Cardinals held a 7-6 lead over the Packers at halftime and the two offenses could only muster 243 total yards between them.

The Cardinals took advantage of a poor punt from Green Bay's Tim Masthay to grab the early lead. Starting from the Packers' 42-yard line following a 37-yard kick, Palmer and Arizona's top-ranked offense deked and dunked their way toward the end zone with Palmer capping the 11-play drive on an 8-yard pass to Floyd in the corner of the end zone.

The Cardinals caught a break on the Packers' next series when a 49-yard pass from Rodgers to Cobb was called back because of an illegal offensive shift. The pass play would have put the Packers at the Cardinals' 4-yard line.

Cobb, meanwhile, would leave game with a chest injury and he did not return.

Though losing Cobb didn't help, especially after already having to rule out fellow receiver Davante Adams because of a right knee injury, Green Bay caught a break of its own after Arizona thought it had extended its lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.

The Cardinals, however, had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson called back because of an illegal hands to the face penalty on defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.

Instead, the Packers got the ball back and after a 17-play drive that lasted 7 minutes, 31 seconds, they had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. Another long drive, this one also consisting of 17 plays and lasting 7:55, resulted in a Crosby's 34-yard field goal.

Notes: The Packers had all of their five starting offensive linemen for the first time since Nov. 22 at Minnesota, a 30-13 victory for Green Bay. ... Entering Saturday's game, the Cardinals had only player rush for 100 yards in a postseason game - Elmer Angsman, who ran for 159 yards for the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL Championship Game against Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 1947. ... The Packers lost S Micah Hyde to a hip injury in the third quarter. He left the game and did not return. ... Arizona was 5-0 in primetime games this season entering Saturday night's game against Green Bay.

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