January 10, 2012

2010: Cardinals Beat Packers in Wild 51-45 Overtime Thriller

Coming into the NFC Wild Card playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on January 10, 2010, the Green Bay Packers appeared to be the team with the greater momentum as they faced the Arizona Cardinals.

The Packers, coached by Mike McCarthy, were a young club that was back on the rise two seasons after the departure of long-time QB Brett Favre. His successor, Aaron Rodgers, was sacked 50 times during the 2009 season but also passed for 4434 yards and 30 touchdowns. Wide receivers Donald Driver (70 catches, 1061 yards) and Greg Jennings (68 catches, 1113 yards) had over a thousand receiving yards and RB Ryan Grant ran for 1253 yards and 11 TDs. Moreover, the Packers scored a then-franchise record 461 points. The defense featured CB Charles Woodson, chosen as NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, and OLB Clay Matthews (10 sacks), the first Green Bay rookie to make it to the Pro Bowl since WR James Lofton in 1978. The Packers had won seven of their last eight games to close out the regular season at 11-5, placing second in the NFC North, and including a win over the Cardinals at the same venue by a 33-7 score the week before – not a fair preview since Arizona, already assured of its spot in the playoffs, had rested many of its key players.

The foremost of those key players for the Cardinals was 38-year-old QB Kurt Warner (pictured above), who had revived his career in Arizona and led the team to an improbable climb through the postseason a year earlier that culminated in a NFC title and close loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Warner still had an accurate arm and quick release and had thrown for 3753 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also had outstanding targets in wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, although the latter was sidelined for the playoff contest by injuries. The running game was ordinary as rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells had overcome Tim Hightower to become the club’s top ball carrier. The defense was not special but included Pro Bowlers in DT Darnell Dockett, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, FS Antrel Rolle, and SS Adrian Wilson. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt’s team had been less consistent than the Packers over the course of the season, but had won the NFC West title with a 10-6 record.

On the first play from scrimmage, Rodgers was intercepted by Rodgers-Cromartie, giving the Cardinals good initial field position at the Green Bay 40 yard line. They scored in seven plays, with Warner converting a third-and-eight situation along the way with a 13-yard completion to WR Jerheme Urban and Wells following up with a 14-yard run. Hightower completed the series with a one-yard scoring carry and Arizona had the early 7-0 lead.

The Packers turned the ball over again on their second play of the ensuing possession, this time on a fumble by Driver, who was stripped by LB Karlos Dansby after catching a short pass, and DT Alan Branch recovered for the Cards at the Green Bay 22. Two plays later, Warner connected with WR Early Doucet for a 15-yard TD.

The Packers managed to not turn the ball over on their next series but still had to punt. Arizona put together a 63-yard scoring drive in nine plays highlighted by Warner completions of 14 yards to Fitzgerald, 22 yards to TE Ben Patrick, and 18 to WR Steve Breaston. Neil Rackers finished things off with a 23-yard field goal and the first quarter ended with the Cardinals ahead by 17-0.

Green Bay had the ball as the second quarter got under way and Rodgers threw to Greg Jennings on a third-and-nine play for a 27-yard gain to the Arizona 35. The drive stalled there and Mason Crosby was wide on a 54-yard field goal attempt. It seemed as though the Cardinals would add to their lead two plays later when Breaston took the ball on an end-around and ran 28 yards to the Green Bay 22. But Fitzgerald fumbled after catching a short pass and Clay Matthews recovered and returned it 29 yards to the Green Bay 48.

Ryan Grant ran off tackle for 10 yards, a penalty on the Cardinals added another 15, and Grant rushed for 20 more to the Arizona seven. The defense stiffened, but a pass interference penalty put the ball on the one, and from there Rodgers kept the ball himself for the final yard and a TD that finally got the Packers on the board.

The Cardinals came right back with an eight-play, 61-yard scoring drive that was capped by Warner connecting with Doucet for a 15-yard touchdown. Green Bay responded with a 74-yard drive that was highlighted by a 44-yard pass play from Rodgers to TE Jermichael Finley in a third-and-five situation and another throw to Finley for 17 yards. With time running out in the first half, Crosby booted a 20-yard field goal and the score stood at 24-10 in favor of Arizona at the intermission. The teams were just getting warmed up.

The Cardinals extended their lead on the first possession of the third quarter, driving 80 yards in six plays that concluded with Warner passing to Fitzgerald for a 33-yard touchdown. If the 31-10 margin appeared comfortable at that point, it proved not to be as the Packers began to mount a comeback.

On the ensuing series, Green Bay put together a 10-play drive that also covered 80 yards and was highlighted by a Rodgers completion to Finley for 18 yards on a third-and-ten play, a pass interference call that converted a third-and-eight situation into a first down, and a pass to Jennings that covered 35 yards. Jennings scored on a six-yard pass from Rodgers and, with Crosby’s extra point, it was 31-17.

It was 31-24 after the Packers successfully executed an onside kick and then capitalized eight plays later when Rodgers threw to WR Jordy Nelson for an 11-yard TD. But the quick-striking Cardinals responded, uncharacteristically getting a big running play as Wells (pictured at right) ran 42 yards to the Green Bay 16. The four-play possession ended with Warner again connecting with Fitzgerald for a touchdown, this time from 11 yards out, and Arizona took a 38-24 lead into the fourth quarter.

Three plays into the final period, Rodgers capped an 80-yard Green Bay drive with a 30-yard TD pass to WR James Jones that again made it a one-touchdown game. The Cards went three-and-out on their next series and, following a punt, the Packers took over at their 33 and quickly closed the gap. Rodgers went deep to Finley for 38 yards and then to Driver, who gained 28 yards to the Arizona one. From there, FB John Kuhn ran the final yard for a touchdown that capped the three-play drive. Crosby’s extra point tied the score at 38-38.

The Cardinals maintained their composure, methodically moving down the field when they regained possession. After tossing an initial incompletion, Warner was successful on his next six passes, including one for a 26-yard gain to Breaston and then a 17-yard scoring pass to the same receiver to finish off the 80-yard drive that took 11 plays.

With just under five minutes remaining in regulation, the Packers put together their own scoring drive in seven plays. Rodgers scrambled for 13 yards and threw to Jennings for 22 into Arizona territory. The 71-yard series ended with Rodgers tossing a TD pass to TE Spencer Havner from 11 yards out and, with Crosby again successfully converting, the contest was tied once more.

There were now less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals took over. A pass to Breaston for 24 yards got the ball to midfield and a 15-yard completion to Fitzgerald took it to the Green Bay 35. A short pass that gained three more yards was followed by a 16-yard toss to Doucet that put the ball at the 16 yard line and the Cards called time out with 14 seconds to go. It seemed certain to end there, but in a stunning development, Rackers was wide to the left on the 34-yard field goal attempt, and the game went into overtime with the score at 45-45.

The Packers won the toss and elected to receive. Following a touchback on the kickoff, they took possession at their 20. Rodgers threw an incomplete pass and then an apparent gain for a first down was nullified by a holding penalty. On second-and-20, Jones pulled in a pass for a 14-yard gain, setting up a third-and-six situation. Looking to throw, Rodgers was hit by CB Michael Adams and fumbled. The ball struck the quarterback’s foot and was grabbed by Dansby (pictured at bottom), who ran 17 yards for the winning touchdown. It was all over at 1:18 into sudden death - in stunning fashion, the Cardinals had won by a score of 51-45.

The combined total of 96 points made it the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history. The clubs also accumulated a total of 1024 yards and 13 touchdowns. Arizona had 531 of those yards to 493 for the Packers, while Green Bay had a 32 to 30 edge in first downs. The Packers turned the ball over three times, to one turnover by the Cardinals. Rodgers was sacked five times while Green Bay got to Warner once. Each team had only one punt apiece.

Kurt Warner threw for more touchdown than incomplete passes as he connected on 29 of 33 throws for 379 yards and five TDs with none intercepted (it was his second five-TD performance in a postseason game). Steve Breaston had 7 catches for 125 yards and a score, and also had a 28-yard run, while Larry Fitzgerald contributed 6 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns and Early Doucet pulled in 6 also for 77 yards and a pair of TDs. Beanie Wells led the running attack with 91 yards on 14 carries.

For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers (pictured at left) went to the air 42 times and completed 28 for 423 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Greg Jennings pulled in 8 of those passes for 130 yards and a TD and Jermichael Finley gained 159 yards on his 6 catches. Ryan Grant ran for 64 yards on 11 attempts.

In Green Bay’s long franchise history, the game marked both the most points scored and the most allowed in a postseason game.

“Whew,” said Warner as he faced the media afterward, “anybody else tired?”

“That’s probably one of the best games ever played in the playoffs,” said Ken Whisenhunt.

“It’s clearly one of the toughest losses I've been a part of,” said Mike McCarthy from the Green Bay perspective. “I’m very proud of our football team and fight. This is a hard game to swallow.”

Arizona’s defense of its NFC title ended the next week in a 45-14 loss in the Divisional round at New Orleans. Kurt Warner retired in the postseason, and his absence was noted as the Cardinals dropped to 5-11 in 2010. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers came back to make the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card entry and advanced all the way to a win over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.