GLENDALE, Ariz. - Another postseason. Another heartbreak for the Green Bay Packers.
Moments after a remarkable series that saw little-used receiver Jeff Janis catch two passes for 96 yards to tie Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald caught a 75-yard pass at the start of overtime and followed it up with a 5-yard shovel pass to hold off the Packers 26-20.
It was eerily similar to last January’s 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle in the NFC title game when the Packers coughed up a 13-point lead in the final 5 minutes of the game. It was by far the grittiest performance of the year for Green Bay and yet it still didn’t matter.
Three weeks removed from a humiliating 38-8 loss to the Cardinals, the fifth-seeded Packers gave Arizona all it could handle despite losing starting receiver Randall Cobb to a chest injury on the final play of the first quarter.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made the most out of his fourth and fifth receivers, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis, but the loss of Jordy Nelson (torn ACL), Davante Adams (sprained MCL) and Ty Montgomery (ankle) finally began to take its toll.
Until the final moments.
After falling behind 20-13, Janis hauled in a 60-yard pass on fourth-and-20 in the final minute of the game from Green Bay’s 4 to give the Packers a chance at the win. A few plays later, he then caught a 41-yard Hail Mary from Rodgers to force overtime.
It was a reminiscent of Green Bay’s 27-23 win over Detroit last month when tight end Richard Rodgers caught a Hail Mary with no time remaining. He finished with seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers’ defense gave up one touchdown-producing drive in the first half that ended when Carson Palmer, facing a three-man rush, lofted a ball to receiver Michael Floyd in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line.
Otherwise, the defense was impeccable in the first half. It forced Arizona into three three-and-out situations and allowed only 75 total yards on 25 offensive plays. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was under heavy pressure with Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels and Nick Perry all recording sacks.
Offensively, the offense took time to get going. Abbrederis and Cobb dropped passes early on before it things started to click on the third series. Down 7-0, Green Bay used a 17-play, 85-yard drive that ate 7 minutes, 31 seconds off the clock to get on the board.
The Packers endured a heart-stopping moment on the series when Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off quarterback Aaron Rodgers on third-and-goal from the Green Bay 4. He would have returned it for a touchdown if defensive line man Frostee Rucker wasn’t flagged for illegal hands to the face.
They didn’t get through the series scot free, though. A Packers’ offense already playing without Davante Adams (knee) then lost Cobb on the final play of the first quarter when he sustained a chest injury on what would have been a magnificent 45-yard completion if an illegal shift penalty on Bryan Bulaga didn’t wipe it out.
That left the Packers with only three healthy receivers – James Jones, Abbrederis and Jeff Janis – since they opted against promoting either practice-squad receiver Ed Williams or Jamel Johnson when tight end Andrew Quarless was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Instead, they used the open spot to activate defensive back Robertson Daniel, who was a healthy scratch Saturday with cornerbacks Sam Shields (concussion) and Quinten Rollins (quad) both active.
Cobb’s departure set the stage for the Abbrederis and Janis show. The two second-year receivers were targeted 15 times in the first half, catching seven of the 12 passes that Rodgers completed in the first half.
Janis caught four passes for 36 yards on the Packers’ final series before halftime. The Packers drove 71 yards on 17 plays in 7:55, but again couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone. Instead, Green Bay settled for a 34-yard field goal from Crosby, which set a new NFL postseason record of 20 consecutive postseason made field goals.
The Packers dominated Arizona in total yards (166-75) and converted 6-of-10 third downs in the first half, but still trailed going into halftime. Green Bay received the ball after halftime, but like last month, turned the ball over on the first series of the third quarter when Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson picked off Rodgers.
However, Green Bay’s defense once again responded. The Packers were on their way to forcing a three-and-out when safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepted Palmer on a pass intended for Floyd near Green Bay’s sideline. It was the third pick for Clinton-Dix in four postseason games.
Eddie Lacy, had 11 rushing yards on seven first-half carries, ignited in the second half. He gained 14 yards on his first carry despite falling down and getting back up and then broke free for a season-long 61 yards on his next. Comparatively, Lacy’s longest regular-season carry was a mere 29 yards.
The Packers finally got in the Cardinals’ end zone on third-and-8 when Rodgers hit Janis on a slant for his first career touchdown in the regular or postseason to give Green Bay its first lead of the game, 13-7.
Arizona answered back with Palmer hitting Fitzgerald on a 32-yard pass over rookie Damarious Randall on a go route. A personal foul for a late hit on defensive tackle B.J. Raji pushed the ball up to the Green Bay 20. The Cardinals settled for a 28-yard field goal form Chandler Catanzaro after Shields couldn’t bring in a Palmer overthrow on third down.
The Cardinals drove to Green Bay’s 10-yard line to start the fourth quarter before rookie Damarious Randall picked off Palmer on an underthrown pass intended for John Brown in the corner of the end zone.
The offense couldn’t do anything off the turnover and the Cardinals didn’t give Green Bay a second chance. Palmer marched Arizona down the field 80 yards in 14 plays before a deflected pass off Randall’s hands bounced to Floyd for a 9-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals targeted dime linebacker Joe Thomas twice on third-and-4 during the series. The first was a 9-yard completion to John Brown and then another 10-yard completion to running back David Johnson on third-and-10.
Shields had a chance to end the threat, but dropped an interception at the Green Bay 9-yard line.
The Packers had a chance to respond, but went four-and-out after starting from its own 20. A 4-yard pass to Kuhn, 1-yard run by Lacy and a pair of incompletions to Abbrederis and Jones should have spelled the end of the Packers’ season.
Green Bay had only one timeout remaining when Arizona took the ball over at the Packers’ 24. The Cardinals would’ve had a chance to run the clock down to 1:20, but they instead ran a shot pass on second-and-8 to Fitzgerald on a go route against Shields that fell incomplete.
Instead, the Packers got the ball back with 1:50 remaining after Catanzaro’s 36-yard field goal to give Arizona a 20-13 lead, which gave Green Bay the chance at the unlikely comeback.
However, the late breakdowns ended Green Bay’s season. Whatever redemption the Packers were seeking after last year’s collapse in the 2014 playoffs will have to wait another year.
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