Walkthrough: Reliving a game 'for the ages'

Stu Courtney
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Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) reacts after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals in the third quarter during their  NFC divisional playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Each Wednesday, Weston Hodkiewicz provides an inside look at the Green Bay Packers in his Walkthrough blog. Today, Stu Courtney fills in.

Legendary broadcaster Jack Buck famously exclaimed, “I don’t believe what I just saw!” after an ailing Kirk Gibson homered to win a 1988 World Series game for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Days after the Green Bay Packers’ mind-blowing 26-20 overtime loss at Arizona, we still don’t believe what we just saw, either. And neither could NBC broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who had this to say immediately after it finally ended Saturday night:

Green Bay Packers receiver Jeff Janis celebrates his game-tying touchdown to force overtime.

Michaels: “The Cardinals win an amazing game! That, gang, was one for the ages.”

Collinsworth: “I just can’t believe what I’m seeing out of this ball game.”

No one soon will forget the last-second Hail Mary catch by Jeff Janis that sent the game into overtime, or the 75-yard run by Larry Fitzgerald on the first play of OT that set up his game-winning TD two plays later. But this instant classic was full of twists and turns, and so many strange, spectacular and controversial plays that it’s hard to remember them all.

So let’s relive 22 significant moments from the game, in chronological order:

Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb makes a leaping catch against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel in the first quarter. The catch was called back on off setting penalties and Cobb was injured on the play.

First quarter

1. Randall Cobb makes a diving, one-handed circus catch of a deep Aaron Rodgers heave that carries 51 yards down to the Arizona 5-yard line. “That is one of the great catches I’ve seen!” Collinsworth exclaims on NBC's broadcast. But offsetting penalties nullify the play, and even worse for the Packers, Cobb suffers a bruised lung and is sidelined for the rest of the game.

Second quarter

2. On a third-and-4 play from the Arizona 18 early in the quarter, Rodgers is intercepted at the goal line by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who returns it for an apparent 100-yard pick-6 touchdown. However, the play is wiped out by an illegal hands to the face penalty on Arizona’s Frostee Rucker. Peterson also is whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for showboating on his way to the end zone, so even without Rucker’s penalty, the touchdown might not have counted.

3. On the same drive, on a third-and-8 from the Arizona 10, Janis zigs when he was supposed to zag on a pass route into the end zone and Rodgers misses him on what should’ve been a touchdown. NBC’s cameras capture a visibly annoyed Rodgers shaking his head, and the Packers settle for a field goal.

Green Bay Packers returner Micah Hyde runs back a punt return against Arizona Cardinals defender Sean Weatherspoon.

4. Packers safety Micah Hyde suffers a hip injury making a tackle at the 9:16 mark and doesn’t return. That shifts punt-return duties to Jared Abbrederis, putting even more strain on the depleted receiving corps.

5. On the heels of a 17-play, 85-yard drive that consumed 7:31 and produced the Packers’ first field goal, Green Bay executes a 17-play, 71-yard drive that takes another 7:55 off the clock and results in another field goal that trims Arizona’s lead to 7-6 at halftime. The Cardinals’ offense runs only seven plays in the quarter.

Third quarter

6. Rodgers, who threw only eight interceptions in the regular season, is picked off by the Cardinals’ Rashad Johnson on the Packers’ third play of the second half. Three plays later, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer returns the favor by throwing a pick to Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

7. Eddie Lacy, whose longest run during the regular season was for 29 yards, has consecutive carries for 14 and 61 yards on the Packers’ next series. On the first, Lacy runs through a huge hole but then slips, gets up and staggers for a few more yards. On the 61-yard gallop, Lacy benefits from nice downfield blocking by right tackle Bryan Bulaga, right guard T.J. Lang and Abbrederis.

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) breaks away for a 61-yard run against the Arizona Cardinals in the third quarter during their NFC divisional playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

8. On third-and-goal from the Arizona 8, Rodgers buys time by scrambling and then finds Janis open in the end zone for a touchdown, the first of the young receiver’s career.

9. With Arizona trailing 13-10 and starting at its 31 late in the third quarter, Palmer completes a 22-yard pass to Fitzgerald. Packers coach Mike McCarthy throws the challenge flag, arguing that Fitzgerald didn’t have control of the ball when it hit the ground. The original call is upheld and it costs the Packers their second timeout of the half. “I don’t know what the hell a catch is anymore,” McCarthy growls after the game.

Fourth quarter

10. After an 18-yard pass from Palmer to John Brown gives Arizona a first-and-goal from the 10, Packers rookie cornerback Damarious Randall intercepts an underthrown Palmer pass intended for Brown in the end zone, enabling Green Bay to retain its 13-10 lead with 14:10 remaining. Side note: Green Bay entered the game 9-0 when leading after three quarters; Arizona was 0-3 when trailing after three.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown in the end zone during the fourth quarter.

11. On third-and-10 from the Packers 43, Rodgers throws to tight end Richard Rodgers, who makes an apparent tumbling catch without being touched just short of the first down, gets up and rumbles 34 yards to the Arizona 23. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians challenges the call, and it’s overturned when the replay clearly shows that the ball hit the ground and there was no catch. The Packers are forced to punt with 11:01 remaining.

12. After advancing to the Packers 19, the Cardinals dodge disaster when cornerback Sam Shields drops what would have been an interception and likely 97-yard pick 6 on a Palmer pass intended for receiver Michael Floyd. Collinsworth makes a foreboding observation, saying Shields “may have just dropped the game.”

13. The Cardinals complete a 14-play, 80-yard drive that consumes 7:08 and produces the go-ahead touchdown when a Palmer pass intended for Fitzgerald is deflected by Randall and sails into the hands of Floyd in the end zone. An NBC replay later shows Brown setting an illegal pick on Packers cornerback Casey Hayward, driving him backward in an effort to free Fitzgerald. No call. The drive features three clutch third-down conversions, including one confirmed by mere inches. “I have never seen anything like this game,” Collinsworth declares after Floyd’s catch. “This is insane!”

Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd celebrates his touchdown reception.

14. With the Packers now trailing 17-13 and facing a third-and-5 from their 25, Rodgers throws a short pass to Abbrederis, who is hit by cornerback Jerraud Powers as he goes for the ball. No call.  “That was close,” Collinsworth says. “I thought the contact was early.”

15. Down four at the 2:42 mark with only one timeout remaining, McCarthy decides to go for it on fourth-and-5 and Rodgers throws a one-hop incompletion intended for James Jones (no catches on the day), giving Arizona possession on the Packers 25-yard line. “I thought they would punt it,” Michaels says.

16. Given a chance to kill the clock, Arizona inexplicably throws a second-down incompletion that stops it with 2:34 left. “Bruce Arians is a gutsy play caller, but I don’t believe that one,” Collinsworth says. “You just gave Aaron Rodgers a gift.” The Cardinals wind up kicking a 36-yard field goal for a 20-13 lead, but the Packers get the ball back with 1:55 left, instead of 1:15 or 1:20.

17. On second-and-10 from the Packers 14, Rodgers is sacked for the first time in the game. The clock keeps ticking down to 1:05 before the next play, a deep pass to Janis that falls incomplete. Janis, who was grabbed by cornerback Justin Bethel, and the Packers howl for a penalty flag. No call.  “That is pass interference!” Collinsworth exclaims after the first replay, before later conceding that it’s not clear-cut.

Green Bay Packers receiver Jeff Janis pulls down a reception on fourth and twenty late in the fourth quarter against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel.

18. Facing fourth-and-20 from the Packers 4 with 55 seconds left, Rodgers scrambles in the end zone and somehow finds Janis for a 61-yard completion down to the Arizona 36. “How in the world against that defense do you get a guy free?” Michaels wonders.

19. After an illegal motion penalty and an incompletion, the Packers are down to their last chance, the ball at the Arizona 41 with five seconds left. As Collinsworth and Michaels watch a replay of the Packers’ game-winning Hail Mary play at Detroit and discuss the need to throw the ball extremely high, Rodgers takes the snap, eludes the rush and does just that. Janis alertly drifts back under the ball into the end zone, leaps and comes down with it between two Cardinals defenders. Touchdown! “That may be one of the great throws ever made!” Collinsworth raves. “Moving to his left, falling away and launching a perfect throw.” Although the ball is knocked from Janis’ grasp after he lands, replay confirms the TD call.

Green Bay Packers receiver Jeff Janis catches a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers at the end of regulation tying the game and forcing overtime.

20. Packers kicker Mason Crosby converts the extra point and the game heads to overtime. Neither Michaels nor Collinsworth even mention the possibility of the Packers going for a game-winning two-point conversion, which would have been a wildly unconventional decision.


21. What should be a routine coin flip to determine who gets first possession in overtime becomes controversial when the Packers complain that the coin “didn’t flip,” and the referee agrees and flips it again. “You can’t make any of this up!” an incredulous Michaels declares. Further controversy is avoided when the Cardinals, who won the first flip, also win the second. NBC actually has a camera trained on the flight of the coin and shows the replay of the first toss. “I’ve seen pizzas flip more than that,” Collinsworth deadpans.

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald scores a touchdown in over time to defeat the Packers 26-20.

22. You know what happens next: The Cardinals get the ball at their 20 and on the first play of overtime, Palmer hits a wide-open Fitzgerald, who eludes tacklers and races all the way down to the Packers 5. Fitzgerald scores the game-winning touchdown two plays later on a shovel pass. Cardinals win, 26-20.

“This is one for the books,” Michaels sums up. “In so many ways, there’s so many plays, and it ends with No. 11 going into the end zone. Arizona moves on, Green Bay goes home.”

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