Arizona Cardinals defeat Green Bay Packers
Two of the game’s best players – Rodgers and FitzGerald – made big, unforgetable plays
Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald (centre) breaks away from Green Bay Packers’ Morgan Burnett (left) for a 75-yard pass reception to set up the winning touchdown during their NFL Playoff game, in Glendale, Arizona. Photograph: EPA/ROY DABNER
Green Bay Packers 20 Arizona Cardinals 26
What is it that makes the biggest players shine in the most important moments?
How is it that Aaron Rodgers can scramble with the season about to end, turn to the most awkward throwing position he could and heave a touchdown pass half the length of a football field? What lets Larry Fitzgerald catch a pass in overtime then run through what seems like the entire Packers defence to set up a winning score?
By now we know what Rodgers can do with a football as time is running out. His game-winning heave in Detroit a few weeks ago already stood as perhaps his finest play. But on Saturday, with the season dying and the clock running out, he was even better.
Fitzgerald knows he is the energy that drives the Cardinals. He talked about it late Saturday – after his touchdown on a shovel pass in overtime gave Arizona a 26-20 victory over Green Bay in the divisional round of the NFL play-offs. Somehow, after Rodgers had just tied the game on the Hail Mary, he had to get the ball, he had to do something.
Fitzgerald could sense his quarterback Carson Palmer was in trouble on that first possession of overtime. He did the only thing he knew: twisting, contorting himself, trying to get open. Then when Palmer threw his way he got the ball and began to run. As he sprinted, trying to avoid lunging Packers defenders, he couldn’t have imagined how magnificent this looked on television – the darting and dodging – all he could think of was the end zone. How quickly could he end the game?
Then, with the Cardinals just short of the goal line, they called for the shovel pass, the quick toss to Fitzgerald who was to run through the middle of the Packers defence and into the end zone.
“When you get your number called, the shovel, my eyes lit up in the huddle,” he later said.
Fitzgerald contemplated everything that had happened before overtime, the way Rodgers had snatched away the Cardinals victory with one last enormous heave to the end zone and shook his head.
“He’s the reigning MVP of the league for a reason,” Fitzgerald said. “The guy can flat out play his butt off.”
Years from now, when people talk about the greatest playoff games, they will remember the Saturday night in the far west suburbs of Phoenix when two of the best players of their time made the biggest plays at the most desperate moments.
After the game, Rodgers said he didn’t really know exactly who was in the end zone or where the ball would land when he threw it. This is probably an exaggeration. Even as he was lunging to his left, he seemed to have a sense of exactly how much pressure to put on the pass and where Janis was likely to be. The throw was too precise; Janis was in too ideal a place.
The beauty of the Rodgers throw was the calm with which he made it. The Cardinals were blitzing, many quarterbacks would have panicked.
Fitzgerald appeared just as at ease when he caught the ball from Palmer in overtime and then took off. As everything turned into a jumble on Saturday, Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald made the game slow down. And for several minutes, two of the best players in the game made the biggest plays no one will ever forget. Guardian Service