The Arizona Cardinals’ thrilling 26-20 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers this past weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale was an epic victory for the Red Birds and one helluva football game — but it certainly wasn’t for the faint of heart.
The back-and-forth divisional round playoff battle on Saturday, January 15, was a major nail biter that saw the Cardinals coming perilously close to being eliminated by Green Bay during a wild contest that was wall-to-wall with unbelievable and unforgettable action.
Thankfully, Arizona triumphed, thanks in no small part to the heroics of Larry Fitzgerald, who compensated for the uneven play of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and almost single-handedly carried his team to victory. Fitz was fantastic as he made eight catches, racked up 176 yards (including an phenomenal 75-yard dash at the start of overtime) and scored the game-winning touchdown.
It was an extraordinary ending to a crazy game filled with everything that football fans could’ve asked for: dramatic plays, amazing catches, heart-stopping moments, a couple of Hail Mary throws, and even a bit of weirdness that defied logic at times.
The Cardinals will head east this weekend to face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday for the NFC championship and a shot at the Super Bowl. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the best moments, both on and off the field, during Arizona’s big win over Green Bay.
11. Arizona's big fourth-down conversion
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is famous for his aggressive play calling on offense (hence his oft-quoted philosophy, “No risk it, no biscuit”). It paid off during the first quarter when Arizona went for it on fourth and one while deep in Green Bay territory instead of settling for a field goal. As a result, rookie running back David Johnson plowed up the middle for two yards, nabbed a big first down, and paved the way for a Cardinals TD three player later. Speaking of which . . .
10. Arizona’s first touchdown
Without a doubt, Carson Palmer caused Cardinals fans plenty of worry with his uneven performance during the game. That said, he was on point with a fantastic eight-yard throw that connected with Michael Floyd in the far corner of the end zone to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead early on. Yeah, Floyd might’ve taken a header into a cameraman following the catch, but he at least managed to keep his feet in bounds. And that's all that mattered.
NBC pans away from the flashing Packers fan with the quickness pic.twitter.com/KKqiJHehiD— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) January 17, 2016
9. That one Packers fan
Green Bay’s notorious fan base isn’t exactly known for its class, civility, or decorum. And this particular member of Packers Nation certainly reinforced their sordid reputation by gleefully exposing his nipple on national television during the first half. Janet Jackson, eat your heart out. (He wasn’t the only out-of-towner to grab attention in the stands, however, as that one Vikings fan earned chuckles from the NBC broadcasters with his sign declaring "I BOUGT [sic] THIS TICKET B4 THE FIELD GOAL.”
Aaron Rodgers pick 6. Returned for 100 yards by Patrick Peterson. And another play taken away due to penalties pic.twitter.com/u4KZvvVkvU— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 17, 2016
8. Patrick Peterson’s overturned 100-yard pick-six
Poor Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals cornerback almost had one of the biggest moments of the night — if not the entire season — after intercepting Aaron Rodgers’ goal-line pass in the second quarter and going coast to coast for what looked like a pick-six. It was an exhilarating sight that would’ve been one for the record books and put Arizona up 13-0 had teammate Frostee Rucker not been penalized for illegal hands, resulting in the play getting called back. Green Bay wound up kicking a field goal three plays later.
Better version dramatic Bruce Arians. pic.twitter.com/R2SzRBLfNA— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 17, 2016
However, there was one bright spot to come from the debacle: Arians’ sudden head-turn in reaction to the penalty, which rivals the Dramatic Chipmunk of Internet lore. In fact, there’s already a few memes comparing the two.
Aaron Rodgers picked off by Rashad Johnson pic.twitter.com/ZoM417UBIJ— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 17, 2016
7. Rashad Johnson’s interception
Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson fared a bit better than Peterson, however, when he nabbed a Rodgers' pass at the start of the second half. Granted, Arizona only gained a yard in the process (and Green Bay returned the favor a few minutes later when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off Palmer), but it was worth it to watch Rodgers march off the field in utter frustration.
6. Green Bay’s overturned challenge
Cardinals fans had a few choice words for Packers head coach Mike McCarthy after he challenged Larry Fitzgerald’s stumbling 22-yard catch late in the third quarter. That rage turned to utter joy, however, when the refs shut down the coach and ruled that Fitz was in bounds. McCarthy’s fuming reaction after getting denied was priceless, as were Patrick Peterson’s hand gestures on the sidelines when the call went in Arizona's favor.
5. The two-take coin toss
The Packers were just as pissed about the unusual coin toss following the end of regulation that required a do-over and ultimately led to their downfall. After Green Bay called “tails,” referee Clete Blakeman botched the first toss when the coin failed to flip, resulting in a second attempt. Arizona, choosing “heads,” won both tosses and got first possession in overtime. And the rest is history.
Rodgers pulled some crybaby antics over the matter during post-game interviews claiming the Packers should’ve been allowed to call the coin again. Thing is, Blakeman’s actions were within the rules and were later backed up by the NFL. Sorry, Aaron. Those are the breaks.
4. Aaron Rodgers' Hail Marys
Despite all his crybaby antics over the coin toss, we’re willing to give Rodgers his due for the pair of amazing Hail Mary passes he unleashed in the fourth to send things into overtime. The first was a 60-yard miracle toss that brought the Packers to roughly midfield, followed a few plays later by a 41-yard throw to Jeff Janis in the end zone. (Both were repeats of a similarly epic Hail Mary made by Rodgers against the Detroit Lions in December.) Sure, it gave Cardinals fans a collective massive coronary at the time, but it set up what would become an unforgettable conclusion. Just be thankful Green Bay didn't go for a two-point conversion.
3. The Cardinals' miracle touchdown
Lady Luck was on the Red Birds’ side against the Packers, especially during the wild touchdown pass from Palmer that put the Cardinals ahead in the fourth quarter. Ostensibly aimed at Fitzgerald, it caromed off the arm of Packers cornerback Damarious Randall’s arm, floated over the head of a leaping Jaron Brown, and sailed into the grasp of Floyd in the end zone for the TD. “If you're the Cardinals right now, you believe in divine intervention,” remarked famed play-by-play man Al Michaels afterward. “How else do you explain it?”
2. Larry Fitzgerald’s game-winning touchdown
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Every single Cardinals fan across Arizona roared in victory after Fitzgerald caught Palmer’s shovel pass just inside the 10-yard line and plunged into the end zone, sending the Packers packing and the Red Birds to the NFC title game.
1. Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard run
The greatest moment of the entire game, without question, was Fitz’s epic 75-yard run on the first play of overtime. It set up the game-winning TD. And every second of it was magical: Palmer’s twisting-and-turning escape from a Packers blitz, his toss across the field to Fitz, and the wide receiver’s mad dash toward the goal line past bumbling defenders all the way to the 5-yard line. He even busted out a no-look stiff-arm to Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett. The only thing that would’ve made it better would’ve been if Fitzgerald could’ve gone all the way to the goal line. Not that we're complaining or anything, considering what followed.