If Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers left University of Phoenix Stadium in anything other than a body bag after yesterday's 51-45 win over the surging Green Bay Packers, he probably owes it to Karlos Dansby.
After the Packers clawed their way back from a 17-point deficit in the first quarter, the game was tied at 45 with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. The Cards marched down the field with ease to set up a 34-yard Rackers' field goal to win with 22 seconds left on the clock. In what was the most important kick of the season, Rackers caught a case of Scott Norwood-itis and muffed the boot, sending the game into overtime.
Maybe Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner didn't take Rackers' name in vain, but at least four million others did.
The Packers won the coin toss and began a campaign to set up -- at the very least -- a game-winning field goal that would have put an end to the Cardinals' season.
At their own 24, on third and six, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers held the ball a little too long and was sacked by cornerback Michael Adams, which caused Rodgers to drop the rock. On his way to the ground, Rodgers kicked the airborne ball right into the hands of linebacker Dansby, who ran it untouched into the end zone to win the game and send the Cards to New Orleans to play the Saints next Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.
The dramatic conclusion to yesterday's game, already dubbed an "instant classic" by ESPN analysts, ended what was without a doubt the most exciting game the Cards have played all year -- maybe ever -- and Dansby was a major factor the entire game.
In the first quarter, Dansby tipped a Rodgers' pass into the hands of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which led to the Cards' first touchdown.
When the Pack got the ball back, on their second play of the drive, Dansby forced Donald Driver to drop the ball, which Dansby recovered -- setting up the Cards second TD.
The rest of the game was fairly evenly matched. Green Bay would score, and the Cardinals would respond with an explosive air campaign that netted 531 total yards and five touchdowns.
Adding in the Packers' scores, and yesterday's game was the highest-scoring in NFL history, with 96 total points.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin had not recovered enough from injuries suffered the week before in the last regular-season game against these same Packers and did not play, but the Cardinals were fine without him. Wide receiver Steve Breaston stepped up with 125 yards and a touchdown.
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Unlike last week's game, which meant nothing, the Cardinals' defense put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Though he, like Warner, had spectacular statistics overall, Rodgers was sacked five times, and the threat alone forced him to throw lots of hurried passes for short yardage.
Kurt Warner was as accurate as it gets. He made countless circus passes that seemed to find the hands of his receivers, despite coverage of the Packers' secondary.
Yesterday's win was a much-needed confidence-boost for the Cards as the Cardinals continue in the playoffs.
They head to New Orleans to play the 14-2 Saints (who had a bye this week as the team with the best record in the NFC) Saturday afternoon. And if the Redbirds can play the way they played yesterday offensively (granted that's a big "if"), they're on the right track to repeat as NFC champions. Also, it will no doubt take a bigger defensive effort to stop the Saints' high-powered offense.