GLENDALE, Ariz. – The hurt in Mike McCarthy’s voice was reminiscent of a year ago, when the Packers’ season ended cruelly in Seattle. Saturday night, in the postgame interview room at the University of Phoenix Stadium, McCarthy fought through the hurt of a 26-20, overtime loss to the Cardinals that ended the Packers’ season in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“I don’t feel very composed right now, so I don’t know how to answer your question,” McCarthy said to a reporter who marveled at the coach’s composure only minutes after Larry Fitzgerald capped the Cardinals’ game-winning touchdown drive with a 5-yard touchdown.
Regulation ended with one of the most uplifting plays in Packers history, a 41-yard, Hail Mary touchdown catch by Jeff Janis that sent the game into overtime. Overtime began with one of the most disheartening plays in Packers history, a 75-yard, catch-and-run play by Fitzgerald. Two plays later, he was in the end zone and the Cardinals were moving on to the NFC title game, either in Carolina or in Arizona against Seattle.
“Heartbreaking loss. Congratulations to Arizona for moving on to the NFC championship. It’s a tough game to swallow. Our preparation was excellent. There wasn’t a doubt in our mind we’d win the football game. Tonight was a microcosm of our season, fighting through adversity,” McCarthy said.
The Packers fought through more adversity at wide receiver, losing Randall Cobb in the first half to a chest injury that caused him to remain in Phoenix on Saturday night for observation. Cobb’s injury means the Packers ended the season without their top four receivers.
Second-year wide receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis helped fill the void on Saturday. Abbrederis caught four passes for 55 yards, and Janis caught two bombs in the Packers’ game-tying drive. Saturday night, Janis became one of the Packers’ stars of the future, no doubt to the delight of Packers fans who’ve long campaigned for more playing time for Janis. He totaled seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m very proud of those young men. They worked their tails off all year to get an opportunity. Jeff Janis is just a young man who needs to play. He has some raw ability. He made some huge plays tonight,” McCarthy said.
“We were stressed offensively. We had a lot of opportunities. Our guys fought right to the end. Arizona made one more big play than we did,” he added.
Rodgers’ Hail Mary pass was reminiscent of his game-winning toss to Richard Rodgers in Detroit a little more than a month ago. This time, instead of rolling to his right, Aaron Rodgers rolled to his left.
“They were playing Aaron to his right. They took a time out and set their defense. Aaron bought himself time by moving to his left. I don’t know how he could make that throw. It’s incredible,” McCarthy said of his quarterback, the greatest Hail Mary passer in the history of the game.
Fitzgerald trumped Rodgers and Janis when, on the first play of overtime, Carson Palmer rolled to his right away from the rush and found Fitzgerald all alone along the left sideline. Fitzgerald then weaved his way through the Packers defense in one of the best runs after a catch in postseason history.
“We had a broken coverage there,” McCarthy said.
The overtime coin toss was also broken. The Packers called tails. The coin was flipped heads up by Referee Clete Blakeman, but the coin didn’t turn over. Blakeman re-flipped the coin and it came up heads, giving the Cardinals the option.
“It didn’t flip. He picked it up and flipped it again without giving me a chance to call it. He wanted to avoid the embarrassment of it not turning over,” Rodgers said.
“It’s really a high,” Rodgers said of the Hail Mary that sent the game into overtime, “then having the debacle with the coin toss, and then not even touching the ball in overtime, it’s pretty low,” Rodgers added.
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