GLENDALE, Ariz. – Miracles are supposed to win games, but this one didn’t.
Lightning struck a second time for the Packers this season in the form of a successful Hail Mary. Aaron Rodgers’ 41-yard heave to Jeff Janis on the final play of regulation got Saturday night’s NFC divisional playoff against Arizona to overtime.
But the emotional high quickly fell to a sickening low, as the Cardinals scored a touchdown just 65 seconds into the extra period to end Green Bay’s season, 26-20, at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“It’s incredible. This game is crazy,” Janis said. “Catching a ball like that is something that’s once in a lifetime, and to see that happen, it’s unfortunate.”
The Hail Mary, a virtual replay of the game-winning TD in Detroit back in early December, wasn’t the only improbable play on the Packers’ game-tying drive. Rodgers also scrambled out of trouble in his own end zone and found Janis for a 60-yard completion on fourth-and-20, keeping the season alive with less than a minute on the clock.
“It was kind of like the Lions game all over again,” Janis said. “We just kept fighting, and it shows what kind of team we were.”
Janis was thrust into the spotlight, along with fellow second-year receiver Jared Abbrederis, when Randall Cobb left the game in the first quarter with a chest injury. Cobb got hurt landing hard on the ground as he made a spectacular one-handed catch on a deep pass that ultimately didn’t count due to offsetting penalties.
With James Jones being shut out by top Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Abbrederis was Rodgers’ key target in the first half, and he finished with four catches for 55 yards. Janis then came on in the second half.
With just four receptions in his career before Saturday night, Janis ended up hauling in seven catches for 145 yards and his first two pro scores. His 8-yard TD in the third quarter gave the Packers a 13-7 lead.
“Everybody wants to come in and show they can play,” Janis said. “I had to step up, and that’s what I tried to do.”
The banged-up Packers did everything but win the game.
“Obviously, I wish we could have done more,” Abbrederis said. “We fought hard and that’s huge, but we have to find a way to win.”
The win proved elusive, though, as the Packers lost the overtime coin toss, just as they did in last year’s NFC title game in Seattle. The offense never saw the ball again after Janis’ miracle catch on which he outjumped Peterson for the ball.
Instead, the Cardinals made a huge play of their own on the first play of overtime, a 75-yard catch and run by Larry Fitzgerald, setting up Fitzgerald’s own 5-yard TD grab on a shovel pass.
It was a strange feeling for the offensive players to walk off the field for the final time this season with their last play being an unforgettable touchdown.
“Obviously it’s frustrating,” Janis said. “The what-if pops in your head, if we were to get a chance, you never know what could happen. But it just didn’t work out that way.”
Everyone was hoping for another Detroit locker room celebration and a chance to play again, but it wasn’t to be. The emotional swings in just a matter of moments were almost impossible to comprehend.
“I’m exhausted. Just numb,” guard T.J. Lang said. “It’s a tough way to end the season.
“It’s tough losing after a play like that.”
It was a play the Packers seemed to know they were going to make. They’d done it before, after all. The never-say-die attitude is what the 2015 Packers will be remembered for, and while the first Hail Mary was a picture-perfect rainbow, this one looked almost impossible for Rodgers to get off, spinning away from defenders and scooting to his left before launching a practically blind throw.
“You could tell just looking at Aaron before that last play, the urgency, the focus, you could see it in his eyes,” Lang said. “I don’t know how many guys they blitzed on that last play, I don’t know how he got away from there.”
And the Packers aren’t really sure how it’s suddenly all over, but it is.
“It was a crazy season,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “I’m very proud of this team, and I wish it was still going.”
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