GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Packers’ defense had clamped down on the NFL’s No. 1 offense as well as it could for 60 minutes.
It needed to do so for at least 61.
Having surrendered less than 300 yards in regulation, allowing only one play longer than 22 yards in Arizona’s first 60 snaps on Saturday night, the Packers gave up the big one at the wrong time.
Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard catch and run on the first snap of overtime set up Fitzgerald’s own game-winning TD catch just 65 seconds into overtime, and the Packers’ season ended with a 26-20 NFC divisional playoff loss at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Our defense, we played a heck of a game for the most part,” Clay Matthews said. “But obviously it has to go beyond four quarters.”
The big play was frustrating on many levels. First, Mike Neal just missed a sack of Cardinals QB Carson Palmer. Then, as Palmer snuck away to his right, Fitzgerald was wide open for a long throwback to the left. But that wasn’t all.
Fitzgerald showed why he’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the toughest open-field ball-carriers in the league, as Packers defensive backs Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett both missed one-on-one tackle attempts, allowing the play to rupture into the game-deciding one.
“You don’t give up those type of plays,” Neal said. “To be able to lose it all on essentially one play like that, you can’t have that.”
Added defensive lineman B.J. Raji: “You’re speechless. It’s like a bad dream, but it’s not a dream, unfortunately. Larry made the play, so hat’s off to him.”
In holding the Cardinals to just 20 points in regulation, the Packers got key interceptions from safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Damarious Randall. The rookie corner’s pick came in the end zone early in the fourth quarter to take potential points off the board.
But the Packers actually missed opportunities for an even better performance. They were the victims of some rotten luck, too.
Shields, the Packers’ all-time leader in postseason interceptions who was playing for the first time in a month following a concussion, had a legitimate shot at three potential interceptions but couldn’t bring any of them in. The last miss, late in the fourth quarter near the goal line as Shields jumped an out route by Michael Floyd and appeared to get two hands on the ball, proved huge as the Cardinals scored a go-ahead TD three plays later.
The TD was just tough luck, as Randall reached in front of Fitzgerald to deflect a slant pass, and the ball somehow ricocheted right to Floyd in the end zone for a 9-yard score.
That 14-play, 80-yard drive by the Cardinals also included three straight third-down conversions, more than they had the rest of the game (2 of 10).
“It’s just a devastating loss,” Randall said. “We had several chances to win the game. That’s just the way the NFL works. They found a way, and we didn’t.”
And the Cardinals get to keep playing, while the Packers don’t.
“It just comes to an abrupt stop,” veteran Julius Peppers said. “You’re playing, you have a shot to advance. You’re in overtime, playing, feeling good, and then all of a sudden it’s done. A little bit of shock, the finality of everything.”
Long run: Eddie Lacy’s 61-yard run in the third quarter was the longest rush by a Packers running back in postseason franchise history, and the second-longest running play.
Wide receiver James Lofton had a 71-yard run against Dallas in the 1982 playoffs.
“It felt like 80,” Lacy said of the long jaunt, which set up a touchdown that gave the Packers the lead. “It was a good run from an emotional standpoint, getting the momentum on our side.”
Lacy finished with 89 yards on 12 carries.
Moving up: With 23 rushing yards on seven carries, running back James Starks moved into third place on the franchise’s all-time postseason rushing list. Starks moved past Jim Taylor (508) and Ahman Green (521) and now has 523 career rushing yards in the playoffs.
The only Packers ahead of him are Dorsey Levens (647) and Edgar Bennett (561).
NFL record: By making his only two field goal tries in the game, kicker Mason Crosby has now made 20 consecutive field goals in the postseason, breaking the previous NFL record of 19 by David Akers.
Crosby scored the Packers’ first six points of the game on field goals of 28 and 34 yards. His last postseason miss was in the 2010 playoffs at Atlanta, a 50-yard try.
Injury update: The Packers had two players leave the game due to injuries – receiver Randall Cobb (chest) and defensive back Micah Hyde (hip).
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