After another heartbreaking postseason loss for the Green Bay Packers, the question has to be asked: Would it be better for a team to get blown out or lose on the last play?
Certainly, the Packers and their fans have had enough of the close losses. Arizona’s overtime 26-20 win over Green Bay was the fifth time the Packers have lost a playoff game on the final play. Ouch. Actually, make that quintuple ouch.
Green Bay improbably tied the score on a last-second Hail Mary from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis, which came shortly after the Packers faced 3rd-and-20 from their own 4-yard line with 55 seconds left.
But Arizona won the toss — twice, as it turned out the first coin flip didn’t count because the coin didn’t, well, flip — and on the first play Larry Fitzgerald caught a cross-field throw and took it to the 5-yard line, then scoring the game-winner a couple of plays later on a shuttle pass.
Unfortunately for the Packers they came out on the wrong end, but certainly this will be remembered as one of the great NFL playoff finishes of all-time.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:
— Both teams went with pressure defense on the key late plays. Arizona decided to rush Rodgers on the Hail Mary play, leaving only a couple of defenders deep. On the Cardinals’ first play from scrimmage in overtime, it was the Packers turn to supply the heat. However, that left Larry Fitzgerald open on one side of the field and after Carson Palmer escaped the pressure, he was able to lob a cross-field pass to the wide receiver, who turned it into a big gain.
— Speaking of that Fitzgerald play — and what a play it was — while Casey Hayward delayed the inevitable with a touchdown-saving tackle, Sam Shields missed a tackle and Morgan Burnett was thrown aside by a stiff-arm as the Arizona receiver made his way to the 5-yard line.
— When Green Bay needed a play on the final drive, it was Jeff Janis who was the man getting the targets. Likely this was because Janis was the fastest of the Green Bay receivers and could get downfield quickly. Rodgers threw to him in double coverage (incomplete, possible pass interference) before his dart on 4th-and-20 for 60 yards. Then, of course, the Hail Mary.
— Would the Hail Mary even have happened if Arizona ran the ball with its final possession? For some reason, the Cardinals threw the ball on second down in Green Bay territory, thus stopping the clock. While the Cardinals would eventually get a field goal, not running it cost them roughly 40 seconds — and gave Rodgers and the Packers that much more time to stage their comeback. A curious play (although it could be argued that Fitzgerald was interfered with on that incompletion).
— James Jones became the No. 1 receiver after Randall Cobb was injured. He was blanketed all game by Patrick Peterson and was targeted just twice, including a fourth-down pass late in the fourth quarter which Rodgers bounced to him.
— There has to be a study on the value of timeouts compared to taking a 5-yard delay of game penalty, especially in the second half. Green Bay used one on such an occasion and then lost another timeout on a failed challenge, leaving just one timeout for the entire fourth quarter.
— While Green Bay’s offense had been up and down all season, the defense was solid. And in the first half, the Packers limited the high-powered Cardinals offense to 75 yards on 29 plays.
— Jared Abbrederis was targeted a team-high 12 times but only had four catches, all of which came in the first half. However, each catch went for a first down.
— In the third quarter, Eddie Lacy had the second-longest run (61 yards) in Packers playoff history, setting up a Rodgers to Janis touchdown.
— David Bakhtiari and Sam Shields were back in the lineup and both bolstered the offense and defense, respectively. In fact, Shields made himself known early, knocking away a pass on the opening drive of the game.
— Shields almost had the play of the game with a near interception in the fourth quarter. Three plays later, Damarious Randall tipped a pass which floated over Casey Hayward and into the hands of Michael Floyd for a touchdown which gave Arizona a 17-13 lead.
— Randall Cobb made an incredible one-handed catch while falling down on a Rodgers bomb in the first quarter. However, a penalty canceled the play and, to make matters worse, Cobb was injured on the play and did not return.
— The Packers also lost safety/punt returner Micah Hyde to a hip injury.
— Green Bay allowed over 300 yards passing for just the fourth time this season, including both playoff games. The 349 was the second-most by a Packers opponent.
Well, bluntly, the season is over. But Green Bay showed itself to be a resilient team, one which didn’t fold despite numerous injuries. How the Packers were even in this game with Aaron Rodgers constantly targeting the team’s No. 5 and No. 6 wide receivers is pretty incredible. Moral victories don’t mean anything but the Packers have every reason to hold their heads up high.
When Randall Cobb was knocked out of the game it left the Packers with only three wide receivers, which meant Jeff Janis was going to see a lot more time than expected — or he was used to — and boy did he take advantage. Janis was targeted 11 times, finishing with team highs of seven receptions and 145 yards with two touchdowns. Janis’ skills were on full display on Green Bay’s final scoring drive as he made two clutch catches on long Rodgers passes, including the Hail Mary TD.
Aaron Rodgers certainly didn’t have his best game (24 of 44 for 261 yards, a 77.9 quarterback rating), but he made two just absurd plays on Green Bay’s drive to tie the game. It’s hard to think of many quarterbacks who could make those kind of throws, both of which were completions to Jeff Janis. Those two plays accounted for 38.7 percent of Rodgers’ passing yards.
In a game like this there are so many to choose from, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. However, we’re going to look back to the second quarter when Patrick Peterson picked off Aaron Rodgers around the goal line and ran it back for a score, only to have the play wiped out due to a penalty on Arizona’s Frostee Rucker. If the touchdown had stood, the Cardinals would have been up 14-0 (presuming the extra point) and the game suddenly would have had the feeling of the last time these two teams played, when Arizona gradually steamrolled the Packers. Instead, Green Bay got three points out of it and remained in the game throughout.
1 — number of times Aaron Rodgers was sacked. The last time the Packers and Cardinals played, Arizona recorded nine sacks (and caused Rodgers to fumble three times, two of which he lost). This time around, the only time the Cardinals defense got to Rodgers was on Green Bay’s final fourth-quarter drive. That kind of protection was key for Rodgers, who was throwing to a depleted and inexperienced receiving corps.
"Heartbreaking loss . . . tough to swallow." — Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy
"We know these games come down to big plays and Arizona made one more big play than we did." — McCarthy
"I just wanted to put some air on it. I really didn’t know where anyone was. I was Jeff briefly. I just wanted to put some air on it to give him a chance." — Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers
"A lot of numb emotions . . . it’s never easy." — Green Bay guard T.J. Lang
A tough ending to the 2015 season gives way to hope for 2016. With the return of Jordy Nelson, not to mention Aaron Rodgers, the entire offensive line and more, Green Bay is well positioned for another deep playoff run.