Saturday night should stir up memories of Rodgers' first playoff start
Six years ago, Aaron Rodgers was a 26-year-old quarterback making his first playoff start.
The Green Bay Packers traveled to to Glendale to take on the Arizona Cardinals in that Wild Card matchup, just as they will for Saturday night's Divisional Round playoff game. The result was one of the wildest postseason games of this century, as Rodgers fought his way into a breathtaking shootout with Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Combined, they threw for over 800 yards and nine touchdowns.
After falling behind early, the Packers put together a ridiculous rally to force an overtime period. Although he ended up losing the game, this head-to-head matchup with a venerable veteran in Warner announced the official arrival of the Rodgers era in Green Bay. The former first-round draft pick, who sat behind the legendary Brett Favre for three years, went on to win Super Bowl XLV the following season and his first league MVP the season after that.
With the Packers preparing for another playoff game against the Cardinals, it's fitting to recall the game that turned Rodgers into one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars.
Here's how that matchup unfolded.
First quarter: A disastrous start
The first play of the game was an interception. Rolling out to the right, Rodgers forced a pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson but cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepped in front of the hopeless attempt. That led to a one-yard touchdown run by running back Tim Hightower, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game.
Rodgers' next attempt was a completion, but wide receiver Donald Driver fumbled shortly after making the catch. A couple plays later, Warner found wide receiver Early Doucet for a 15-yard touchdown.
Another field goal gave Arizona a commanding lead heading into the second quarter, as this game had the makings of an early blowout.
Cardinals 17, Packers 0
Second quarter: Signs of life
The Packers' first possession of the second quarter resulted in a missed field-goal attempt by kicker Mason Crosby from 54 yards out. However, on the ensuing drive, cornerback Charles Woodson stripped wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and linebacker Clay Matthews recovered the loose ball. Rodgers then engineered Green Bay's first scoring drive of the game, capping it off with a one-yard QB sneak into the end zone.
Although the Cardinals responded with another 15-yard touchdown strike from Warner to Doucet on their next possession, the Packers produced the final points of the first half. Rodgers led an eight-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a Crosby field goal with four seconds left in the half.
Arizona still held a comfortable lead, but it became clear by the halftime break that Green Bay wasn't going to simply fade away.
Cardinals 24, Packers 10
Third quarter: Full-fledged shootout
When the teams returned to the field for the second half, there was an explosion of scoring. The third quarter featured four consecutive touchdown drives. First, Warner led the Cardinals on a drive that yielded a 33-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald. Rodgers responded with a lengthy drive of his own, finalized by a six-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Greg Jennings.
That was when the game took its first unexpected twist, as the Packers took the Cardinals by surprise with a successfully executed onside kick. Rodgers briefly cut the lead to just one score with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, but Warner came right back with a quick drive and found Fitzgerald for yet another touchdown.
Both quarterbacks had fans on the edge of their seats heading into the fourth quarter.
Cardinals 38, Packers 24
Fourth quarter: A final surge
The Packers carried a drive over from the third quarter into the fourth quarter, so the first score of what many expected to be the contest's final frame was a 30-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to wide receiver James Jones. After forcing the Cardinals to punt, Green Bay tied the game at 38 points apiece with a one-yard touchdown plunge by fullback John Kuhn.
It didn't take long for the Cardinals to reclaim the lead, as Warner led his team on another 80-yard drive and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Breaston. The Packers kept the heat on their opponents, though; Rodgers came down the field and found tight end Spencer Havner for a game-tying touchdown with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers had a chance to win the game with a 34-yard field-goal attempt, but a stroke of luck pushed that attempt wide left.
Cardinals 45, Packers 45
Overtime: Crushing defeat
Green Bay's magic ran out in overtime. The Packers got the ball first, but the Cardinals forced them into a third-and-six situation. Rodgers dropped back to pass but could not find an open receiver. Arizona's pass rush surrounded him, and defensive back Michael Adams eventually laid the fateful hit.
Adams' hit forced a fumble, which bounced directly into the waiting hands of linebacker Karlos Dansby, who returned the ball 17 yards for the game-winning score. Although Rodgers led the Packers on an improbable comeback, the blunders that plagued the team in the first quarter ultimately came back to decide the game in overtime.
Cardinals 51, Packers 45