Scare from the Packers may be just what the Cardinals needed

BY James Parziale • January 17, 2016

The Arizona Cardinals really didn't seem to want to win the game.

This 13-3 powerhouse, coming off a 36-6 shellacking at the hands of its main rival Seatle to close out the regular season, looked to be sleepwalking through much of three quarters against the Green Bay Packers during an NFC Divisional Round playoff game.

Carson Palmer threw a flat-footed, end-zone interception that made it look like he was playing in his first game, not going for his first career playoff win.

The Cardinals came into the game as one of the league's hottest teams, yet were down 13-10, and even Eddie Lacy was running all over their vaunted defense. 

And then maybe the zaniest series of events to end a playoff game (unless of course you're the Packers, who have seen this before) may have sparked a most improbable Cardinals' 26-20 overtime win over the Packers. And it may be what catapults Arizona to its second ever Super Bowl berth.

But while we're on the subject of the Packers, let's not forget they have no one to blame but themselves -- specifically Sam Shields. The cornerback dropped what would have been another terrible Palmer pick, and would have prevented a somewhat miraculous touchdown catch that gave the Cardinals the lead, 17-13. He may have been able to return it the other way.

When the Packers turned the ball over on downs on the next series, with just one timeout left, at their own 25, most thought this was the watershed moment. The Cardinals had finally wrapped it up.

And then the following sequence happened, and you figured the Cardinals were finally done for. In a game in which let the Packers hang around, the Cardinals managed to:

1. Give the ball back to Aaron Rodgers with 1:55 remaining on the clock, just tacking on a field goal to make it 20-13.

2. Allow Rodgers to convert a fourth-and-20 with a 60-yard completion while throwing out of his own end zone with :55 left and no timeouts.

3. Let Rodgers throw a 41-yard Hail Mary on the last play of regulation to Jeff Janis, the same guy who he'd just hit on the fourth down a few plays earlier, to tie the game at 20-20 and force overtime.

No, the Cardinals didn't want to win this game. But this is what happens for some teams of destiny.

Everyone remembers Joe Montana to Dwight Clark and "the Catch." Not everyone remembers Eric Wright snagging Drew Pearson by the jersey to save the 49ers. 

David Tyree's catch in Super Bowl XLII never happens if Rodney Harrison doesn't drop an interception.

And let's not forget that the Patriots' entire dynasty may never happen if the referees don't rule that Tom Brady's arm was going forward, and made "The Tuck Rule" a household punchline.

So when the Cardinals won the toss after the coin that didn't flip forced a second toss, you thought, OK, maybe they've got a little something going here.

Then just two plays into overtime Larry Fitzgerald scored on a brilliant call -- a five-yard shovel pass, after his 75-yard catch-and-run on the first play -- and the Cardinals were moving on. Just like that, they'd dodged not one bullet, but four.

And though they're still two wins away from the franchise's first Super Bowl title, maybe this game against the Packers is just what they needed to bust loose.

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