Palmer gets first playoff win in wild game vs. Packers: 12 things to know
A game that got off to an incredibly slow start more than made up for it over the final few minutes. To the point that we're still trying to sort through everything that happened as we write this.
That just happened. A game that got off to an incredibly slow start more than made up for it over the final few minutes. To the point that we're still trying to sort through everything that happened as we write this -- and failing.
How does Sam Shields not intercept Carson Palmer in the fourth quarter on a terrible pass that hit Shields right in the hands? How does another errant Palmer throw get tipped into the back of the end zone -- when it could have just as easily been picked off -- and find Michael Floyd for the go-ahead touchdown?
How does Aaron Rodgers continue to defy the laws of physics and bend the universe to his will? Fourth-and-20, trailing by seven with 55 seconds to go? No problem. He throws a laser to Jeff Freaking Janis. Then, two plays later and not quite impressed with what he has accomplished to that point, Rodgers recreates the Week 11 Hail Mary win over the Lions.
AND IT'S SOMEHOW MORE SPECTACULAR.
Tie game, end of regulation.
There was even controversy surrounding the overtime coin toss. The Cardinals ended up with the ball and on the very first play, Palmer avoided pressure, scrambled right and then threw across his body. Given how shaky he had been to that point, we were convinced the football playoff gods were dialing up a pick-six.
Instead, Palmer found a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald , who decided at that moment to put the entire state of Arizona on his back and drag it 75 yards down the field. Two plays later, a Palmer-to-Fitzgerald shovel pass ended in an end-zone celebration.
Palmer got the first playoff victory his his 13-year career and the Cardinals are headed to the NFC Championship Game.
Unreal. All of it.
1. Carson Palmer won in January! Before Saturday night, Palmer had played in two playoff games. The now-infamous wild-card matchup against the Steelers in January 2006 that ended after one pass, thanks to Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. Then, four years later, the Bengals lost to Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the Jets 10-7. But Palmer's fate finally changed Saturday, presumably because he left Cincinnati, where the Bengals have now been to the postseason five straight years ... and lost five straight times.
Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) January 17, 2016
And while it's a great story, Palmer didn't have his best outing. He finished 25 of 41 for 349 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions -- and probably two or three other throws that should have been picked.
But hey, good teams are also lucky and Saturday the Cardinals were both. It also didn't hurt that Fitzgerald decided to take over the game.
2. Remember when people thought the Cardinals should dump Fitzgerald? And we get it -- he's 32 years old, costs a lot of money, and he's not the player he was, say, 10 years ago. But Fitzgerald is still one of the league's best pass catchers. That was evidenced by his 109-catch regular season, and just in case we forgot about that, he reminded us with an eight-catch, 176-yard effort against the Green Bay Packers .
The highlight came on the very first play of overtime:
And that led to this:
Thanks for coming.
Arians: "We've been saving that little shovel pass for about 18 weeks."— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) January 17, 2016
3. You can't leave any time on the clock for Aaron Rodgers. If the Cardinals had lost this game we would be talking about Bruce Arians' decision to throw the ball just before the two-minute warning -- instead of running it to take time off the clock. Instead, Rodgers and the Packers got 30-40 extra seconds and they took full advantage of it. It started with the aforementioned 61-yard completion to Jeff Janis -- on fourth-and-20:
Then, a few plays later, it was a 41-yard Hail Mary to -- you guessed it -- Jeff Janis. Because why not.
To the Cardinals' credit, they pressured Rodgers, unlike the Lions two months ago, who lined up defenders around the 20-yard line because coach Jim Caldwell didn't think Rodgers would try to throw the ball into the end zone. (Of course, there's a reason the Lions are at home and the Cardinals are still playing.)
4. So, who the hell is Jeff Janis? Before Saturday, he was a guy who had four career catches (two this season). When it was over, he had seven catches for 145 yards -- including 102 yards on the final drive -- and two touchdowns. For an idea of just how far he has come, Scout.com's Packer Report described Janis back in early August as a player who "hasn't even taken a small step" in his second training camp.
Originally a 2014 seventh-round pick out of Saginaw Valley State, Janis was only playing because of all the injuries at wide receiver.
5. Rodgers deserves credit for throwing to, well, those guys. Rodgers finished the 2015 regular season with his worst passer rating (92.7) since he became the Packers' starter in 2008. But it wasn't because he had suddenly become something less than a top-5 quarterback. It's because, even as a top-5 quarterback, he had nobody (that most folks had heard of, anyway) to throw to.
Here's the sad truth, tweeted out in the first half after Randall Cobb was ruled out with a chest injury:
Think of the GB receivers before the preseason, before Jones was signed. The top 4 are now gone: Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) January 17, 2016
Specifically, Rodgers completed passes to the following wide receivers Saturday night: Janis and Jared Abbrederis . THAT'S IT. Cobb left early and James Jones didn't catch a pass (he was targeted just twice).
Which led to the obligatory follow-up tweets:
Aaron Rodgers out here throwing to a bunch of frat bros from the intramurals fields.— DD (@BarkingCarnival) January 17, 2016
All the Packers receivers have egg avatars— Space Bobbity (@BobbyBigWheel) January 17, 2016
Of course, these tweets were sent before Jeff Freaking Janis became a household name but the point remains: It's incredibly difficult to have a consistent passing game when there's a turnstile at wide receiver.
Back in 2006, Tom Brady got the Patriots to the AFC title game with the likes of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and Doug Gabriel, and it's equally impressive what Rodgers managed with this cast of characters.
6. This game had everything. Including an overtime coin-flip controversy.
"Clete [Blakeman] had it on heads," Rodgers explained afterwards. "He was showing heads. So I called tails. And it didn't flip. It just tossed up in the air and did not turn over at all. It just landed on the ground. So we obviously that was not right. ...
"He picked the coin up and flipped it to tails and then he flipped it without giving me a chance to give me a recall there. It was confusing. ... I think he was trying to avoid the embarrassment of what happened -- flip it quickly."
Turns out, tails does, in fact, fail.
The Packers haven't won an overtime game in the Aaron Rodgers era (0-7), which is absurd.— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) January 17, 2016
7. Those first-graders still love you, Blair Walsh . The Vikings kicker was a 27-yard field goal away from booting Minnesota to a playoff matchup against Arizona. Instead ... this happened. Fans were understandably apoplectic (silver lining: these kids had Walsh's back), though one industrious Vikings supporter didn't let the loss keep him from attending the divisional playoff game.
8. There were a lot of similarities between this game and the Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl. These aren't perfect but three plays certainly reminded of that game from nearly seven years ago:
1. Michael Floyd's back-of-the-end zone grab conjured images of Santonio Holmes:
2. Patrick Peterson 100-yard pick-six (that wasn't -- see below) and James Harrison end-of-half pick-six.
3. Larry Fitzgerald's 75-yard sprint on the first play of overtime vs. Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown sprint with 2:47 left to give the Cardinals a 23-20 lead before Big Ben-to-Santonio happened.
9. Here are two great plays that didn't count. Randall Cobb's final stat line for the night: one target, one dropped pass. But before he left in the first half with a chest injury, Cobb did this:
Unfortunately, offsetting penalties nullified the play. Then, a short time later, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off Rodgers at the goal line and took it 100 yards to the house. But two penalties against Arizona brought the play back and kept Green Bay's drive alive.
And that led to this: coach Bruce Arian's reaction to hearing the referee announce the penalty:
Bruce Arians' reaction to the call that negated a pick 6 is fantastic pic.twitter.com/sAjtonzFxg— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) January 17, 2016
10. Aaron Rodgers knows how to hold a grudge. If you ever wondered by the Packers quarterback always cites Butte Community College and not University of California as his alma mater during the early game introductions it's for one simple reason:
Aaron Rodgers from "Butte Community College" still holds grudge at alma mater Cal for firing his ex-coach 3 yrs ago: https://t.co/1Ws4xt5Emb— Edward (Ted) Kian (@SportMediaProf) January 17, 2016
Details via NFL.com's Mike Silver:
"That desire to be perfect -- it was kind of in me, but (Cal's) Coach Tedford really drew it out of me," said Rodgers, who calls Tedford a "dear friend." That Tedford's 2012 firing after 10 seasons at Cal coincided with Rodgers' decision to begin identifying his alma mater as Butte College on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" introductions does not seem to be coincidental.
"No, that didn't thrill me," Rodgers said regarding the dismissal of Tedford, who was expected to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator this season, but ended up being sidelined because of health issues. (Tedford has since been hired as the head coach of the Canadian Football League's BC Lions.) At the same time, Rodgers explained, "Cal was a really important time of my life and I loved my experience there, but I had some amazing times at Butte College, too.
11. Eddie Lacy is faster than he looks. Be honest, when you saw Eddie Lacy rumbling down the field your first thought was, "We could have a Fat Guy Touchdown!" And your second thought was, "When did the Packers sign Trent Richardson?"
But Lacy, who has struggled for much of the season, looked a lot like the former second-round pick who ran for more than 1,100 yards in both 2013 and 2014.
12. Buddy Ryan must be proud.
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