Thirty-two and a half year old Larry Fitzgerald caught a cross-field throw and ran off into the Phoenix night, into a conference championship game, and into the books as one of the greatest receivers of all time. Granted, he was stopped five yards short and had to finish it on a walk-off shovel pass (which would have been the best goalline play call of the day, if not for Andy Reid’s option).
However, before we get to “Larry Legend” we have to appreciate the 7 minutes of game time and about twenty five minutes of real time that led up to Fitzgerald falling into the end zone through the arms of a desperate Mike Daniels, ending Green Bay’s season. In a somewhat defensive battle filled with a couple of poor interceptions from both Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers, when Palmer led the Cardinals offense out onto the field trailing by a field goal late in the fourth, we were due for some magic.
On first and goal from the nine yard line, that’s exactly what we got. Great coverage and a lucky deflection off Casey Hayward’s outstretched arm led a floating tipped pass into Michael Floyd’s alert and waiting hands. The touchdown saw Palmer point to the sky and the Cardinals take a four point lead.
The next drop in the roller coaster came a few minutes later with the Green Bay’s backs against the wall, on 4th and 20 from their own 4. Rodgers escaped pressure by rolling out to his left, planting, and heaving a 60-yarder to of course, Jordy Nelson.
Wait, Jeff Janis? Who? Exactly. In a heroic effort that was the NFL equivalent of Hunter Renfroe’s Monday night performance, Janis, the 236th pick in the 2014 draft out of Saginaw Valley State hauled in a 60 yard pass at the Arizona 36 giving the Packers a glimmer of hope. The drive (and Janis) was just getting started.
Before the next bit of magic, you have to appreciate all the small things that had to happen to lead up to the Hail Mary attempt. Without the penalty, last night’s game is less incredible. We don’t get Green Bay’s second Hail Mary of the season to our previously mentioned spontaneous sensation Jeff Janis. With only seconds on the clock, in an eerily similar way, Rodgers rolled left and chucked it up. It found Janis, and it teetered in the crease of his elbow, jiggled around, and somehow Janis secured it, and sent us to overtime in the desert.
Side note, how terrible/hilarious would it have been if Mason Crosby shanked the PAT in John Carney River City Relay fashion?
Nonetheless, after review, the touchdown stood, and Crosby knocked it home.
Captains gathered at midfield, the coin was flipped, and the Cardinals got the ball. If only it was that simple..
Aaron Rodgers and the other Packer captains threw their hands up as they watched an un-flipped coin float through the air. And what you’ve all been waiting for, “FlipGate” began (help us all if that becomes a thing). The coin doesn’t lie, and if you can expertly toss a coin and get it to land on a certain side, call Bill Belichick – I’m sure he has a use for you.
Now we’ve come full circle as the Cardinals received the kickoff, started a drive, and right off the bat Carson Palmer reverses field, breaks every quarterbacking rule ever, and throws back across his body – to a wide open 12 year veteran ready to cement his place in Playoff and NFL history by racing 80 yards to paydirt. Well, maybe 75, but two plays later Bruce Arians dials up a play for the most deserving of winners. A shovel pass for six. And only then did Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals finally ride off into the night.
Two receivers, a 1st round veteran and a 7th round surprise; aided by their own California-Kid quarterback, stole the show and owned the final minutes of my favorite game of this NFL season. Only one could win the game, but they all won the night.