In record shootout, the Cardinals' defense has the final say
Those aching to change the league's overtime rules may want to hold off
Fans craving offense really enjoyed the game; those defensive fans, not so much
Kurt Warner continued to amaze, throwing more TDs than incompletions
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So much to chew on from one of the greatest NFL games -- playoffs or otherwise -- ever played. In honor of this epic game, we're going into the shotgun formation to try to cover as many angles of this instant classic as possible ...
Still want to change the overtime rules into a two-possession format? Why? The proponents of the current sudden-death system maintain that even if you lose the coin toss, you can win the game by playing defense. That's exactly what was proven in Arizona's record-setting 51-45 NFC playoff victory over Green Bay here today before a University of Phoenix Stadium crowd that was left almost numb from exhaustion.
The Packers won the overtime toss, and yet the Cardinals won the game, thanks to linebacker Karlos Dansby's 17-yard return of an Aaron Rodgers fumble just 1:18 into the extra period. Arizona never got a possession in overtime, but nobody's going to bemoan it this week because the Cardinals ironically won the highest scoring NFL playoff game in history (96 points) on a sack and forced fumble by reserve cornerback Michael Adams.
How else could this one have possibly ended, but with a game-winning play by one of these two beleaguered and shell-shocked defenses?
Actually, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt came up with the most novel of overtime rule changes, suggesting what everyone on the field was probably thinking once regulation ended at 45-45.
"It was almost like we'll flip the coin, and whoever wins the toss wins the game,'' Whisenhunt said of the explosive Cardinals and Packers, who combined for 1,024 yards of offense and 62 first downs (another playoff record). "[That's] kind of what you thought. We didn't have to go out and play it. But I'm glad we did.
"You know what, it's funny, because when we lost the toss, I thought our defense is going to make a play. I don't know why I thought that. I just believed, because we missed the field goal (Neil Rackers, 34 yards, with :14 left in regulation) when we had a chance to win it, that maybe destiny was going to smile on us this time.''
It did. And this time, destiny smiled on the team playing defense in overtime. Oh, if only the Packers hadn't won the coin toss.
I don't know that I've ever covered a game where the participants had a better, more immediate grasp on the historic nature of what had just taken place. Players and coaches alike called it one of the greatest games in NFL playoff history, and not a word of it sounded like hyperbole for once.
"That's two really good playoff games we've been in within a year, and it's damn nice to win one of them,'' said Whisenhunt, referencing last February's last-second Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh. "I know that's got to be probably one of best games ever played in the playoffs. And in order for that to happen, it takes two good teams. That was really a battle today. A lot of ups and downs. I don't know if I can take many more of those games, it's stressful.''
Then again, I suppose it's a matter of perspective. I caught up with Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers in the bowels of the stadium after the game, and in his long and distinguished NFL career, there can't have been too many worse days than this one.
"We haven't had many like this,'' said Capers, who's entering his third decade of work in NFL coaching. "I guess if you're offensive guy, you consider it one of the greatest games ever, but as a defensive guy you don't.''
When your defense gives up 51 points, 531 yards, 30 first downs, and forces one punt in more than four quarters, I guess I can see Capers' point.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner played as close a perfect game as I've ever seen a quarterback play, completing 29-of-33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. Do the math. That means old man Warner, at 38, had more scoring passes than he did incompletions against the Packers' No. 2-ranked defense.
I can't believe I thought this guy was washed up in 2004 with the Giants.
"Whew, anybody else tired?'' asked Warner when he hit the postgame podium. Someone asked him if Sunday's shootout reminded him of his Arena Football League days, when touchdowns were a dime a dozen?
"That was so long ago,'' he said. "[Today] didn't remind me too much of anything I've every been a part of before. But what a great football game. That's what playoffs are all about. You never know what it's going to take any particular week. Obviously today it took 51 [points]. But those are the fun ones when you win.''
Warner seemed surprised to learn that more of his passes wound up in the end zone than on the ground, but he did admit that he was feeling it all day.
"It was one of those things where we felt good with our game plan, and I think it was one of those things where you knew we needed them,'' he said. "You knew we needed every play. It was one of those games where I felt great, I loved our playing, and I felt like I was seeing everything well. And it [adds up] to 50 points.''
It was Warner's NFL-record-tying sixth 300-yard passing game (matching Peyton Manning and Joe Montana) in the playoffs, and his five touchdown throws tied his career playoff high, set initially against Minnesota for St. Louis in the 1999 NFC divisional round (Funny, but I was at that game, too).
"It was frustrating, but give them credit, Kurt's a heck of a quarterback,'' Capers told me. "When we covered, he beat the coverage, and when we pressured, he got the ball out of his hands. They made the plays in the critical situations. One of the things we've been able to do for most of the year is make plays on the ball and come up with turnovers. But we weren't able to get that done today.''
No they weren't. All because of Warner.
Adams was perhaps one of the most unlikely of all potential heroes in this one. The backup cornerback did his job on the corner blitz that Arizona called in overtime, hitting Rodgers high enough to dislodge the ball. But when that same blitz was called late in the first half, he left his feet and wound up flying past Rodgers without touching him, which allowed the Packers QB to regroup and hit tight end Jermichael Finley for a key 44-yard gain.
Besides missing that sack, Adams was also called twice on pass interference earlier in the game. But there he was on the game's final play, crashing in from the left side of the Cardinals' defensive line, and jarring the ball loose from Rodgers on a third-and-6 from the Packers 24. The ball actually never hit the ground, going from Rodgers right hand, to tipping off his right foot, to Dansby's shoulder, to Dansby's hands.
"He kicked the ball,'' Dansby said. "He kicked the ball up into the air and gave me time to run up under it and get in the end zone and seal the deal.''
It set off a wild celebration in the Green Bay end zone, but the magnitude of his play quickly overcame Adams.
"In the end zone, when I sank to my knees and cried, that's when I let it all sink in,'' Adams said. "It was up and down all day, and more down than up. But, at the end of the day, I reached my ultimate high. I got to my knees and just thanked God and cried tears of joy. It's been a long time since I cried playing football.
"I think when I look back on it 10 years from now, it's going to be even sweeter than it was today. But to be able to be a part of that today, I thank God.''
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