One year ago, Larry Fitzgerald did it again. The last hurrah of the 2015 season was today, January 16, as the Cardinals outlasted the Packers in overtime of the divisional round of the playoffs because Carson Palmer spun away from danger to find Fitz and then Fitz raced down the field in front of a University of Phoenix Stadium filled with screaming fans. Then came the shovel touchdown, the trip to the NFC Championship, and many, many smiles.
(The next week didn’t go so well.)
It’s good that last year’s Packers weren’t as smoking hot as this year’s version, after watching Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
The Cardinals have had a couple of epic playoff matchups with Rodgers and the Packers. Can’t argue that. Last year’s game might not have been as fun to watch all the way through as the previous postseason tilt, but the end certainly was thrilling, to the Floyd tip-drill to the Hail Mary to all that overtime stuff. Now the league has posted the full game on youtube.com, so you can watch the whole thing again if you’d like.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, playoffs
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The weekend signaled the end of the NFC West’s season (with the Seahawks getting run over in Atlanta) and then the Packers toppling the No. 1-seeded Cowboys Sunday. Some thoughts as the NFC — which didn’t have the Cardinals — whittled their Super Bowl possibilities down to two:
— Aaron Rodgers is amazing. That pass he lasered to tight end Jared Cook to set up the game-winning field goal (Cook made an incredible catch too) was hard to fathom. It’s not like the Cardinals haven’t seen that before. They (and their fans) did just last year. It’s just that Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald made sure Rodgers didn’t get the last word in overtime.
— Coming into the season, Bruce Arians talked more than once about how the Cards have started hot before and want to see what it would be like to go into the postseason as the hot team. Obviously the Cardinals didn’t get to do that, but the Packers are the ultimate example of a hot team now. Yes, Green Bay got a home game in the first week as a division winner, but they are 2008 Cardinals hot right now. The Falcons are playing really well right now, they get a home NFC Championship and the Packers are injured all over the place on defense. But then again, A-Rod.
— That final week Pack-over-the-Lions game that gave the Cardinals a road game in Detroit next season instead of Green Bay (and put the Seahawks with a road game at Green Bay) could mean a lot in the NFC West race.
— The Cards also get a home game against the Cowboys next season, and I’ve seen enough of Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott to understand that Dallas is going to be a force in the conference for awhile, barring injury.
— The way the Packers and the Falcons can score, will they threaten that 51-45 Cardinals-Packers playoff score from a few years back?
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jared Cook, Lions, Packers, playoffs
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Sure, with the playoffs starting this weekend you can stew about a team that was top 10 in offense and defense, seventh in the league in point-differential, scored more than 400 points and lead the league in sacks and yet under .500 and not in the postseason. But with it being Wild Card weekend and all, and the Packers once again playing, there is always the opportunity to go down memory lane. Maybe you’d like to re-read about last year’s playoff win over the Packers, or watch the highlights. But if you are looking for more — and perhaps, with Kurt Warner again on the verge of the Hall of Fame — how about a full replay of the Cardinals’ 51-45 wild Wild card win over the Packers in the 2009 playoffs?
You remember that one, of course. Warner had more touchdown passes (5) than incompletions (4). Larry Fitzgerald scored a pair of touchdowns (and kept the ball after each, FYI.) And it went to overtime with a dramatic ending, just like Cards-Pack 2015.
No, it’s not a real game this weekend. But it’s something.
Tags: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, playoffs
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It wasn’t — somewhat surprisingly — made a primetime matchup, given the fact that the Cardinals and Panthers met in the NFC Championship game. But the Oct. 30 game in Carolina was given the late kickoff — 1:25 p.m. Arizona time, 4:25 p.m. in North Carolina — ostensibly so it could be showcased on Fox.
Then the Cardinals had their issues with a 2-3 start and the Panthers have struggled mightily, falling to 1-4 after a “Monday Night Football” loss at home against the Buccaneers. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Wednesday the NFL officially moved the Cards-Panthers kickoff, up to 10 a.m Arizona time. The Falcons (who are playing well and lead the NFC South) host the Packers that day in a game that was originally at 10 a.m. Arizona time and now gets that open 1:25 p.m. slot on Fox.
What it means is a much earlier start for the western team, and the one game the Cardinals had with such a time this season didn’t go so well (an ugly loss in Buffalo.) The Cards will leave on Friday that weekend to try and get acclimated, but it is an early start.
(Then again, the Cards got a night start in Carolina in January, and that didn’t turn out well either. So …)
Tags: Falcons, FOX, Packers, Panthers
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Awards are handed out in many professions. As someone who has written for a living, I always thought there was one simple truth to such awards — it starts with the subject. You can write the heck out of a story, but if the subject wasn’t interesting to begin with, it’s tough to make it so.
Tuesday night the annual Sports Emmys were handed out, and the Cardinals found themselves mentioned. NBC won the Emmy for Outstanding Playoff Coverage after its broadcast of the Cardinals-Packers divisional playoff game. NBC did a great job that night, obviously, but the story — including Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary miracle and then Larry Fitzgerald’s own electrifying catch-and-run — was certainly interesting to begin with.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, NBC, Packers
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NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.
The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, NFL Network, Packers, Patrick Peterson, Rams, Seahawks, Todd Gurley
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So Saturday, Bruce Arians was blunt when saying why the Cardinals threw the ball with a little more than two minutes left and the Packers having no timeouts on second-and-8: “I play to win.” In the couple of days since, Arians admitted a run had been called but there was a pass option for quarterback Carson Palmer, and when Palmer saw 10 men in the box and Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one with cornerback Sam Shields, Palmer decided to take the shot.
We know the result: An incompletion, and even with a run on third down, the Packers were left with 35 or 40 more seconds on the clock then they might have had. That was then, and this is now. Arians was asked if the results might influence how the play might be called if a similar situation comes up again — say, Sunday night in Carolina.
“No,” Arians said. (He always starts out blunt, right?) “We had the running play called and it was a bad running play. We had 10 guys, we’ve got Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one, that’s as good as a running play.”
In terms of play calling, Arians said the same about the decision to blitz Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary instead of keeping a bunch of guys deep. “I don’t know if anybody else can make that throw, but we had them dead to rights and we didn’t defend the back end.”
The second-down playcall caught the attention of many national types (Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were certainly disagreeing while calling the game for NBC) but anyone watching this team knows that’s how Arians operates. And even if he does start with a running play, Arians also puts full trust in his quarterback, which is why Palmer gets the option to throw and why Arians backs his play.
It’s not always conventional. It has worked (Saints, 49ers) and it hasn’t worked (Ravens). But it’s not going to change, not in the NFC Championship, and not in what is possible beyond that.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Packers
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Where to begin.
Let’s start here: I can’t recall a crazier ending for the Cardinals. Ever. That playoff win against the Packers back in the 2009 season was back-and-forth too, wild swings of emotion, but that was simply offensive football played at an incredibly high level. I’m not sure exactly what Saturday night was.
There was one guy playing at a high level. It was Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s the best place to start. I think Fitz had already made a strong Hall of Fame case. But what he did Saturday, basically jump-starting a moribund Cardinals offense by himself, and then making that play in overtime to race 75 yards and set up the (well, his) game-winning touchdown. I know there isn’t much more to be said about Fitz that hasn’t already been said, but Saturday night? That’s how legends are made. They are made with epic playoff performances like Fitz had in the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they are made with 176 yards on eight catches in a dramatic overtime win against the Packers to put your team in the NFC Championship.
— Next, Carson Palmer. It wasn’t Palmer’s best game. During the game there were plenty in the Twitterverse that blamed Palmer’s issues with his Bengals background. There is no question Palmer was off at times and that end zone interception was, in a word, terrible. You can’t do that in that situation.
But Palmer bounced back as Bruce Arians always says he does. He was under more pressure than the Cardinals can afford to let him be under – the Packers had the better pass rush this time around. And the way Palmer miraculously spun out of what should have been a sack and somehow found Fitz on the 75-yard play was as critical and clutch as Fitzgerald’s effort on the other end.
— Palmer gets his first playoff win. It wasn’t perfect, but who cares? Not Palmer, that’s for sure.
— The first person in the end zone after Fitz’s TD to congratulate Fitz was former teammate-turned-scout Adrian Wilson. A great moment.
— Speaking of Wilson, he stood next to Justin Bethel tucked in Bethel’s locker after the game, quietly talking to the cornerback for a long time. I would guess it was words of encouragement after some tough moments for Bethel, not the least of which being Jeff Janis getting behind him to convert that fourth-and-20 play at the end of the game.
— The game was so nuts that the touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that was intended for Fitz, deflected high into the air and toward the back of the end zone, over the head of another Packer and Jaron Brown, is a footnote.
— Floyd, about that play: “I think God was on our side on that one.”
— Here’s a new one: Patrick Peterson was sitting on the floor in the locker room having athletic trainer Michael Blankenship remove tape off his ankle, when a reporter wandered over to ask him a question. Soon, Peterson was surrounded by media – so he sat on the floor, outstretched legs in front of him, propped up by his arms, doing his entire media session.
— Linebacker Kevin Minter, on watching Fitz tonight: “That’s that guy I watched growing up.”
— The Cardinals blitzed Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary. They did it from his right so he couldn’t roll into his power. And he still escaped and flung a great pass so his guy would have a chance. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the other guy. I’m guessing the Packers – after the hurt wears off – will do that with Fitz. And you have to do it to Rodgers.
— Sure, the Cardinals could have run the ball on second down, right before the two-minute warning and their final field goal. They could’ve burned up another 35 or 40 seconds. But Arians went for the kill. “I play to win,” Arians said. No risk it, no biscuit. I’m sure there are those who have issues with the call, but folks, if you are following/rooting for this team, this is what you signed up for.
— I could write more, but it’s time to go home. Got to get some sleep so that I’m up in time for Seattle-Carolina. It’s on to the NFC Championship.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Wilson, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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The Cardinals are able to have seven healthy inactive players today for the game against the Packers, which includes a couple of guys who have not been inactive of late: DT Red Bryant and RB Kerwynn Williams. The latter is important because it signals a comfort in the health of Andre Ellington in the backfield (although David Johnson is expected to remain the workhorse.) No Williams means the Cardinals will use someone different on kickoff returns (J.J. Nelson? Brittan Golden? David Johnson again?)
Bryant’s name is somewhat of a surprise with the injury to Cory Redding — especially since Xavier Williams is still inactive. With rookie linebacker Gabe Martin active, maybe the Cards wanted someone to fill in on special teams since Kareem Martin will have to play more defensive snaps (and Jason Babin, who is active, doesn’t do that.)
The full list:
— QB Matt Barkley
— CB Corey White
— RB Kerwynn Williams
— LB Shaq Riddick
— DT Red Bryant
— T D.J. Humphries
— NT Xavier Williams
Tags: Gabe Martin, inactives, Kerwynn Williams, Packers, Red Bryant
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Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.
No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.
Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.
A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:
Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams
This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.
This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.
— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.
— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.
“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.
“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”
Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.
— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.
— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”
Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.
— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.
— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.
— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.
— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”
— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.
This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Adams, Michael Bidwill, Packers, playoffs, Roger Wehrli, Steve Keim
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