Cardinals and Packers rescue a weak NFL weekend

Arizona's Kurt Warner passed for 379 yards and five TDs.
Arizona's Kurt Warner passed for 379 yards and five TDs. (Matt York/associated Press)
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Michael Wilbon
Monday, January 11, 2010

GLENDALE, ARIZ.

No way a defensive play should end the greatest passing duel the NFL playoffs have ever seen. No way Aaron Rodgers, on the verge of making Cheeseheads forget the name Brett Favre, should have the ball knocked from his right hand and taken into the end zone in such a dramatic, dizzying manner. No way an overtime can end like this, 51-45, in favor of the Arizona Cardinals.

"I've played in a lot of football games, I've watched a lot of football, and I've never been involved in anything like this, don't remember seeing anything like this," Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry said.

After watching the teams score on nine of their final 11 possessions in the game to take a 45-45 tie into overtime, Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt sank when his team lost the coin toss to decide possession in the extra session, and thought: "You flip the coin, whoever wins the toss wins the game. We don't have to play it."

The Packers were thrilled at having possession to start OT.

Wide receiver Donald Driver recalled: "We ran to the sideline saying, 'It's over. We're going to win this game. We've got the ball. We're going to win.' "

Once resigned to the fact that his defense had to take the field, Whisenhunt said: "I thought, 'Our defense is going to make a play to win the game.' I don't know why."

But Whisenhunt's faith was justified when Michael Adams popped the ball loose from Rodgers and Karlos Dansby took it 17 yards to end the highest scoring NFL playoff game ever, a game decided by a defensive play but defined for all time by offense, more specifically passing. Arizona's Kurt Warner pitched a perfect game: 29 for 33 for 379 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Try and find the last time a quarterback threw more touchdowns than incompletions. Rodgers completed 28 of 42 for 422 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. The bomb he launched on the first play of overtime was just out of Greg Jennings's reach and would have sent the Cardinals to their second consecutive crushing playoff defeat.

Either way, as Warner said afterward, "It doesn't remind me of too much I've ever been a part of."

The Cardinals and Packers saved the first weekend of the postseason because the NFL playoffs had produced mostly junk through the first three games.

There were blowouts, lame performances and massive disappointments from New England to North Texas on Saturday and early Sunday. But luckily for people who love authentic drama, there was a treat waiting in the desert Sunday afternoon, a shootout between Yoda and a Jedi, Warner and Rodgers, a back-and-forth, touchdown-or-die classic that might have been offensive football at its playoff best.

And while nobody will confuse the defenses involved here with the '85 Bears, Doomsday or the Steel Curtain, the number of precise downfield passes and acrobatic catches was astounding, given what was at stake. Warner was every bit as spectacular as he was in his MVP days back in St. Louis, statistically tying or surpassing the likes of Joe Montana and Peyton Manning through the course of the afternoon. The Cardinals averaged 6.8 yards per rush. Anquan Boldin's replacement, Early Doucet, caught two touchdown passes. Warner, who some expected to retire after the game if Arizona lost, said, "It felt great, I loved our plan, it felt like I was seeing everything well."


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