For weeks, the Green Bay Packers defense has been the glue that held the ship together. On Saturday night in the Arizona desert, when they needed the defense to stand tall one more time, they fell short and the Packers dropped their NFC Divisional Playoff matchup against the Cardinals 26-20.
The Packers tied the game, 20-20 on the final play of regulation, a 41-yard Hail Mary pass play from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis.
But the Packers lost the coin toss and would their defense to hold Arizona to a field goal at the very least, to get an opportunity with the ball.
The Cardinals got after the Packers immediately. Carson Palmer eluded some Packers pressure and found veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Mike McCarthy said it was a broken coverage. Seventy-five yards later and the Cardinals had the ball first and goal at the five. Two plays later and it was Fitzgerald again, on a 5-yard shuffle pass from Palmer, scoring the game winning touchdown, not giving the Packers a chance with the football.
It means the Packers’ season ended for the second straight season on the first possession of overtime. Last year, Seattle beat the Packers 28-22, on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse.
The Packers lost wide receiver Randall Cobb with a chest injury late in the first quarter. That injury loss meant the Packers had just three wide receivers left for the game.
Jeff Janis finished with seven receptions for 145 yards and Jared Abbrederis added four receptions for 55 yards.
With the production of those two players, it’ll be interesting to see just how the Packers address the wide receiver position in the offseason.
The offensive line allowed just one quarterback sack on Saturday night, after giving up nine sacks in the 38-8 regular season loss to the Cardinals. But the Packers had a hard time running the football.
James Starks had 23 yards on 7 carries, while Eddie Lacy had 89 yards on 12 carries. But 61 of those 89 yards came on one carry, which means he had 28 yards on the other 11 carries.
The Packers finished the season 11-7 and Mike McCarthy’s teams have won two playoff games in a year just once. They won the Super Bowl that year (2010).
The Cardinals improved to 14-3, advancing to the NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
Carson Palmer finished 25 of 41 for 349 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Palmer finished with a passer rating of 92.4. Aaron Rodgers went 24 of 44 for 261 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His final quarterback rating for the game was 77.9.
Five of Mike McCarthy’s playoff defeats have occurred on the games final play as they continue to under-perform in the postseason.
Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson will have to figure out who is to blame for the shortcomings over the last several years. What players will return and which players won’t be back. What coaching changes must be made, if any. And McCarthy and Thompson must look in the mirror and shoulder some of the blame.
Aaron Rodgers likely still has several years left, but the Packers are wasting chances with a top quarterback in their camp. They need to take advantage while they can.
Players will go through exit interviews on Monday before heading into the offseason.