Monday, January 18, 2016

Packers lose in OT to Cardinals, season ends with a thump

The injury-plagued Green Bay Packers took arguably the best team in the NFC -- the Arizona Cardinals -- to overtime in a Divisional playoff game Saturday evening in Arizona. But as quickly as the exhilaration of a last-second comeback occurred, it was gone in a final score of 26-20, in favor of Arizona. It was, amazingly, disappointingly, the fifth time in seven playoff games that head coach Mike McCarthy's team has lost on the final play of the game. Wrap your heads around that, Packers fans. Geesh.

Getting the game to overtime itself involved a miracle on the order of what we shall call Hail Mary #2 by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and second-year receiver Jeff Janis. With five seconds remaining in regulation and no timeouts left, and the ball on the Cardinals' 41-yard line, Rodgers scrambled under pressure to his left and launched a remarkable throw to the endzone from the Packers own 45-yard line. Janis was the only Packer near the ball. He lept, high-pointed it and came down with a TD to make the score 20-19. Mason Crosby's extra point tied the game at 20-20 and sent it to overtime. By the way, not to be lost in the loss is the fact that Crosby set an NFL record for most consecutive field goals made in postseason play with 20. Congratulations, Mr. Crosby.

Oh, and all this happened without WR Randall Cobb who was lost for most of the game with a lung contusion following an amazing one-handed catch near the Cardinals' goal line that was wiped out by penalty; he actually spent Saturday evening in a Phoenix hospital until being released Sunday morning. Do you think not having Cobb affected the game? You bet it did.

Packers WR Jeff Janis is congratulated by fellow WR Jared Abbrederis after catching QB Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary pass to send the Division playoff game vs. the Cardinals to overtime.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

As noted above, the amazement of that tying score was short-lived. After winning the coin toss (actually, the second as the first "flip" never actually flipped), Arizona took three plays, featuring future Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald, to extinguish the Packers' hopes of going to a second straight NFC Championship Game.

The first play appears to have been a blown coverage after a blitz by the Packers' defense flushed Cardinals QB Carson Palmer to his right. Just missed being sacked, Palmer looked back to the left and found a wide open Fitzgerald...let's say that again: wide open. How the Packers defenders do not cover the best receiver on the field in a situation such as this is remarkable in itself. How Fitzgerald was then able to take that reception 75 yards to the Packers five-yard line is another matter; he eluded five tacklers on the way, all of whom could have and should have made tackles. You can read all about this collapsed defensive series here.

Arguably, the game shouldn't have come down to this. The Packers had opportunities to turn the game totally in their favor. In fact, the Packers did have the lead at one point. And for about 56 minutes, the Packers defense performed admirably. CB Sam Shields, returning after being inactive for several weeks due to a concussion, had not just one but three opportunities for interceptions. In fact, he had an opportunity late in the game near the Packers' goal line to pick off Palmer and return the ball about 97 yards the other way for a 14-point swing and, likely, putting the game solidly in the Packers' favor. But, not.

It wasn't just Shields, of course. Was veteran LB Julius Peppers out of position on the blown coverage play...or was it rookie Damarious Randall who seemed to drop to a zone when everyone else was in man-to-man coverage? Or was it the rushers not getting to Palmer? And those are just the questions related to a couple plays in overtime.

This is yet another game that will stick in the craw of Packers fans for what might have been. Head coach McCarthy said himself in post-game comments that he saw this game as a "microcosm" of the season as a whole. Glimpses of greatness, yet too many missed opportunities and outright failures. How much of that is on the coaching staff and how much on the players is a conversation that will go on and on. Bottom line is that it is another lost year and chance of a Super Bowl with one of the best quarterbacks in the league under center.

How many of the players on this year's team will be back? How many will move on or be forced to move on? It will be an interesting offseason for the Packers. There are many questions after yet another bitterly disappointing end to the season.

Still, we remain...Packer Fans United.

We'll be continuing our coverage of all things Packers during the coming days and offseason. So please be sure to keep stopping in. We appreciate your readership. Also, be sure to keep checking out our Amazing 2nd Page (link also at the top of this page) which is a non-stop feed of Packers coverage from all over the Packersphere. It's always current.

Now...Go Pack Go!!!