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An Emotional March To New Orleans

Posted Jan 10, 2010

Cards to play Saints after taking out Packers, 51-45, in overtime

Linebacker Karlos Dansby begins to celebrate as he scores the game-winning touchdown Sunday in the Cards' 51-45 overtime playoff victory over the Packers.
 
 
Michael Adams was crying, Clark Haggans was telling people the Cardinals had “dodged a bullet” and a shoeless Gabe Watson simply wore a big grin.

“That might be the game of the century,” Watson said after the big defensive tackle jogged off the University of Phoenix Stadium field, having given away his cleats following the Cardinals’ emotional 51-45 overtime win over the Packers in Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game.

Arguing Watson’s point might be fruitless. The ending alone was worth an NFL Network replay, when oft-picked-on cornerback Michael Adams – suffering through a horrendous game – drilled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to force a fumble, which popped into the hands of linebacker Karlos Dansby for a 17-yard game-winning touchdown.

The final TD made it the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history, and sends the Cards to play the top-seeded Saints in New Orleans Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time.

It’s a short week, but the Cards weren’t worrying about that yet.

“I fought for 65 minutes,” safety Antrel Rolle said, “and I don’t think I could have fought 66.”

The teams totaled more than 1,000 yards of offense. Rodgers threw an interception on his first pass before finishing with 422 yards passing and four touchdowns – impressive numbers that were still eclipsed by Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner’s insane effort of 29-for-33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns without a turnover.

The teams combined for nine touchdowns in the second half and the brief overtime.

“The game was a blur in the second-half,” safety Adrian Wilson said, shaking his head in amazement with slight grin on his face. “That was video-game-like.”

The Cards had promised their Week 17 blowout loss to the same Packers wasn’t important, and that was proven. Green Bay came into the game after finishing the season as a plus-24 in turnover ratio, yet the Cardinals forced two Packer turnovers in the first five minutes of the game.
With Warner playing as well as he did last postseason – and even without the injured Anquan Boldin, who sat out with knee and ankle injuries – the Arizona offense was scary good. At one point, the Cardinals held a 31-10 lead. Rookie Beanie Wells rushed for 92 yards as the Cards sliced up the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense for 156 yards on the ground.

In Boldin’s sted, Steve Breaston (seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown) and Early Doucet (6-77-2) stepped up, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (6-82-2) overcame an early fumble.

“It was one of those games where I just felt great,” Warner said. “I felt like I was seeing everything well and it accumulates into 51 points.”

But the Packers, after their nervous foray into the postseason with many young players, started to score at will.

Green Bay sliced the lead to seven after using a successful onside kick to post back-to-back touchdowns, and when the Cards were forced into their only punt of the game early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers eventually made not one but two tying touchdown drives easy work.

“This is a hard game to swallow ,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy  said. “It’s a tough loss, but it sure was a great game to watch.”

The final touchdown came with 1:52 left, in a game where that much time meant an eternity to get into field-goal range. Warner did exactly that, setting up Neil Rackers for a game-winning 34-yard try with 14 seconds left.

Except Rackers pulled it wide left.

“I haven’t hit a ball left in two years,” Rackers said. “I just snap-hooked it. Luckily my teammates came through in the clutch.”
 
It didn’t seem like it would be that simple. The Packers took a knee after the miss and the game seemingly was riding on the overtime coin flip, given the ease in which the offenses were moving. And then the Packers won the flip to take the ball.

“My reaction was like, ‘Damn,’ ” Dansby said. “Everything was bouncing their way.”

The feeling got worse when Rodgers, on first down, scrambled out of trouble and saw Greg Jennings wide open behind Rolle deep down the field. Rodgers’ pass was barely overthrown.

“He threw it deep the one time, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ ” defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “But then coach made the right call at the right time, and we made a play.”

The final play came on third-and-6 from Green Bay’s 24-yard line, with the crowd – still deafening despite a smattering of green-and-gold – screaming for the defense. Adams – who left the field in tears after his emotional roller coaster of a day -- came on the blitz and got to Rodgers before he could get rid of the ball.

Moments later, Dansby was in the end zone and the Cardinals were on their way to New Orleans.

“That’s two really good playoff games that we have been in within the last two,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “It is damn nice to win one of them instead of what happened in the Super Bowl.”
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