GREEN BAY, Wis. – Larry Fitzgerald expected to make the catch. Everyone expected Fitz to make the catch.
“If he had dropped it,” safety Antoine Bethea said with a grin, “we would’ve given him some (expletive).”
It was a happy locker room in which Bethea spoke, the Cardinals thrilled with an unlikely 20-17 win at Lambeau Field over the Packers, when new kicker Zane Gonzalez booted a 44-yard field goal to give his team the lead and Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed a 49-yard try of his own right on the final play of the game.
The result was apparently so unlikely that it cost Mike McCarthy his job, with the Packers announcing he was fired soon after the game.
None of it would have been possible without the legendary receiver who hooked up with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen for a diving 32-yard gain on third-and-23, a play that if incomplete seemed certain to doom the Cardinals’ hopes.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Fitzgerald said. “Catching the ball is what I do.”
Racing left after pressure shooed him from the pocket, Rosen let it fly, thinking if any player was going to provide a miracle, it'd be Fitz so "I might as well chuck it up." In the place where Aaron Rodgers has turned broken plays into an art form, Rosen pulled off one of his own.
“(It’s) get away from the bad guys initially,” Rosen added. “It’s kind of a game between you and the pursuit. Aaron is one of the best ever at doing it. I have to work on it.”
It didn’t hurt to have a future Hall of Famer on the other end.
“I saw Josh get flushed out to the right and we went to the scramble drill,” Fitzgerald said. “We work on those plays all the time.”
Rosen’s numbers were not great. The temperature was freezing, the snow fell in the first half and the Cardinals (3-9) historically didn't play well at Lambeau Field, having lost all three appearances there since moving to Arizona. So to have him complete only 11-of-26 passes for 149 yards wasn’t a shock.
He was playing behind an offensive line that featured by the end not one player who was supposed to be a starter heading into training camp, and three who weren’t even on the roster prior to Oct. 23. Mike Iupati left with a knee injury so Colby Gossett had to play left guard; D.J. Humphries had a setback with his knee, forcing Will Holden – who just signed a few days before – into the lineup at right tackle.
Rosen didn’t turn the ball over however – he did throw a near pick that was dropped, although Rodgers had two that the Cardinals dropped – and engineered the drive the Cardinals (3-9) so desperately needed.
The Cardinals were on their own 12 when Rosen found Fitzgerald, who tied Jerry Rice for the most receptions ever for one franchise. It was memorable. It also meant the Cardinals didn’t have to punt from their own 12.
“I just spoke with Fitz walking over to this press conference,” coach Steve Wilks said. “Great play. Turning point. It’s hard to say it’s routine for a guy like that, but pretty much it is.”
Gonzalez, who was cut from the Browns in Week 2 after missing multiple field goals, easily converted his 44-yard try. But that left 1:41 for Rodgers (31-for-50, 233 yards, one touchdown), a miracle worker who – the last time he played the Cardinals – came up with two different miracle Hail Mary passes to force overtime. The degree of difficulty this time wasn’t as hard.
“You know how good he is, man,” said defensive end Markus Golden, who was chasing Rodgers on those 2015 playoff plays and again at the end Sunday. “Anytime you play a great quarterback like him, you can’t think about what he did (before). At the end of the game, you know he can make plays, so I was just trying to figure out ways to get to him.”
Rodgers did what he had to, but with the wind kicking up, Crosby’s try faded right and the Cardinals had their victory.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of men,” Wilks said. “With all the noise circling around, these guys came together.”
The Cardinals were in that position because of a defense that never let the Packers (4-7-1) a chance to get going offensively – Green Bay converted only 3-of-14 third downs, and rushed for only 98 yards, 84 less than the Cardinals.
The Cardinals’ rookies were also on display – wide receiver Christian Kirk had a key 23-yard run and 37-yard catch to spark a third-quarter field-goal drive, and running back Chase Edmonds scored his first two NFL touchdowns while rushing for 53 yards on just five carries – as the team tries to build behind Rosen for the future.
This game won't fit in the all-time highlight film alongside the Cards' two recent playoff wins over the Packers. But it was the first time the franchise had won in Green Bay since 1949, what had been an eight-game losing streak. It was beautiful on a dreary day during what had been a dreary season.
“Being 2-9, we could just tank it and not really care,” Bethea said. “But the way we came on the road, regardless of what their record is, going against a great team, to get a win, it does a lot for us.”
Images from the Week 13 matchup in Green Bay