GLENDALE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald’s brief but brilliant overtime heroics trumped another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary and the Arizona Cardinals escaped with a 26-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers Saturday night to advance to the NFC championship.
Fitzgerald turned a short pass into a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime to set up his five-yard shovel pass reception for the winning score as the crowd chanted “Larry, Larry.”
The Cardinals (14-3), the No. 2 seed in the NFC West, plays the winner of Sunday’s Seattle-Carolina game for the title.
It can’t be any crazy as this one, which unfolded on the same field where the Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 51-45 in a wild card game in the 2009 season and where Arizona routed Green Bay 38-8 three weeks ago.
Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of his final-play heave against Detroit this season, took the snap with five seconds to go in regulation, scrambled around and heaved it 41 yards to the end zone.
Jeff Janis, a 6-foot-3 receiver pressed into extended duty because Green Bay’s top two receivers were hurt, outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson and clutched the ball to his chest as he fell to the turf in the silence of University of Phoenix Stadium, except for the scattered Packers fans, who went nuts.
Arizona won the overtime coin toss — after the referees declared the first toss hadn’t flipped — and on the first play, no one was covering Fitzgerald, who caught and ran through defenders to the 5-yard line.
A strange play had given Arizona a 20-13 lead with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter.
Damarious Randall, who moments earlier had made a key interception in the end zone, deflected a pass intended for Fitzgerald inside the 5-yard line and the ball sailed into the end zone into the hands of Michael Floyd for a 9-yard TD catch. Floyd also had an eight-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
The Packers (11-7) took the kickoff but went nowhere and turned the ball over on downs, setting up Chandler Catanzaro’s 38-yard field goal that put Arizona up 20-13.
With 55 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Green Bay was pushed back into a fourth-and-20 situation at its 4-yard line when Rodgers scrambled and threw 60 yards to Janis at the 36. A penalty pushed it back to the 41 and Rodgers threw incomplete before getting off his last, great completion.
Janis, who caught seven passes for 145 yards after having just two receptions all year, was hurt on his big catch and was helped out of the end zone.