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Jan 17, 2016 12:56 AM

Cardinals knock off Packers 26-20 in NFC playoffs

The Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Aaron Rodgers rolled to the left and avoided a tackler, heaving the ball high into the desert air before he was hit.

Two Arizona Cardinals defensive backs were waiting in the end zone, but Jeff Janis squeezed between them to pull it down.

Another "Hail Mary" completed.

This one didn't come with the same magical ending.

Rodgers hit Janis on the desperation pass on the final play of regulation, but Larry Fitzgerald weaved through Green Bay's defense for a 75-yard reception to open overtime. Fitzgerald then scored on a 5-yard shovel pass to send the Cardinals to a 26-20 win over the Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs Saturday night.

Fitzgerald's touchdown moved the Cardinals (14-3) into the NFC championship game against Carolina or Seattle, and sent the Packers (11-7) to another what-could-have-been offseason.

"Losing in that fashion, especially with the offense pulling that out, another 'Hail Mary,' is unbelievable," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.

Rodgers gave Green Bay's season a kick start with a desperation heave to beat Detroit on Dec. 3. Tight end Richard Rodgers pulled that one down, the 61-yard reception giving the Packers an improbable 27-23 victory.

Rodgers did it again on an even bigger stage, marching Green Bay 85 yards in the final 1:15 of regulation for another high-in-the-sky completion.

Janis leaped between Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson to pull down the pass, injuring himself on the play but holding onto the ball by pinning it to his hip.

After an officials review, "Hail Mary," the sequel, was confirmed.

"I didn't know where anybody was really," said Rodgers, who threw for 261 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 24-of-44 passing. "I saw Jeff briefly and I just tried to put some air on it to give him a chance."

But unlike the Detroit game, this one wasn't the winner. The 41-yard reception and Mason Crosby's extra point tied the game at 20.

Arizona won the coin toss for overtime and quickly put the Packers away.

Carson Palmer, who hit Michael Floyd on two touchdown passes, rolled right on Arizona's first play and threw back left to Fitzgerald. The Cardinals' star receiver, who never seems to age, was alone by the left sideline, and wasn't done, zigzagging his way through Green Bay's defense until finally being brought down at the Packers 5.

Two plays later, Palmer flipped a shovel pass to Fitzgerald, who streaked from the left and bulled his way into the end zone.

Palmer threw for 349 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 25-of-41 passing.

The 32-year-old Fitzgerald, who had eight catches for 176 yards, left to chants of "Larry! Larry!"

The Packers, who lost top receiver Randall Cobb in the first quarter to a chest injury, went home wondering how they could complete a "Hail Mary" and still lose.

It was Green Bay's second straight disheartening exit from the playoffs, too. The Packers blew a big second-half lead at Seattle and lost the NFC title game in overtime.

"Heart-breaking loss this evening," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It is tough to swallow."

The Packers had hoped for this rematch after being embarrassed 38-8 by the Cardinals two days after Christmas.

Rodgers had one of the worst games of his career that day in the desert, losing fumbles on two on Arizona's nine sacks and throwing an interception just before halftime with the game still in reach.

The Packers followed with a season-ending loss to Minnesota, but bounced back quickly, rolling to a 35-18 wild-card victory over Washington last week.

Green Bay was certainly better than on its last trip to Arizona. Its defense gave up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Floyd in the first quarter, but shut down the Cardinals the rest of the half, holding them to 75 yards.

The Packers had a pair of interceptions in the second half, one setting up a touchdown, the other by Damarious Randall stealing a potential Cardinals touchdown.

Randall made another good defensive play late in the fourth quarter, sticking his arm out to deflect a Palmer pass away from his receiver. It turned into a bad break; the ball went right to Floyd for a 9-yard score that put the Cardinals up four.

A field goal put the Cardinals up 20-13, but Rodgers had one bit of magic left him, somehow avoiding the rush to heave the ball into the end zone to Janis.

The Packers never had a shot to finish it off, unable to stop Fitzgerald.

NOTES: The referee had to flip the coin twice in overtime, causing confusion with the players and fans around the stadium. Clete Blakeman said the coin never flipped, so he had to do it again. ... Janis caught seven passes for 145 yards after having just two receptions all year.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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