Warner nearly perfect in 51-45 playoff victory
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Of all the incredible statistics from Arizona’s 51-45 overtime thriller against Green Bay, the most eye-popping of all belonged to Kurt Warner.
In the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history, the 38-year-old quarterback had more touchdown passes (five) than incomplete passes (four).
“What more is there to say about Kurt?” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He is one of the best playoff quarterbacks of all time.”
Retire? This guy looked better than ever in a breathless passing duel with playoff newcomer Aaron Rodgers that was as good as any the NFL has seen.
Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards with no interceptions on Sunday to lead his team into a second-round game at New Orleans on Saturday night. With three-time All-Pro receiver Anquan Boldin out with a left ankle sprain, Warner threw two TD passes to Larry Fitzgerald, two to Early Doucet and one to Steve Breaston.
“It was just one of those games where I felt great,” Warner said. “I loved our playing. I felt like I was seeing everything well and it accumulates to 51 points.”
Rodgers was 28 of 42 for a Packers postseason-record 422 yards and four touchdowns. All but two of those yards came after the first quarter.
But in a contest that had been all about offense, the Arizona defense made the winning play.
On the third play of overtime, blitzing cornerback Michael Adams knocked the ball out of Rodgers’ hand. It bounced off Rodgers’ foot and into the hands of Karlos Dansby, who ran 17 yards for the touchdown.
“I was just hoping he didn’t release the ball,” Adams said. “I mean, you can come 12 times and 11 out of those 12 times he would get that ball out. That 12th chance you get a chance to hit him and I got my 12th chance.”
The Packers team that had the fewest regular-season turnovers in the NFL (16) had three on Sunday, and Dansby was in on all of them.
On Green Bay’s first two possessions, he broke up Rodgers’ game-opening pass and teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted, then he stripped the ball from Donald Driver and Alan Branch recovered for Arizona.
“You could see it in his eyes, he had that fire,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.
The Cardinals cashed in for TDs on both early miscues and Green Bay had to play catch-up.
“We started off nervous,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “We have a lot of guys without playoff experience, including myself. But once we got going I thought we settled down and started to do things we are capable of doing.”
After Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard field goal that would have won it for Arizona, the Packers won the coin toss to get the ball first in overtime. The way the offenses were rolling, that was bad news for the Cardinals.
“It was almost like we will flip the coin and whoever wins the toss wins the game. You don’t have to go out and play it,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m glad we did.”
The teams combined for 1,024 yards. Arizona had 531, including 156 rushing, against a Packers defense ranked No. 2 overall, No. 1 against the run. The 13 touchdowns was an NFL playoff record, and it was the most points scored and allowed by the Packers (11-6) in their storied 41-game playoff history.
Whisenhunt called it “probably one of the best games ever played in the playoffs.” To Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, it was “clearly one of the toughest losses I’ve been a part of.”
The Packers had come in to the game with confidence and momentum. They had won seven of eight, including a 33-7 victory over Arizona on the same field in the regular-season finale.
The Cardinals didn’t game plan for that one. They did on Sunday.
Still, Green Bay was in great shape with the ball to start overtime.
But on third-and-6 at the Green Bay 24, the 5-foot-8 Adams came through on a blitz and stripped Rodgers. On a bad bounce the Packers will remember for a long time, the ball caromed off Rodgers’ foot and right to Dansby.
“We had the play called earlier, but we missed the sack,” Dansby said. “With the game on the line, we called it again. … See you in New Orleans, baby.”
Warner took a victory lap around the field, leading some to wonder if all that speculation about his impending retirement was true.
“Everybody relax,” he said. “That was my way of saying thanks to the fans because we’re not coming back here this year.”
As for the rampant speculation on his retirement, Warner said that decision would be made later. He has a year left on his contract.
“I don’t think you ever want to stay too long, but you never want to go out before it’s time,” he said. “The hard part is trying to figure that out.”
NOTES: The previous high for combined points in a postseason game was 95 in Philadelphia’s 58-37 win over Detroit on Dec. 30, 1995. … Rodgers completed passes to 10 receivers, Warner to seven. … Arizona’s Beanie Wells rushed for 91 yards on 14 carries. … The Packers’ playoff passing record was 332 yards by Lynn Dickey at Dallas on Jan. 16, 1983.