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Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald shines again on big stage

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer stood at the podium taking questions about one of the wackiest finishes in the NFL this season when his gaze veered upward mid-question.

As he answered, he looked above the sitting reporters, fixated on a TV in the back corner of the room. On it was a replay of Larry Fitzgerald's 75-yard catch-and-run that set up the winning touchdown that gave the Arizona Cardinals a 26-20 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday in the NFC divisional round.

Palmer couldn't keep his eyes off it. It was Fitzgerald at his finest.

When it comes time for the big stage, Fitzgerald responds. In the 2008 wild-card round against Atlanta -- the Cardinals' first playoff game in 10 years -- Fitzgerald scored the first touchdown on a 42-yard pass from Kurt Warner. Two games later in the NFC Championship Game, Fitzgerald caught three touchdown passes to help the Cards to their first Super Bowl. Then, in Super Bowl XLIII, he caught a 64-yard touchdown that temporarily gave Arizona the lead .

Then there was Saturday night.

"It couldn't be more perfect," linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "He's been here forever. It's his team. For him to go out and do that in this building, it's like a storybook type of thing."

It's a highlight that will be on repeat for years, regardless of how the Cardinals finish the playoffs. It might also go down as one of the most important plays in the franchise's history. So it was fitting that Fitzgerald, who has played all 12 of his NFL seasons in Arizona, did it.

"Larry Legend," defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said.

It didn't matter who in the Cardinals' locker room was asked about it, the response was the same.

"He wanted it," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "It is almost like [Michael] Jordan. You give the ball to Jordan."

"That's No. 1 of all time -- of history," running back Andre Ellington said.

"To be honest, I kind of had flashbacks to the Super Bowl when he caught the touchdown. Man, that's definitely what came to mind at the time," said rookie wide receiver J.J. Nelson, who was just 16 when Fitzgerald scored on the 64-yard breakaway catch.

Fitzgerald had one catch for 6 yards in the first half, which ended with the Cardinals looking dismal offensively. They had 75 net yards in the first two quarters, after which they led 7-6. At halftime, coach Bruce Arians redirected the game plan. He went away from being conservative with the short passes Palmer prefers to being more aggressive and taking advantage of opportunities for chunk plays.

Enter Fitzgerald. After Palmer and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers traded interceptions to start the third quarter, Palmer went to what works. Four yards to Fitzgerald to start Arizona's second drive of the third quarter. Then 32 yards. Three plays later, another 19. Fitzgerald was hot.

"I know my team feeds off my energy and feeds off my play, and I just try to make sure I'm making plays to kind of build the energy and build the confidence of the group because we were a little flat," Fitzgerald said.

He finished the game with 176 yards on eight catches -- but it was one catch that didn't happen that changed the trajectory of the game. On first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Palmer looked to Fitzgerald again. His pass was deflected by Packers rookie cornerback Damarious Randall and eventually caught by Michael Floyd in the end zone to give the Cardinals a 17-13 lead with 3:50 left.

A field goal by Chandler Catanzaro with two minutes left gave Arizona a 20-13 lead. That left enough time for Rodgers to complete a 60-yard pass before his 41-yard Hail Mary that tied the game at 20.

On the first play of overtime, Palmer was forced out of the pocket. He spun and scrambled to the right, seeing Fitzgerald -- wide open -- out of the corner of his eye. He hit Fitzgerald, who then weaved in and out of defenders before being brought down 75 yards later at the 5. Two plays later, Palmer hit Fitzgerald with a shovel pass.

Touchdown. Ballgame. Another chapter added to Fitzgerald's legacy.

"Special," Palmer said. "He's just a special player. He plays well in big games."