High highs and low lows for Packers in playoff loss to Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Bruce Arians planned to celebrate with an adult beverage -- or two. Mike McCarthy probably wanted to drown his sorrows.

That's what a Hail Mary that didn't end the game, a coin-toss do-over, a busted coverage to start overtime and a play one that coach had been saving all season will do to you.

And it all happened in less than 15 minutes of real time on Saturday night.

Say this about McCarthy's Green Bay Packers: When they lose in the playoffs, they make it memorable. Arians' Arizona Cardinals were happy to ride the roller coaster that was their 26-20 overtime victory in the NFC divisional playoff game.

While McCarthy and the Packers tried to clear out of University of Phoenix Stadium as quickly as possible, Arians was in no hurry to leave behind the Cardinals' first playoff win since another overtime thriller, the 2009 wild-card win over these same Packers.

"Probably caused a big traffic jam," Arians said. "So I'll have an adult beverage and go on home. Or two."

Two might not be enough to dull McCarthy's pain.

With the Cardinals off to the NFC Championship Game, McCarthy was left to deal with an overtime elimination from the postseason for the second straight season.

"We had all of our goals still intact when we walked in here," McCarthy said. "Unfortunately they're not [intact] as we walk out."

At the moment when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bounced a fourth-down throw in front of James Jones with 2:38 remaining, it looked as if it would be a drama-free finish in regulation. It was only after the Cardinals turned that into a field goal and a 20-13 lead that things became interesting.

Rodgers heaved a 60-yard completion to Jeff Janis on fourth-and-20 from his own 4-yard line with 55 seconds left. Three plays later, Rodgers launched an improbable 41-yard touchdown pass that Janis caught while falling to the ground -- a score that was confirmed by an agonizingly long (from the Packers' perspective) replay review.

Six weeks after Rodgers beat the Detroit Lions with a 61-yard Hail Mary to tight end Richard Rodgers, he sent the Packers to overtime in equally improbable fashion.

"I don't know if anybody could make that throw," McCarthy said. "And then just an incredible effort and catch by Jeff Janis."

With the Packers still celebrating and the Cardinals still in shock, referee Clete Blakeman needed two flips of the coin to start overtime.

It was a coin flip that Rodgers called a "debacle."

The Packers lost it and essentially lost the game on the first play of overtime, when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer pulled a Houdini act, spinning out of a Mike Neal sack and throwing across the field to a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald, who turned it into a 75-yard catch-and-run that inspired the crowd to chant "Larry, Larry."

"We blew a call," Packers cornerback Casey Hayward said. "We blew a coverage, and he got open."

Still, if the Packers could hold Arizona to a field goal, Rodgers would get another chance with the ball in his hands. Instead, Arians fooled the defense with his call for a shovel pass to Fitzgerald -- a play he hadn't used all season.

"I can't tell you how many times I've run that shovel in practice," said Fitzgerald, who had 170 of his 176 receiving yards after halftime. "Just waiting for my opportunity and lo-and-behold, the second round of the playoffs you get your number called on a shovel. My eyes lit up in the huddle."

And just like that, it was over.

"Yeah, it's a really high, high there where you tie it up last play of the game and then have the debacle with the coin toss and then you don't get to touch the ball in the overtime," Rodgers said. "So it's a pretty low, low there."

Some in the Packers' locker room had little trouble expressing their feelings in the moments after defeat.

"C'mon man, it sucks," linebacker Clay Matthews said.

For others, it was a struggle.

"No, I can't explain the emotions right now," linebacker Julius Peppers said.