GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If not for a rash of injuries to the Green Bay Packers, Rasul Douglas might have still been on the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad instead of intercepting a pass in the end zone of their own stadium to beat them.
Yes, the game-saving hero in the Packers' 24-21 victory at State Farm Stadium on Thursday was on the Cardinals' practice squad 22 days earlier. That's when the Packers, with opening-day starting cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both banged up, gave him the call.
Douglas, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, had never spent a day of his NFL career on a practice squad. It's not typically where fifth-year veterans reside. After three years with the Eagles and last season with the Panthers, Douglas was cut by both the Raiders and Texans this year, and his only option when the season began was the Cardinals' practice squad.
In many ways, Douglas was a fitting star for a Packers' team that played without so many key players -- Alexander, King and their top-three receivers among them -- and their defensive coordinator, Joe Barry (because of COVID-19 protocols).
His interception with 12 seconds left came just when it appeared the Cardinals would do no worse than a game-tying field goal. But Kyler Murray took one more shot at the end zone. He and receiver A.J. Green got their signals crossed, and Douglas was in the right place at the right time.
"What a great story," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Douglas. "How special is this game? Guy's on the street, comes in, starts for us, finishes the game out for us. Amazing."
This came after Rodgers and the offense couldn't finish it off themselves, failing to score after getting to first-and-goal at the Cardinals' 1-yard line on the previous possession. The goal-line plays were about the only failures for an offense that controlled the game with a massive time-of-possession advantage.
"You're in a crazy mental state being in the league five years, never been on a practice squad before, and then one day you're just on a practice squad," Douglas said. "You feel like you're working for nothing, kinda. And then you get a call and you're somewhere else, and you're just playing. So I'm just thankful.
"That was probably the first time I've won a game like that. So it was like a shocking feeling, like, 'Oh snap, we just won off that play.' I was like kinda surprised."
Douglas' interception was his first since Week 17 of the 2018 season. Entering Thursday night's game, he had played 1,450 defensive snaps since the start of the 2019 season (regular season and playoffs), the fifth-most by a defensive back without an interception over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That includes 909 snaps in pass coverage, also fifth-most without an interception over that span.
Douglas might have been a surprise hero, but this Packers team isn't surprising Rodgers, who seems miles away from where he was during his offseason of discontentment. They came to Arizona shorthanded and as 6.5-point underdogs. They left by matching the Cardinals for the best record in the NFC at 7-1.
"I think we're a gritty football team," Rodgers said. "I think nobody probably expected us to win tonight, definitely not to be -- maybe to be in the game but definitely not to win with the guys that we had out. I'm really proud of the guys."
The entire story of the pregame was all the key players Rodgers would be without: receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard because of COVID-19 protocols and Marquez Valdes-Scantling because of his lingering hamstring injury. By the end of the night, Adams and Lazard were able to celebrate virtually, joining the post-game locker-room celebration via FaceTime.
"Our guys believed, no doubt about it," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "I know we were without, you could argue, three of our top receivers. We were without our defensive coordinator. I just think these guys always believe going into every game. That's pretty powerful. I don't think anybody within our staff or our players didn't believe we could come into this environment and come away with a win."
The only question now is how many more injuries can this team sustain? The Packers lost tight end Robert Tonyan and kick returner Kylin Hill to knee injuries on Thursday. Neither sounded good. In fact, LaFleur got emotional when talking about Tonyan, another key player in the Packers' offense on Thursday with three catches for 49 yards before his injury.
"I am sick for him, I'm sick for us," LaFleur said. "My heart goes out to him."
The way this team is going, general manager Brian Gutekunst might just find another guy like Douglas along the way, if necessary.
"You never know how the team's going to come together and the chemistry and the relationships and the guys stepping up and dealing with injuries and all the adversity," Rodgers said. "But we have a good group of guys. There's a different feeling to the team than even the last couple years. I'm not sure how it's going to finish up, but I like the energy that we have in the locker room."