Cards pull out OT thriller
• Photo gallery: Packers vs. Cardinals
By BOB BAUM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Old master Kurt Warner and playoff newcomer Aaron Rodgers staged a passing duel to rival any the NFL has seen. And when the highest-scoring postseason game in league history ended abruptly in overtime, Rodgers flung his helmet to the sideline in disgust.
He can blame the Arizona defense for his misery.
Karlos Dansby returned Rodgers' fumble 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 51-45 victory over the Green Bay Packers yesterday.
Rodgers, intercepted on the game's first play but marvelous after that, was stripped by Michael Adams. The ball careened off Rodgers' foot and into the hands of Dansby, who ran untouched for the score.
"He made a sack, the ball went in the air, I just made a play on the ball," Dansby said.
The reigning NFC champion Cardinals (11-6) rushed the field to celebrate.
"That's probably one of the best games ever played in the playoffs," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Incredibly, Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four).
"We knew how tough it was going to be on our defense with all the weapons they have offensively and how they've been playing," he said. "It was just one of those games where I felt great. I loved our playing. I felt like I was seeing everything well and it accumulates to 51 points."
Warner, who improved his playoff record to 9-3, finished 29 of 33 for 379 yards with no interceptions. The five TDs matched the 38-year-old's career best.
Rodgers, in his first playoff start, was 28 of 42 for a Packers postseason-record 422 yards and four TDs. All but two of Rodgers' yards came after the first quarter.
"It's clearly one of the toughest losses I've been a part of," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm very proud of our football team and fight. This is a hard game to swallow."
The previous high for combined points in a postseason game was 95 in Philadelphia's 58-37 win over Detroit on Dec. 30, 1995.
"Whew," Warner said at his postgame news conference, "anybody else tired?"
The NFC West champion Cardinals play at New Orleans on Saturday.
It was the most points scored and allowed by the Packers (11-6) in their storied 41-game playoff history.
Dansby started and ended the game with big plays. He broke up Rodgers' opening pass and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted. The next time the Packers got the ball, Dansby stripped Donald Driver and Arizona's Alan Branch recovered.
With Anquan Boldin sidelined with ankle and knee injuries, Warner threw two touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald, two to Early Doucet and one to Steve Breaston, who caught seven passes for 125 yards.
The previous playoff game to end on a defensive touchdown was Jan. 4, 2004, when Al Harris returned an interception 52 yards in Green Bay's 33-27 win over Seattle.
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.
Green Bay entered winners of seven of its last eight, including a 33-7 victory against the Cardinals on the same field a week ago.
But the team with the fewest turnovers in the NFL (16) started the game with two of them and ended it with another.
In between, Green Bay rallied from a 21-point second-half deficit to twice tie the game.
"The game was so back and forth, it was unbelievable," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
After Arizona's Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation, the Packers won the coin toss. Since Arizona hadn't stopped them since the first half, it didn't look good for the home team.
But on third-and-6 at the Green Bay 24, the 5-foot-8 cornerback Adams came through on a blitz and stripped Rodgers of the football. 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."
Rodgers said he should have just taken the sack.
"I was trying to unload it," he said. "I should have held on to the ball. I was looking at the front side for Driv (Driver). It looked like he was getting grabbed a bit. Then I was looking for James (Jones) and they were driving in on him as he was running a little in cut, so I kind of pulled the ball back and someone hit my arm."
The Cardinals took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards for a touchdown to go up 31-10, Warner throwing 33 yards to Fitzgerald.
But nobody could stop anybody in this one.
After Rodgers' 6-yard pass to Greg Jennings cut the lead to 31-17, the Packers caught Arizona off guard with an onside kick, then drove for another score. Rodgers' 10-yard pass to Jordy Nelson trimmed the deficit to seven.
Arizona got another score on Fitzgerald's grab of an 11-yard pass, but the Packers scored two more in a hurry, tying it at 38 on John Kuhn's 1-yard run with 10:57 to play.
Each team scored again, Green Bay tying it at 45 when Rodgers threw 11 yards to Spencer Havner with 1:52 to play.
That was plenty of time for Warner to drive the Cardinals downfield, but Rackers — 16 of 17 for the season — booted it well left of the upright.