From Hail Mary to Hell, No.
Almost six weeks after Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers beat Detroit, Aaron Rodgers struck again. This time, it was receiver Jeff Janis on the receiving end of a last-second bomb.
The ecstasy following the Rodgers-to-Rodgers touchdown lasted for days. The ecstasy following the Rodgers-to-Janis touchdown lasted just minutes. On the first play of overtime, a 75-yard catch-and-run by Larry Fitzgerald set up Fitzgerald’s game-winning touchdown as the Arizona Cardinals shocked the Packers and ended their season, 26-20.
For the second consecutive year, the Packers’ season ended on an overtime touchdown. For the third consecutive year, the Packers’ season ended on the last play of the game.
“It’s tough,” Rodgers said. “We’ve lost a few of these over the years where you don’t touch the ball in overtime. It’s just the way it goes. It comes down to coin flips at times after a long, hard-fought game, back and forth, plays made, bizarre plays made by both teams and, unfortunately, it comes down to that.”
Trailing 20-13 in the final moments, Rodgers made three remarkable throws. On the first, coming on third-and-20 from his own 4-yard line, Rodgers threw the ball about 60 yards downfield where it appeared Janis was interfered with by cornerback Justin Bethel. No flag was thrown, however. On fourth down, Rodgers rolled to his left and uncorked another ocket. Janis got behind Bethel, caught the pass at the 43 and was tackled at the 36 for a gain of 60.
After one penalty and two incompletions, the clock was down to 5 seconds and the Packers were 41 yards from the end zone. The Cardinals sent a six-man blitz and Rodgers bought time by rolling out to his left. Just as he was hit by linebacker Markus Golden at the Packers’ 45, Rodgers launched another throw for the ages. Janis caught the ball 5 yards deep in the end zone with a leaping grab in front of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Rashad Johnson for the touchdown.
“They called timeout, and when they did, I figured they were going to bring an empty-pressure look, which teams hadn’t done; Detroit didn’t do it,” Rodgers said. “So, we kind of made a little bit of an adjustment, kept Richard in. I was able to spin out to the left and, at that point, I just wanted to put some air on it. I didn’t know where anybody was, really. I saw Jeff briefly. I just tried to put some air on it to give him a chance.”
Explained coach Mike McCarthy, “They were definitely playing Aaron to his right. They took the timeout and set their defense and went to some pressure. Smart call. Defensively, Aaron recognized it, bought some time and slid to his left and, shoot, I don’t know if anybody could make that throw. And then just an incredible effort and catch by Jeff Janis. So, tremendous football play — blood and guts, however you want to describe it. And I think that was a great reflection of our football team.”
The joy was short-lived as the Cardinals wasted no time in scoring the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s incredible. This game’s crazy,” Janis said. “Catching a ball like that is just something that’s once in a lifetime and then to see that happen was just unfortunate.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.