GREEN BAY – Daryn Colledge doesn’t need to be reminded what happened the last time the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals played in a meaningful game.
The former Packer/current Cardinal started at left guard for Green Bay that day and was right in the thick of things in Arizona’s 51-45 victory in that 2009 NFC Wild Card game. But if he does need a reminder, several of his current Cardinals’ teammates are more than happy to help him out.
“The guys obviously reminisce, and they reminisce more about it than I do just because they won it,” Colledge said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week. “You walk away from a game like that knowing it was something special. I believe that if we would have won that game, we had an opportunity to win the Super Bowl that year. We knew that Arizona was one of the few teams that could put up as many points as we could that year, and they were the guys we had to get past. They obviously did a little bit better than we did.”
This Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field between the two teams is unlikely to feature the same kind of offense seen on that January day in the desert. That game remains the highest scoring in NFL playoff history, featuring 1,024 yards of offense, 13 touchdowns and a shocking defensive touchdown to end the game in overtime.
“We gave up way too many points, way too many yards,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said this week when asked what he remembers about that game.
“Defensively, it wasn’t just one person,” defensive back Jarrett Bush remembered. “Everybody made a mistake. And we just can’t have that. Whether it was a safety, a defensive lineman out of his gap, or a linebacker or a corner. Just can’t have that…it resulted in a loss. It was a big loss in the playoffs. It was devastating.”
The game had everything an impartial football fan could want. Arizona led by as many as 21-points before the Packers rallied to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter. Cardinals’ kicker Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
On the opening play of the extra session, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers overthrew a wide-open Greg Jennings on what would have likely been a game-winning touchdown. Two plays later Michael Adams ended Green Bay’s season. The Cardinals’ defensive back stripped Rodgers – while getting a piece of his facemask – and the ball bounced off of the quarterback’s foot and into the hands of linebacker Karlos Dansby, who dashed 17-yards for the winning score.
“No bad memories,” Rodgers said of the game this week during his radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “It was frustrating, but you don’t think about it anymore. There aren’t many guys from that defense still playing. …That playoff game was a fun game to play in, a lot of momentum swings and a lot of crazy moments in that game. It was fun to get back in it, still hurts a couple of those plays still really hurt when you think about it, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The game was Rodgers first playoff start and he didn’t shrink from the moment, throwing for a playoff franchise-record 423 yards and four touchdowns. But when he takes the field this week he’ll be looking at a much different and better Arizona defense. (No. 6 in total defense, No. 4 in scoring defense.)
While Adams is still with the Cardinals, he’s done little since the game to make a name for himself. In fact, he admitted to Darren Urban of azcardinals.com this week that the play is what people know him for and that it was “definitely a staple” in his career.
Dansby is now with the Miami Dolphins and only 15 players from the Cardinals team that year are still on the roster.
Easily the most noticeable missing piece is quarterback Kurt Warner, who in what would end up being the second-to-last game of his career, had more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four).
Sunday, with Kevin Kolb out (ribs), John Skelton will get the start for an offense that managed just seven yards rushing in a 24-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Monday.
Receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet, who accounted for four of Warner’s five touchdowns in the playoff game, are still around but the Cardinals have little else that resembles the team the Packers saw. Despite that, Arizona’s offense isn’t doing things much differently than they did when these teams last met.
“We watched '09 tape and it's like playing the same team,” Pickett said. “They're doing the same thing. We've been able to go back to '09 and watch tape, so that's how much tape we've been watching. Gives you a little insight on how much we've been doing, all the way back to '09 watching film.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy likely hopes some of that film never sees the light of day again. More specifically, the tape that showed the normally “drama-free” coach falling to his knees, while watching Dansby race for the winning score. But McCarthy also knows the game was a learning opportunity that would pay dividends in the team’s run to Super Bowl XLV the following year.
“It was definitely a game we could point to where we felt we were ready to take the next step,” McCarthy said in a conference call with Arizona reporters this week. “Obviously we were able to build off that the following season.”
For someone like Rodgers, who uses any perceived slight as motivation, you’d think the way the game ended, and the critics that said he couldn’t win the big one, would have pushed him.
“Not a bunch,” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to be self-motivated in this league. That was something that was frustrating at the time and disappointing, to play well and to score that many points and not win and not be able to make the most of your opportunities down the stretch. Every team is different, just like last year’s team is different. This year’s team has new adversity, new opportunities, new players, new schemes. So, as frustrating as it was, we wanted to see what the 2010 season was going to be like and we had new challenges and we made the most of them.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.