GB-AZ grades: Larry Fitzgerald carries Cards to overtime win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Cardinals’ 26-20 overtime divisional-round victory over the Packers on Saturday night:
–This was an outstanding game, with both teams making potential game-winning plays down the stretch, but Larry Fitzgerald (+3.1 PFF receiving game grade) may have created the most lasting memories with his overtime heroics. Having accounted for 96 yards in regulation, Fitzgerald got free from a coverage bust on the opening play in overtime and simply wouldn’t be stopped by a group of Green Bay defenders. Capping it off with the game-winning touchdown catch off of a shovel pass, Fitzgerald earned his highest postseason receiving grade since the 2009 conference championship win over Philadelphia.
–Fitzgerald’s play helped rescue a real up-and-down performance from Carson Palmer (-2.5 game grade, who mixed the sublime with the ridiculous in equal measure on Saturday night. There were some of the pinpoint downfield throws we have become accustomed to this season, when he ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in our grades, but in the same measure there were some badly forced throws and coverage misreads that led to turnovers and dropped interceptions. Palmer’s five turnover-worthy plays (earning a grade of -1 or below) were his most in a single game this season, but the Cardinals scraped through, giving Palmer his first career playoff win and giving him the opportunity to perform better next week with a shot at the Super Bowl on the line.
–The conversion of Deone Bucannon (+3.7) to linebacker continues to go well for the Cardinals, as the former safety earned the highest single game grade of his career to date last night. He had four defensive stops, his second-highest total of the season, and graded positively in coverage and run defense for the first time all year. Working off of blocks can be troublesome for Bucannon at times (unsurprisingly, as he is a recent convert from safety), but as he showed Saturday night, the skill he brings to underneath coverage more than makes up for any occasional shortcomings against the run.
ILB Deone Bucannon (+3.7)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (+3.1 receiving)
CB Patrick Peterson (+2.6)
C Lyle Sendlein (+2.4)
DE Calais Campbell (+2.2)
Green Bay Packers
–The Packers’ receivers certainly know how to high point a Hail Mary pass thrown into the end zone, don’t they? Second-year wideout Jeff Janis (+2.9) capped off a career night by catching another miraculous prayer from Aaron Rodgers (+1.2) as time expired to send the game to overtime. Having struggled without Jordy Nelson all season, you might have excused the Packers’ offense for derailing completely when they lost Randall Cobb early in the game to an injury, but Rodgers was able to manufacture enough offense to keep the Packers in the game. He then hooked up with Janis on that unbelievable final drive to send the game to overtime, but that ultimately proved to be the final salvo for the Green Bay offense this season, as the Cardinals scored a touchdown on their first overtime possession.
–Playing in his first game since Week 14, cornerback Sam Shields (+3.9) came up with a huge performance for the Packers, but if he could have held on to one of his dropped interceptions it might just have been a game-winning performance. The Cardinals were eager to test out Shields in his return to the field, and he was not found wanting; he was targeted 10 times on the night, and surrendered only three catches, with one of those coming on Michael Floyd’s freak touchdown catch off of Damarious Randall’s break-up on a pass initially intended for Larry Fitzgerald. Combine that freak play with his own missed opportunities, and the game of inches conspired against Shields in his exceptional return to the field.
–After he started the season with two strong performances in a row, there were high hopes for B.J. Raji (-1.6) this season, but Saturday night capped off a disappointing end to the season for the Packers’ nose tackle. Only grading positively once in the final eight weeks of the season, Raji’s night got off to a bad start when he was blown off the ball Lyle Sendlein (+2.4) and Ted Larsen on a fourth-down conversion on Arizona’s first scoring drive. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either, with Raji and Letroy Guion both manhandled a couple of more times throughout the game by Sendlein, opening holes for the rare successes the Cardinals had on the ground.
CB Sam Shields (+3.9)
WR Jeff Janis (+2.9)
S Ha Ha Clinton Dix (+2.5)
C Corey Linsley (+2.3)
S Morgan Burnett (+1.8)