Jeff Janis, defense distinguished in defeat
From Eric Goska, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
~Anyone remember Alcoa’s “Fantastic Finishes”?
If ever there was an ending worthy of those 30-second vignettes that ran in the 1980s, it was the final minutes of Saturday night’s divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. The frantic denouement that took place between these two had to be seen to be believed.
Lacking a timeout and operating with backup receivers, Green Bay successfully launched two long-range bombs to force overtime. Arizona responded with an extended catch-and-run that set up the coup de grace — a five-yard TD run by receiver Larry Fitzgerald — that knocked out the Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For Green Bay, it was the kind of heart-wrenching loss that has become all too familiar. Denied in the Desert will rank with Fourth-and-26, Favre’s Giant Pick, Squandering in Seattle and other debacles as one of the most crushing postseason exits in team annals.
But let’s not let the final outcome overshadow some excellent performances. Three are worth noting.
The Packers’ receiving corps was hard hit by injury this season. Jordy Nelson (torn ACL), Ty Montgomery (ankle), Davante Adams (knee) and Andrew Quarless (knee) missed a combined 40 regular-season games.
Even so, Jeff Janis played sparingly at receiver. He was targeted 12 times during the regular season and caught just two passes for 79 yards.
Opportunity knocked in Arizona. The second-year pro was next up after Randall Cobb went out with a chest injury late in the first quarter.
Janis caught four passes for 36 yards in the second quarter. He snagged an eight-yard scoring toss from a scrambling Aaron Rodgers early in the third.
He outdid himself in the late going. First he secured a 60-yard bomb on fourth-and-20. Then the last-second Hail Mary where he outjumped cornerback Patrick Peterson to come away with a 41-yard TD that tied the score 20-20 on the last play of regulation.
Thirty years ago, his acrobatics would have been captured for replay in one of those television ads, sponsored by Alcoa, that featured last-minute heroics from around the league. The spots ran during the commercial break that followed the final two-minute warning.
Janis, who caught seven passes for 145 yards, became the first Packer to surpass 100 yards receiving in the fourth quarter of a postseason game. His 101 yards erased Sterling Sharpe’s previous record of 71 set in 1994.
His 60-yard catch also was a team playoff record. It was 12 yards better than the previous fourth-quarter long, that a 48-yard, Bart Starr-to-Carroll Dale collaboration against the Rams in 1967.
Finally, Janis’ 41-yard TD puts him in company with Sharpe as the two receivers who hauled in the longest fourth-quarter scoring passes in team playoff history. Sharpe reeled in a game-winning 40-yarder from Brett Favre in Detroit in 1994.
That Fitzgerald broke open overtime with a 75-yard reception should not detract from Janis’ accomplishments. When called upon, the 24-year-old receiver seized the moment as few have done before.
Holding down the fort
Green Bay’s defense more than held its own against Arizona’s running game. In years past, such stinginess always had been rewarded with victory.
Linebackers Jake Ryan and Clay Matthews led a unit that gave up 40 yards rushing on 19 carries. The group did not allow a run longer than eight yards and surrendered just two first downs rushing, both in the first quarter.
Before Saturday, the Packers were 10-0 when holding an opponent to fewer than 50 yards rushing in a playoff game. Green Bay set the NFL record for fewest yards allowed rushing in a playoff game (minus-4) against the Lions on Dec. 31, 1994.
The Packers strung together two time-consuming, first-half drives against Arizona. The possessions were the longest back-to-back advances (based on number of plays) by the team in postseason history.
Green Bay used 16 plays to travel 85 yards to set up Mason Crosby’s 28-yard field goal. Rodgers’ 19-yard run on third down highlighted a march that stretched seven minutes, 31 seconds.
The Packers then moved 71 yards in 16 plays to cue Crosby’s 34-yard boot. A third-down, 18-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis was the big gainer as 7:55 came off the clock.
Green Bay’s previous best twofer came against the Colts in a 13-10 overtime win on Dec. 26, 1965. Zeke Bratkowski directed 13- and 14-play excursions, the second of which Don Chandler capped with a 22-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.
Had the Packers’ two long drives in Arizona culminated with touchdowns instead of field goals, they, and not the Cardinals, might have been Carolina’s opponent in Sunday’s NFC championship game.
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