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On This Date in Sports January 10, 2010: Desert Shootout

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In the highest-scoring game in NFL postseason history, the Arizona Cardinals stun the Green Bay Packers 51-45 in sudden death overtime. The Packers spent all game trying to come back as they fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and trailed 31-10 in the third. With all the momentum, the Packers won the overtime coin toss, but on the third play from scrimmage, Aaron Rodgers fumbled, allowing Karlos Dansby to take the ball and score the winning touchdown.

Just two years after the departure of Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers were back in the playoffs as Aaron Rodgers was starting to prove himself every bit as worthy as the Hall of Famer. Rodgers, in his second year as a starter, was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, passing for 4,434 yards with 30 touchdowns as the Green Bay made the postseason as a Wild Card with a record of 11-5.

The Arizona Cardinals led by Ken Whisenhunt were out to prove that 2008 was not a fluke as they won their second straight NFC West title with a record of 11-5. Once again, they were spurred on by Kurt Warner at quarterback. The former Arena League quarterback was at training camp with Green Bay early and had a unique career odyssey. Warner went from grocery bagger to overnight sensation and MVP with the Rams. Later he had a second win with the Cardinals was playing in his final season, looking for one last trip to the Super Bowl after losing Super Bowl XLIII the year before.

Aaron Rodgers’ first postseason pass was intercepted by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, setting Arizona up to take the early lead as Tim Hightower scored from the one. The Packers’ second possession also ended in a turnover as Donald Driver was stripped by Karlos Dansby at the 30. Two plays later, the Cardinals had a 14-0 lead on a 15-yard pass from Warner to Early Doucet. The Cardinals then added a 23-yard field goal from Neil Rackers to build a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. The Packers were able to drive into Cardinals territory at the start of the second quarter but continued to go sideways, as Mason Crosby missed a 54-yard field goal attempt. Just as it seemed Arizona was poised to turn out the lights on Green Bay, Clay Matthews Jr. made a big play, forcing a fumble by Larry Fitzgerald. The Packers took full advantage and went on a 48-yard drive that ended with a one-yard sneak by Rodgers into the end zone. The Cardinals, however, answered right away as Warner connected with Doucet again, this time for 15 yards. The Packers would add a Crosby field goal by trailed 24-10 at the end of the half.

The Cardinals looking to keep their foot on the Packers throat started the third quarter with the ball and marched down the field with Kurt Warner completing his third touchdown pass of the game for 33 yards to Larry Fitzgerald to stretch the lead to 31-10 at University of Phoenix Stadium. Down three touchdowns Green Bay began to play like a desperate team, as Aaron Rodgers led a successful 80-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown reception by Greg Jennings. Looking to flip the game’s momentum, the Packers completed surprise on-side kick and got the ball right back. Rodgers would parlay the extra possession into seven, as he connected with Jordy Nelson from the 11, to slash the Cardinals lead to 31-24. By now, the game was taking on the makings of a classic quarterback shootout, as Kurt Warner answered again with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald.

As the game went into the fourth quarter, there was little hope for either defense as both Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner were locked in with touchdowns on four straight possessions. As the fourth quarter began, Rodgers hit a 30-yard swing pass to James Jones to again make it a one-touchdown game. The Packers would get the stop they needed on the next possession, giving Aaron Rodger a chance to tie the game. It would take just three plays to go 67yards as John Kuhn powered in from the one to tie the game 38-38. With momentum clearly on Green Bay’s side, Kurt Warner answered, taking the Arizona 80 yards as he completed his fifth touchdown pass of the day to Steve Breaston for 17 yards. The Packers who trailed all game again answered the call, as Rodgers tied the game a second time with an 11-yard pass to Spence Havner with 1:46 on the clock. The Cardinals would get a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Neil Rackers shanked a 34-yard field goal attempt.

Tied 45-45 at the end of regulation, the coin toss seemed to be crucial as both offenses were burning up the field in Arizona. Kurt Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards, scoring five touchdowns, while Aaron Rodgers overcame a rough first quarter to pass for 423 yards with four scores. The Packers would win the toss, putting Arizona on edge as they started the sudden death overtime with the ball on their own 20. On the second play, the Packers had a 14-yard play wiped out on a holding call. After getting some of the yards back, Rodgers stepped back on third-and-six from the 24 and needing to get to the 30 to continue the drive. Instead, he was stripped by Michael Adams at the 17, with the ball landing in the arms of Karlos Dansby, who would run it in for a touchdown to win the game 51-45.

The Cardinals’ hopes for a second straight Super Bowl ended a week later 45-14 loss to the eventual champion New Orleans Saints. The Packers meanwhile would recover and win the Super Bowl XLV a year then.