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The Play: Palmer’s Houdini act, Fitzgerald’s run push Cardinals to NFC Championship

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) celebrates a catch against the Green Bay Packers during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The majority of fans University of Phoenix Stadium were still in shock when the Cardinals took over for the first possession of overtime.

You couldn’t blame them.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers had thrown a 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass — his second of the season — to Jeff Janis with no time left to push Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game into overtime.

That shock reached a new level on the first play of the extra period.

On 1st-and-10 from the 20, Carson Palmer dropped to pass, avoided a rush from Clay Matthews around the left end, stepped up, spun away from linebacker Mike Neal, and rolled out to his right. He then threw all the way across his body (and across the field) and found Larry Fitzgerald all alone at the 35-yard line.

Fitzgerald, with help from some downfield blocking, did the rest.

The 32-year-old receiver weaved through the defense, gaining 75 yards all the way down to the Packers’ 5-yard line. Fittingly, two plays later, Fitzgerald took a shovel pass into the end zone to give the Cardinals an unforgettable 26-20 overtime win that propels them to the NFC Championship Game for only the second time in franchise history.

Maybe NBC’s Al Michaels summed it up best in real time when he bellowed “Larry Fitzgerald is insane!”

It was another signature postseason moment for a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer who has supplied quite a few of them in his Arizona career.

“Carson did a great job of keeping his eyes down the field, he scrambled, getting flushed out and I caught the ball,” Fitzgerald said after the game. “I was expecting someone to be around and I saw a lot of grass there and I was heading to the sideline and tried to make a move and tried to get to the end zone the best I could.”

Leave it to Fitzgerald to make the super-human seem ho-hum. That’s the way he has operated his whole career — underselling his achievements while propping up others.

“I saw a couple of my guys running through and I saw a little area to push through when I saw Darren (Fells) pick up a block for me on the way and I saw Mike (Floyd) and Smoke (John Brown) do the same thing,” he said. “Those guys really led the way for me to get down that far.”

Palmer, who struggled for a good portion of the contest, ended up completing 25-of-41 for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He also described the play from his vantage point.

“They did a good job getting pressure on us, we blocked them out really, really well,” he said. “Somebody came through and I had a chance to get out of the pocket and we did a good job of picking up the protection as soon as I bounced outside the pocket — everybody did a good job of picking up their man and gave me plenty of time to get backside and just saw him over there, standing by himself.”

Was Palmer surprised that Fitzgerald was so wide-open?

“That’s what happens in those kind of broken plays,” he said. “People will start turning, running for the hills and expecting a shot. He just did a good job of moving, getting open and doing something special with the ball in his hands at the end.”

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