GLENDALE, Ariz. - Old master Kurt Warner and playoff newcomer Aaron Rodgers staged a passing duel to rival any the NFL has seen. And when the highest-scoring postseason game in league history ended abruptly in overtime, Rodgers flung his helmet to the sideline in disgust.
He can blame the Arizona defense for his misery.
Karlos Dansby returned Rodgers' fumble 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 51-45 victory over the Green Bay Packers yesterday in the NFC wild-card playoffs.
Rodgers, who started the game with an interception but was marvelous after that, was stripped by Michael Adams. The ball careened off Rodgers' foot and into the hands of Dansby, who ran untouched for the score 1:18 into the extra session.
"He made a sack, the ball went in the air, I just made a play on the ball," Dansby said.
"That's probably one of the best games ever played in the playoffs," Cardinals (11-6) coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Warner, who improved his playoff record to 9-3, completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. The five TDs matched the 38-year-old's career best.
And it could be one of his last games.
ESPN.com reported yesterday that sources close to Warner said he would retire after the Cardinals complete their playoff run.
Rodgers has no such thoughts. In his first playoff start, he was 28-for-42 for 422 yards and four TDs. All but two of Rodgers' yards came after the first quarter.
"It's clearly one of the toughest losses I've been a part of," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm very proud of our football team and fight. This is a hard game to swallow."
The previous high for combined points in a postseason game was 95 in the Eagles' 58-37 win over the Detroit Lions on Dec. 30, 1995.
"Whew," Warner said at his postgame news conference, "anybody else tired?"
The NFC West champion Cardinals play at New Orleans on Saturday.
It was the most points scored and allowed by the Packers (11-6) in their storied, 41-game playoff history.
Dansby started and ended the game with big plays. He broke up Rodgers' opening pass and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted. The next time the Packers got the ball, Dansby stripped Donald Driver and Arizona's Alan Branch recovered.
With Anquan Boldin sidelined with ankle and knee injuries, Warner threw two touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald, two to Early Doucet and one to Steve Breaston, who caught seven passes for 125 yards.
The previous playoff game to end on a defensive touchdown was Jan. 4, 2004, when Al Harris returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown in Green Bay's 33-27 win over Seattle.
The teams combined for 1,024 yards. Arizona had 531, including 156 rushing, against a Packers defense ranked No. 2 overall, No. 1 against the run.
Green Bay entered winners of seven of its last eight games, including a 33-7 victory against the Cardinals on the same field a week ago. But the team with the fewest turnovers in the NFL (16) started the game with two of them and ended it with another.
In between, Green Bay rallied from a 21-point, second-half deficit to twice tie the game.
After Neil Rackers missed a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, the Packers won the toss. Since Arizona hadn't stopped them since the first half, it didn't look good for the home team.
But on third-and-6 at the Green Bay 24, Adams, a 5-8 cornerback, came through on a blitz and stripped Rodgers. On a bad bounce the Packers will remember for a long time, the ball caromed off Rodgers' foot and right to Dansby.
Rodgers said he should have just taken the sack.
"I was trying to unload it," he said. "I should have held on to the ball."