For three quarters, the Packers played the game of Mike McCarthy's dreams. At the final gun, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers looked ready to rewrite history. And then it suddenly ended for Green Bay, just another gut-wrenching playoff loss.
"A heartbreaking loss here this evening," McCarthy said after the 26-20 overtime loss to Arizona. "It's tough to swallow."
The Packers have grown accustomed to these playoff close calls. Five of McCarthy's seven playoff losses have come on the last play of the game. The ending of the last two seasons has felt particularly cruel.
McCarthy was so close to one of his finest hours as a coach in Arizona, pulling off an upset few saw coming. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' defense confused Arizona's loaded offensive attack for much of the day. And Rodgers completed two of the craziest passes imaginable in succession to send the game to overtime.
Green Bay held the ball, down seven points on a fourth and 20 from their own goal line with 55 seconds left. Three plays and no timeouts later, the Packers were headed to overtime. Rodgers' 60-yard bomb to Jeff Janis from his own end zone was an outrageous toss after Rodgers rolled out to his left. His 41-yard Hail Mary as time expired to Janis again felt like the Football Gods screwing with us.
Another game-ending Hail Mary. This time, it came under pressure from a blitz after a spin move. Rodgers hit the ground as he made the throw, falling to his left.
"Oh Please! That's insane!" the normally indefatigable Al Michaels blurted out.
"That may be one of the great throws ever made!" NBC's Cris Collinsworth responded.
No one watching at home blamed Collinsworth for hyperbole. It was one of America's great athletes making the impossible part of his routine.
And the catch was nearly as good. Janis, who had four career catches going into the game, made an incredible leaping grab, holding on for dear life as Patrick Peterson tried to jar the ball loose. It felt a little like David Tyree's helmet catch, which also took place in the comfy dome environments.
McCarthy called it a "tremendous football play" and that it was a "reflection" of his team. And this was a Packers team that relied too much on Rodgers creating something out of nothing, saving their most inspired play for the playoffs.
"It's tough. We've lost a few of these over the years where you don't touch the ball in overtime," Rodgers said.
This was the fifth straight year the Packers have lost in the NFC playoffs, searching for the magic that spurred on their 2010 title run. They've learned again and again that a Super Bowl ring doesn't make playoff heartbreak easy to swallow.