All-points bulletin: Cardinals outscore Packers, 51-45

Kurt Warner was sharp as a cactus needle, but it was Arizona’s defense that punctured Green Bay’s Super Bowl dreams.

In an overtime game that put the wild in wild card -- a Sunday shootout featuring 13 touchdowns and a playoff-record 96 points -- the Cardinals won, 51-45, on linebacker Karlos Dansby’s 17-yard fumble return in sudden death.

The Cardinals launched their latest bid for the Lombardi Trophy with one of the most dramatic victories in franchise history.

“That’s two really good playoff games we’ve been in within a year,” said Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team lost the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh last February in the final minute. “It’s damn nice to win one of them.”

The Cardinals will play a divisional game Saturday at top-seeded New Orleans.

The Packers, who fought back to force overtime after trailing by three touchdowns in the third quarter, saw their season end against a backdrop of red jerseys and swirling white towels.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy, whose team had pounded the Cardinals in an exhibition game and in a Week 17 finale. “It’s personally one of the toughest losses I’ve been a part of. . . . It’s a tough loss, but it sure was a great game to watch.”

It was, in fact, the only truly competitive playoff game of the weekend. The margin of victory in the weekend’s other three games averaged 16.3 points.

Although the Packers-Cardinals game was decided by a huge defensive play -- Michael Adams sacked Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers on a corner blitz, stripping loose the ball -- it will be remembered for offensive pyrotechnics.

Arizona’s Kurt Warner further bolstered his case for the Hall of Fame by completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns, recording a near-perfect passer rating of 154.1. He had more scoring passes than incompletions -- and that was without injured receiver Anquan Boldin.

“What more is there to say about Kurt?” Whisenhunt said. “He’s one of the best playoff quarterbacks of all time. We thought going into today that would be an advantage for us.”

It certainly didn’t hurt. Warner spread the ball among his receivers, helping each compile a personal highlight reel. Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet caught two touchdown passes each, and Steve Breaston caught one.

Said Warner: “Coming in as banged up as we were today, worried about how much they were going to play, how effective they were going to be, so many people across the board stepped up and made plays. That’s what it takes this time of year, and that’s what it takes to make runs.”

Warner’s performance eclipsed that of Rodgers, who was terrific in his own right, completing 28 of 42 for 422 yards and four touchdowns with an interception, and a 121.3 rating.

The scoring drives were so relentlessly efficient, especially down the stretch, that it seemed the last team to have the ball would win. So when Green Bay won the overtime coin toss and elected to receive, Whisenhunt felt a pang of dread.

“It was almost like, we will flip the coin and whoever wins the toss wins the game,” he said. “You don’t have to go out there and play it. I’m glad we did.”

But he said he had faith his players on the other side of the ball would come through, even though they had yielded nearly 500 yards of offense to the Packers.

“When we lost [the toss], I thought, ‘Our defense is going to make a play,’ ” he said. “I just believed . . . that maybe destiny was going to smile on us this time.”

It wouldn’t have come down to the defense had Arizona’s Neil Rackers made his 34-yard field-goal attempt with 14 seconds left in regulation. But he hooked that wide left, giving the Packers new life.

When the visitors got the ball to open the extra period, however, they couldn’t do a lot with it. Four plays into overtime, Rodgers was stripped and, as he was falling back, somehow kicked the ball up -- just where Dansby could latch on to it and rumble across the goal line.

“That gave me enough time to run up under it, get in the end zone, and seal the deal,” Dansby said.

The final play is sure to light up talk-radio switchboards all over Wisconsin and beyond, because TV replays showed Adams could have been flagged for grabbing Rodgers’ facemask.

Regardless, it’s over, and it was sweet redemption for Adams, who earlier missed a sack and twice was called for pass interference.

“I was just hoping he didn’t release the ball,” Adams said of Rodgers. “I mean, you can come 12 times, and 11 out of those 12 times he would get the ball out. That 12th chance, you get a chance to hit him, and I got my 12th chance.”

And it came at the 11th hour -- and none too soon for the Cardinals.