Players hit hard by late collapse
Shock, sadness f ill locker room
Seattle – Clay Matthews dressed slowly, his head down, his back turned to a throng of reporters and TV cameras. Every 30 seconds or so, the door to the field opened and the sound of the Seattle Seahawks’ post-game celebration rushed into the locker room.
Then the door would close and silence would engulf the Green Bay Packers’ linebacker once again. Roar! Silence. Matthews buttoned his shirt. Roar! Silence. Matthews zipped his travel bag closed. Roar! Silence. Matthews donned his beanie.
The juxtaposition told the story without a word being said: The Packers lost a game they should have won Sunday, blew an opportunity they can never, ever get back. Minutes away from an upset victory and a trip to Super Bowl XLIX, they instead collapsed in heartbreaking fashion.
The Seahawks made a series of huge plays — some well-executed, others the result of physical and mental mistakes by the Packers — and escaped with a 28-22 overtime victory in the NFC Championship Game at Century-Link Field.
“You come so far, you put in so much hard work, you come that close to get back to the Super Bowl and you fall short in an overtime thriller,” Matthews said. “It’s tough. To come up short like that is dev- astating.”
Trailing, 19-7, with 3 minutes 52 seconds left, the Seahawks scored two touchdowns in a span of 44 seconds to take the lead. Aaron Rodgers then needed just a little more than one minute to maneuver the Packers into field goal range and Mason Crosby tied it with a 48-yarder to force overtime.
Then Russell Wilson — who threw four interceptions and had a first-half quarterback rating of 0.0 — needed just six plays to end it, the final one a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, who caught the ball in the end zone with cornerback Tramon Williams draped all over him.
Kearse leapt to his feet and heaved the ball into the stands as Seattle’s “12th Man” rocked the stadium to its footings.
An impartial observer might have called it one of the most exciting games in NFL postseason history.
The Packers were calling it something else.
“We were so close and we let it go,” said linebacker Sam Barrington. “Let it be understood that that team is not better than we are. We gave them what they’re out there celebrating.”
In so many ways, he was right.
The Packers built a 16-0 lead at halftime but twice were stopped on the 1-yard line and had to settle for chipshot field goals from Crosby. They forced five turnovers but scored just six points off them. They had two threeand-outs late in the fourth quarter when a first down or two would have ended Seattle’s comeback.
“We squandered away every opportunity to put the game away,” Williams said. “There’s really no excuse for it.”
Had the Packers recovered an onside kick after the Seahawks pulled to within 19-14 with 2:09 left, they probably would be headed to Arizona. Instead, little-used tight end Brandon Bostick blew his assignment and tried to catch the ball instead of letting it fly over his head and into the arms of Jordy Nelson.
“I’ve had circumstances where I felt like it was on me at the end of the game where I didn’t capitalize and I’m sure (Bostick is) feeling that, but it’s on all of us,” Crosby said. “We win as a team and lose as a team.”
Indeed, Crosby’s 48-yarder at the end of regulation would have been a game-winner had the defense not allowed the Seahawks to convert a twopoint attempt on Wilson’s across-the-field floater to tight end Luke Willson just 71 seconds earlier.
“We were five minutes away from going to Arizona for the Super Bowl,” guard T.J. Lang said. “They just did a better job of finishing than we did. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. We’re up two scores with five minutes left and I don’t think there was a soul on that sideline that thought we were going to lose.
“A couple bad things happened there late.”
And then, overtime and . . . sudden death.
“It happens so quickly, where everything is over,” said linebacker A.J. Hawk. “It’s a terrible feeling. Especially a game like this where we were in control most of the time and still felt until the last play that we were going to find a way to pull it out.”
The Seahawks will attempt to defend their Super Bowl title Feb. 1 against the AFC champion New England Patriots. The Packers will go “back to the drawing board and go back to work,” Williams said.
But next year brings no guarantees. Playmaking receiver Randall Cobb, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and Williams are unrestricted free agents. Other players won’t be back. New ones will come in.
At his locker, Lang tried to process it all.
“It’s a roller coaster of emotion,” he said. “Right now, shock is probably the biggest one. You can be as angry as you want to be, but it’s not going to do any good.”
On the other side of the room, running back Eddie Lacy was asked to describe how he felt. “Sad,” he said. Three little letters. One long off-season ahead.
“Let it be understood that that team is not better than we are. We gave them what they’re out there celebrating.”
Sam Barrington, linebacker (left)
The Packers’ Tramon Williams walks off the field after the loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse caught the winning touchdown pass with Williams draped all over him.