Play­ers hit hard by late col­lapse

Shock, sad­ness f ill locker room

Packer Plus - - Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (Ot) - By GARY D’AMATO gdam­ato@jour­nalsen­tinel.com

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)

MARK HOFF­MAN / MHOFFMAN@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

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.

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