Defense’s meltdown proves costly
Packer unit’s play faded as Seattle offense ignited
Seattle — Inside this locker room, two years ago, players screamed at television sets. One cursed the NFL commissioner. The quarterback shouted “Awful! Awful!” repeatedly. A win, they believed, was taken from them at CenturyLink Field.
In Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, they gave a game away in every way imaginable.
The team coach Mike McCarthy had to address this time wasn’t infuriated over a controversial call in September. It was in a state of posttraumatic stress with its season over. What could McCarthy say? “I think he’s obviously in a state of shock a little bit, too, as well as we are,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “He told us he cares about us as players, as men. We have to figure out where to go from here. This season’s over.”
On one side of the locker room, there was Brandon Bostick-sized shock. Around the corner, the defensive players were trying to figure out how they could be so dominant for 56 minutes and so bad for four. All week, Seahawks players boasted. They were the No. 1 defense of this era. They were going to get their shots in on Aaron Rodgers.
The game began, and the Packers’ defense was the unit blasting the quarterback, turning the ball over and corralling a physical back.
Then, crash, the foundation collapsed.
“I would just say that we were playing ball,” inside linebacker Sam Barrington said. “We were seizing the moment — playing ball. Hey, they’re the defending champs, some things went their way toward the end but it kind of is what it is. You have to appreciate the growth and the men in this locker room.
“In moments like this, you have to keep your head up. It’s simple.”
For 56 minutes, the Packers embarrassed Russell Wilson and general manager Ted Thompson appeared to be a genius.
Every move he made in the off-season to improve the defense was paying off for this moment.
Julius Peppers treated guard J.R. Sweezy as debris on the interstate to ding Wil- son. Rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off two passes. The promoted Barrington helped contain Marshawn Lynch, as the Packers defense swarmed the tacklebreaking back every carry with multiple bodies. Clay Matthews was the one-man Wilson antidote, hogtying him to the ground for a 15yard loss.
Cornerback Sam Shields — the one paid a lucrative contract extension last off-season — was glued to Jermaine Kearse up the sideline to pick off a pass in the end zone.
The Seahawks had a net of 6 yards their first four offensive possessions and four turnovers in the first half. They didn’t convert a first down until there was 7 minutes left in the half and Wilson didn’t complete a pass until the 3:58 mark. This maestro flawlessly executing Seattle’s read-option offense, burning the blitz and stiffarming linebackers through a seven-game winning streak had a 0.0 passer rating at halftime.
“We know it’s four quarters of work, especially with a great team like that,” Matthews said. “That makes it even more difficult, knowing it’s right there in front of us. We had it, and unfortunately we let it go. Right now, you’re kind of in a little shock and awe because of what just took place. Mentally, emotionally, physically drained.
“This one hurts and it will for some time.”
Sure enough, this defense’s glow began to fade.
Midway through the third quarter, the Packers had Wilson in second and 30, then third and 19, and couldn’t get off the field . . . allowing Jon Ryan to eventually put Seattle on the board. And with 3 minutes and 52 seconds, Seattle’s offense woke up.
On a pick play, Lynch slipped past Barrington up the right sideline for 26 yards. On the go-ahead touchdown, a 24-yard cutback, Mike Daniels was stuffed up front and Hawk got lost in the muck.
“Obviously, Marshawn Lynch played very well,” Hawk said. “Everywhere you look, they all stepped up when they needed to, to make plays, and we didn’t.”
Into overtime, those undrafted Seattle wide receivers finally got separation.
The violent mash-up of hits (Matthews blindsiding Wilson on an interception, Josh Boyd owning Max Unger on a stuff of Lynch) gave way to head-scratching miscues.
Morgan Burnett will be asked all off-season why he slid to the ground on his late interception.
Asked about Bostick’s dropped onside kick, Barrington exhales deeply.
“I mean, we’re prideful men,” Barrington said. “So in moments like this you wish you could make things happen. I know he’s hurting over that play, but that’s the thing about life. When you get the opportunity you have to make the most out of it.”
For 56 minutes, the Packers defense maximized every opportunity. Yet it wasn’t enough. “It hurts,” Barrington said. “It’s tough.”
Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin hauls in a catch for a first down in overtime at the 35-yard line while being defended by Packers cornerback Casey Hayward.