De­fense’s melt­down proves costly

Packer unit’s play faded as Seat­tle of­fense ig­nited

Packer Plus - - Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (Ot) - By TYLER DUNNE tdunne@jour­nalsen­tinel.com

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.”

RICK WOOD / RWOOD@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

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.

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