Cat­a­strophic col­lapse

Pack­ers’ big choke gives Seat­tle ex­tra­or­di­nary win, trip to Su­per Bowl

Packer Plus - - Game Analysis - Bob McGinn

Seat­tle — They don’t for­get any play­off game in the Na­tional Foot­ball League’s small­est city. All 51 of them live on and on and on. Vince Lom­bardi’s bit­ter de­feat in Philly fol­lowed a year later by the 37-0 blank­ing of the Gi­ants. The late cross-field bomb to Ster­ling Sharpe that beat the Lions in the Sil­ver­dome, the first of Brett Favre’s 12 post-sea­son tri­umphs. Of course, the Ice Bowl.

When his­to­ri­ans re­mem­ber the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game at Cen­tu­ryLink Field, what should it be called? The Big Choke would be ap­pro­pri­ate.

How else to de­scribe a game in which the Pack­ers, per­haps the league’s health­i­est team this sea­son, were in to­tal con­trol for about 57 min­utes against the de­fend­ing cham­pion Seat­tle Sea­hawks be­fore they threw it all away?

Coaches, ex­ec­u­tives, play­ers, staff, ev­ery­one in that locker room were walk­ing around like zom­bies after the Pack­ers col­lapsed, 28-22, in over­time.

“It’s ter­ri­ble,” said tackle David Bakhtiari. “I’m still in shock.”

Seat­tle (14-4), the top-seeded team in the NFC, will meet the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots (14-4) Feb. 1 in Su­per Bowl XLIX. Green Bay (13-5), the sec­ond seed in the NFC, will watch from home won­der­ing what might have been.

“That’s foot­ball,” gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son said. “We felt we had a chance to add more to this or­ga­ni­za­tion. That’s why it’s so dis­ap­point­ing to lose a game like this.”

The Pack­ers beat the Pa­tri­ots on Nov. 30. Given an ad­di­tional week for Aaron Rodgers to treat his in­jured calf and the fact they ap­peared to exit yet another Sun­day with no new in­juries, the Pack­ers would have been in prime po­si­tion to win a sec­ond Su­per Bowl un­der Thomp­son, coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers.

Sec­ond Su­per Bowls of­ten means Hall of Fame. As young as Rodgers is (31), there would be chances to win even more cham­pi­onships.

Those chances re­main, but that 14th ti­tle for Title­town will have to wait.

“It’s about as bad as it gets,” team pres­i­dent Mark Murphy said. “You hope for more (op­por­tu­ni­ties), but you can’t take any­thing for granted. To be in this po­si­tion doesn’t hap­pen that of­ten. It’s a game we should have won.”

It ended sud­denly, as many over­times do, on Rus­sell Wilson’s 35-yard pass to Doug Bald­win be­hind Casey Hay­ward and, on the very next play, his 35-yard touch­down pass to Jer­maine Kearse against Tra­mon Wil­liams.

Seat­tle won the over­time toss. Seat­tle started backed up at its 13. Seat­tle went 87 yards in six plays.

The Sea­hawks turned the ball over five times, were pe­nal­ized con­stantly and played nei­ther with strength nor poise for almost the en­tire game.

A pow­er­ful team with de­signs on be­com­ing the first Su­per Bowl re­peat cham­pion since New Eng­land in 2003-’04, the Sea­hawks were flat, loosely pre­pared and ob­vi­ously miss­ing sev­eral key per­form­ers lost to in­jury.

Alvin Bai­ley, forced to start at right tackle when Justin Britt was a sur­prise scratch (knee), was taken to school early and of­ten by Julius Pep­pers. Wilson's passers rat­ing at the half was 0.0. The pass­ing game was null and void.

The Sea­hawks, even with their leather-lunged fans scream­ing through­out, looked in­ept.

“Well, for the fans in the north­west, this has got to be one for the ages,” said coach Pete Car­roll. "This is ans ex­tra­or­di­nary win be­cause of who the Pack­ers are.

“They’re so good, and they jumped on us and tore us up in the first quar­ter. We just made mis­take after mis­take. and just looked ter­ri­ble.”

The Pack­ers led, 16-0, at half­time amd 19-7 with just un­der 4 min­utes re­main­ing. Those in the record crowd of 68,538 hadn’t left, but the hand-writ­ting cer­tainly was on the wall.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity was ev­i­dent a few min­utes be­fore that. Backed up, McCarthy ran James Starks twice and saw Rodgers’ side­line-stop pass for An­drew Quar­less bro­ken up by line­backer K.J. Wright.

After Tim Masthay’s punt, Kearse dropped Wilson's per­fect pass at the Green bay 40 and the ball bounced straight to Mor­gan Bur­net than avail him­self of an opened side­line on the re­turn, Bur nett saw Pep­pers’ stop sign and promptly fell down at the Green Bay 43.

“I think he thought the game was over," for­mer Colts coach Tony Dungy said in the press el­e­va­tor. "He could maybe have got­ten into field-goal range."

No wor­ries, right? Just 5 minute were left, and the Pack­ers had aced their four-minute of­fense all sea­son clos­ing out the Jets, Vik­ings, Pa­tri­ots, Fal­cons and Cow­boys.

“It’s a tough sit­u­a­tion, but some­thing we thrived in," guard T.J. Lang said. “We had a cou­ple wasted pos­ses­sions in the third quar­ter. We let them hang around. Against a team like that they’re go­ing to cash in."

By this point, the Sea­hawks were sell­ing out at the line. Ed­die Lacy lost 4 yards in three car­ries and Masthay suc­cess­fully punted out of bounds at the Seat­tle 31.

Then the de­fense caved. Four plays gained 60 yards. Wilson’s 1-yard TD made it 19-14. Just 2:09 re­mained.

“We felt good get­ting the ball back with 2 min­utes left," said Lang. “Then they re­cov­ered the on­side kick."

Bran­don Bo­stick butchered his as­sign­ment to block and

How does one sum up a de­feat of such cat­a­strophic, appalling di­men­sions?

whiffed on the ball. The Sea­hawks were in the end zone four plays later, and when Wilson rain­bowed a crazy-quilt con­ver­sion pass to Luke Will­son, Seat­tle was ahead, 22-19.

Rodgers, in the midst of another one of his or­di­nary play­off per­for­mances, moved the team 42 yards. He had three plays to win the game from the 35 at the same lo­ca­tion and end of the field that Wilson would win it from a few min­utes later.

A back-handed in­com­ple­tion. A botched back-shoul­der fade to Richard Rodgers. A scram­ble and 6-yard pass to Jordy Nel­son left it up to Ma­son Crosby. What a field goal it was, 48 yards dead-cen­ter per­fect. There was life in the Pack­ers. Then came the ex­tra ses­sion.

After the bomb to Bald­win, Seat­tle de­ployed two run­ning backs, two tight ends and Kearse wide right. On cue, safety Sean Richard­son re­placed Sam Shields.

“In that for­ma­tion, they go ei­ther way,” de­fen­sive end Da­tone Jones said. “It was 50-50 run-pass.”

The Pack­ers got away play­ing Cover 0 sev­eral times late in games. The stress point is on Wil­liams, who was in press cov­er­age against Kearse. Wilson saw the matchup, the fact there would be no safety help and checked to a deep post.

“(Kearse) has re­ally got a two-way go at that point with me and him,” said Wil­liams. “I was in bump and he was slightly out­side (the num­bers). He took an inside re­lease and I was run­ning with him.

“There’s no safety in the mid­dle of the field so his first thought is to throw it away from the cor­ner. It’s a tough play. We were play­ing the run. Every­body was in a gap.”

Wil­liams reached across Kearse in text­book fash­ion by us­ing his left hand to avoid pass in­ter­fer­ence. But the throw was per­fect and Kearse hauled the ball in at the 1 with Wil­liams claw­ing away along­side.

“(Wilson) had been off all day,” mar­veled Dungy. “Re­ceivers weren’t get­ting open, weren’t get­ting sep­a­ra­tion. But when you had to do it he did.”

Bakhtiari said the of­fen­sive line played a mag­nif­i­cent game. “We (ex­ple­tive) kicked (ex­ple­tive),” he said. “Pass pro, I mean, (ex­ple­tive), you can’t ask for more from five of­fen­sive line­men in this en­vi­ron­ment, and I also think we run-blocked re­ally well.”

Rodgers had all day to throw count­less times against the NFL’s finest sec­ondary but his passer rat­ing was 55.8 and long­est com­ple­tion was merely 23 yards. The in­abil­ity to strike down­field was crit­i­cal to why the Pack­ers had to set­tle for field goals three times in the first half.

How does one sum up a de­feat of such cat­a­strophic, appalling di­men­sions? McCarthy tried. “I don’t re­gret any­thing,” the ninth-year coach said. “Hell, I ex­pected to win the game. We were po­si­tioned to win the game.

“I thought clearly there were two cham­pi­onship teams play­ing to­day. It was an in­cred­i­ble game to com­pete in. It is a very dif­fi­cult loss to swal­low.”

It’s also one that will never, ever be for­got­ten in Pack­er­land and points beyond.

MARK HOFF­MAN / MHOFFMAN@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

Seat­tle punter Jon Ryan throws a touch­down pass on a fake field goal dur­ing the third quar­ter of the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game on Sun­day. The Sea­hawks went on to beat the Green Bay Pack­ers, 28-22, in over­time.

MARK HOFF­MAN / MHOFFMAN@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

Seat­tle tackle Garry Gil­liam catches punter Jon Ryan’s 19-yard pass for a touch­down on a fake field goal. The touch­down was Seat­tle’s first score of the game.

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