Seahawks have been a thorn in the side ROB REISCHEL
Earlier this summer, I was having lunch with a Green Bay Packers team employee. At one point, my friend said, “I have a feeling that the best chance at greatness for a lot of these guys died in Seattle.”
My pal, of course, was referring to the 2014 NFC Championship Game. And I bring this story up for two reasons:
1. The Packers host Seattle on Sunday in a game sure to open old wounds. Green Bay’s loss to the Seahawks in the conference title game two years ago remains the greatest collapse in franchise history, and for many players and fans, the most painful defeat they’ve ever experienced.
2. Seattle, which has gotten the better of Green Bay over the past five years, can do the same thing to the 2016 Packers that it did to the 2014 group: finish them off.
The Packers currently sit in a tie for eighth place in the NFC, two games behind division-leading Detroit and one game out in the wild-card race. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has talked about the need to “win out,” and a loss to archrival Seattle could virtually end the Packers’ playoff hopes this year.
The timing of the matchup is ironic, as Green Bay’s greatest nemesis the past five years has another chance to blow up a Packers season. Whether Green Bay can stop that from happening will determine where the Packers are headed in 2016 — and down the road.
“Playing Seattle has always been a challenge for us,” defensive end/outside linebacker Datone Jones said. “For the most part, they’ve probably gotten the better of us. We’ve just got to turn it around (this) week.”
There’s no doubt, Seattle has handed Green Bay some of its most frustrating defeats in recent years.
There was the ‘Fail Mary’ in 2012. Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion, steamrolled the Packers, 36-16, in the 2014 season-opener in a game where Rodgers refused to throw in the direction of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
But nothing comes close to the 2014 conference championship.
The Packers were in complete control at Seattle and poised to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.
Green Bay built a 16-0 halftime lead, and according to ProFootballReference.com, held a 94.4% chance to win the game. With the Packers leading, 19-7, with just more than 3 minutes left, their chances of winning were 99.9%.
Yet somehow, someway, the Seahawks rallied for the most improbable 28-22 win in overtime.
Brandon Bostick’s onside kick fiasco. Julius Peppers’ insistence that Morgan Burnett fall down after an interception. Ha Ha Clinton Dix’s atrocious attempt at batting down a two-point conversion. And Tramon Williams getting beat for a game-winning, 35yard touchdown by Jermaine Kearse.
Had any one of these plays — or a bevy of others — gone Green Bay’s way down the stretch, it would have reached Super Bowl XLIX. Instead, that game still bothers many players inside the Packers locker room.
Green Bay safety Micah Hyde, for example, has never watched film of the game.
“I never watched it. Never,” Hyde said. “You know, I had the front row view of the onside kick, the two-point conversion, the touchdown that they had. The deep touchdown they had to win the game. I don’t need to see it again.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. As an NFL football player, it’s hard to get to those games and get to those situations. Playing in the NFC Championship Game and trying to get to a Super Bowl, we understand how hard that is to do.”
Despite the loss, Packers general manager Ted Thompson kept the overwhelming majority of that team together and brought back 21 of 24 starters in 2015.
Even today, left guard Josh Sitton and fullback John Kuhn are Green Bay’s only offensive starters from that 2014 team playing elsewhere. On defense, the only starters that have left are defensive end Josh Boyd, linebackers Sam Barrington and A.J. Hawk, and Williams.
They say if you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse. And the Packers have largely been proof of that.
After starting 6-0 in 2015, Green Bay is just 11-13 since that time (.458). The top half of the roster — which typically determines a team’s success — has gotten older. Thompson hasn’t found enough young, difference-making players to keep up with conference powers like Seattle and Dallas.
Now, the Seahawks come calling with the Packers’ season — and future — both in doubt.
These current Packers still believe they can somehow string together a magical finish and justify the front office’s decision to keep them together this long. If Seattle topples Green Bay again — essentially ending its season — the Packers seem likely to make major changes this offseason.
Randall Cobb. Clay Matthews. Julius Peppers. Nick Perry. Datone Jones.
These are all players whose futures could be shaped by what happens Sunday — and over the final month of the season.
“We understand playing against Seattle that it’s not about the Fail Mary,” Hyde said. “It’s not about the NFC Championship Game. That stuff is all in the past.
“This is a totally new football team with a totally different mindset. All that other stuff has kind of run its course. We’ve just got to find a way to win the game and keep this thing going in the right direction.”
If they can’t, Seattle will be the ones digging Green Bay’s grave once again.
In what has become known as the “Fail Mary” game, officials indicate opposite rulings — one a touchdown, one incomplete — in the Green Bay Packers’ 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle in 2012.