Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 18, 2015

An Implosion, A Rout; And One Game To Go

For 55 minutes on Sunday the Green Bay Packers dominated the Seattle Seahawks. The Green Bay defense swarmed all over Seattle, gang-tackling runners and receivers and harassing quarterback Russell Wilson. The Packers offense scored on four of its first five possessions, by which time Green Bay had run 33 plays from scrimmage to just 11 for Seattle. Green Bay players seemed oblivious to Seattle’s vaunted “12th man,” the raucous fans that jam into CenturyLink Field and with their high-decibel support of the Seahawks make game day a living hell for visiting teams.

At halftime the score was 16-0 in favor of the visitors. Green Bay held the ball for more than 18 minutes of the first half, and outgained Seattle 178 yard to 59. It took more than 10 minutes of the third period for the Seahawks to finally get on the board, narrowing the gap to 16-7 on a fake field goal that holder John Ryan converted into a 19-yard touchdown pass.

But as precious minutes ticked away Seattle could come no closer, and when a Wilson pass intended for Jermaine Kearse was intercepted by the Packers Morgan Burnett with just over 5 minutes remaining, some of those loyal Seahawks fans headed for the exits. After all, the pick by Burnett was the fourth interception thrown by Wilson on the day. Add a lost fumble by wide receiver Doug Baldwin, and Seattle had turned the ball over five times. Even the most devoted of fans know that a team that commits five turnovers isn’t going to win a Conference Championship game.

What the fans who left apparently forgot that the game is 60 minutes long, and in the NFL they play all of those minutes, especially in the playoffs. If there was a ray of hope for Seattle on what had up until then been a gray day, it was that the score was only 19-7. While the Packers had scored five times, the Seahawks defense had made enough timely stops that only one of those tallies was for a touchdown. Forced to settle for field goals four times, Green Bay had simply not been able to put the home team away.

Of course that wouldn’t have mattered much if the Packers had played the final 5 minutes as effectively as they did the first 55. Instead a team that had played so well on both sides of the ball became a squad that could do nothing right. With the ball on his own 43 after the Burnett interception, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers needed only to manufacture a drive with a few first downs that would force Seattle to burn their timeouts while the clock wound down. Instead three straight running plays went for a net of minus 4 yards, and Green Bay was forced to punt with 4 minutes remaining. By the time Rodgers took his next snap from center his team would be trailing.

First the Packers defense forgot how to defend. Wilson moved Seattle 69 yards in 7 plays, running the ball into the end zone himself on a third and goal from the 1-yard line. With 2:13 to play Green Bay’s lead was reduced to 19-14. Then the Packers special teams forgot how to field an on-side kick. The predictable knuckler by Seattle’s Steven Hauschka bounced off a white jersey and into the arms of the blue-shirted Chris Matthews. From midfield the rejuvenated Seahawks needed just 4 plays to score, the last a 24-yard burst up the left side by Marshawn Lynch that put Seattle ahead 20-19. The Green Bay defense, now unable to stop anything, watched helplessly as Wilson found a wide open Luke Wilson for the 2-point conversion.

Seattle’s only error in those closing minutes was scoring too quickly. With 1:19 to play after the ensuing kickoff left the Packers on their own 22, Rodgers had time to move Green Bay 48 yards, to the Seattle 30. That was close enough for Mason Crosby to convert his fifth field goal of the game. It was also the last time the Packers offense would be on the field.

NFL rules don’t guarantee both teams a shot at scoring in overtime, even in the playoffs. If the team receiving the overtime kickoff scores a field goal, then the opposing offense gets their own chance to score. But Wilson and the Seahawks weren’t thinking field goal. From their own 13 the home team needed just six plays to march down the field for the winning touchdown. The final 70 yards were covered with a pair of matching 35 yard pass plays, the last to Kearse for the game-winning touchdown.

With the improbable victory the Seahawks become the 12th team to defend a Super Bowl title in the following year’s game, and the first since New England a decade ago. Seattle’s postseason record at CenturyLink Field remains perfect; it’s now 9-0. Over the past three seasons their home record, including the playoffs, is 26-2.

Of course they won’t be at home for the Super Bowl, which is slated for University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. There they will face the Patriots, who demolished Andrew Luck and the Colts in a driving rain at Foxborough in the AFC Championship. The 12th man, including those who bailed early and listened to Sunday’s dramatic finish on their car radios in the parking lot, won’t be a factor. On the other hand, with his win over Aaron Rodgers the Seahawks’ Wilson improved to 10-0 against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. Tom Brady and New England fans should take nothing for granted.

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