By CHRIS HAVEL
The Green Bay Packers can’t be faulted for their preparation, intensity or effort. On the other hand, their selfish, sloppy and in some instances stupid mistakes were inexcusable.
The Packers fell to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime in Sunday’s NFC Championship at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
This game was lost before then. The Packers played well enough, and in some cases sensationally enough, to position themselves to knock out the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks in their own house.
That’s when playing not to lose, rather than staying aggressive and not letting up, allowed Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, to regain his senses and the defense to find its swagger. The Packers (13-5) led 19-7 with less than five minutes to play. They had the football after Packers safety Morgan Burnett notched Green Bay’s fourth interception of the game.
Despite all of that, and a silenced 12th Man to boot, the Packers couldn’t seal the deal. Seattle racked up three straight touchdowns on its final three possessions to stage one of the most stunning rallies in NFL postseason history.
The final blow was Wilson’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse with 11:41 to play in overtime. The Seahawks (14-4) will face the AFC Champion New England Patriots (14-4) in Super Bowl XLIX Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
Wilson targeted Kearse five times before hitting on the game winner. Wilson had been picked off four of those times. If Wilson-to-Kearse made the Packers’ heartbreak official, it was Jon Ryan-to-Garry Gilliam that started the Seahawks’ late surge. Ryan, the Packers’ ex-punter, hit Gilliam, an offensive lineman, with a 19-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down fake field goal midway through the third quarter.
The Packers’ special teams unit was totally unaware and caught off-guard. That gaffe alone should force Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to consider firing special teams’ coordinator Shawn Slocum. If McCarthy insists on having Slocum on his staff, he better be ready to cover for Slocum’s deficiencies. If he can’t, Slocum has to go.
To not recognize the possibility of a Seahawks fake at that point, in that position of the field, was ridiculous. The Seahawks were facing a difficult either-or decision on fourth down. However, there wasn’t the least bit of hesitation as the Seahawks trotted out their kicker. That should’ve been the Packers’ first clue. The second should have been the fact that Seattle’s offense was utterly ineffective.
How else was Seattle going to score points if not on a fake?
That, coupled with the inability to recover Seattle’s onside kick was inexcusable. Backup tight end Brandon Bostick was supposed to block so Jordy Nelson could recover the onside kick. Instead, he elected to jump in the air and recover it himself. He failed to gather it in, and the Seahawks recovered and quickly scored to make it 22-19 Seattle with less than two minutes to play.
At that point, McCarthy finally took off the handcuffs and allowed Aaron Rodgers to throw it. He quickly moved Green Bay into position for Mason Crosby’s game-tying 48-yard field goal with 14 seconds left. It was Crosby’s fifth and final field goal of the day.
Has there ever been a more anti-climactic feel to a 48-yard field goal that sends the Packers into overtime?
Seattle won the coin toss (who the E$@#%$ calls tails anyway?) and the Seahawks put the Packers and their fans out of misery 3:19 later.
“It’s going to be a missed opportunity that I’ll probably think about for the rest of my career,” Rodgers said. “We were the better team today – we played well enough to win. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”
In fact, the Packers played well enough to win for about 55 minutes, but they weren’t the better team. That’s because the defense and coordinator Dom Capers caved in after the Packers’ special teams opened the door.
Seattle scored touchdowns on its final three possessions to win it. The Seahawks’ 16-point comeback was the largest in conference championship game history.
“I felt our football team was a special group,” McCarthy said. “They’ve been great all year. This is a hard one to swallow.”
McCarthy almost seemed in shock after the game. During the final five minutes, his team played as if the seconds couldn’t tick off fast enough.
Meantime, Seattle rallied to victory and a second-straight Super Bowl berth. They can send the Packers a thank-you card when they get time.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.
By CHRIS HAVEL