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The quest for a repeat is alive and well.
The Seattle Seahawks overcame a 16-points halftime deficit to stun the Green Bay Packers in front of a rowdy crowd at CenturyLink Field. The victory sends Seattle to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season, making them the first NFC team to go to back-to-back Super Bowls since the Packers did it in 1996-97.
An abnormal journey gave us the expected outcome. Turnovers allowed Green Bay to jump out to an early lead. The Packers intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson three times in the first half, but their inability to finish in the red zone kept Seattle in the hunt. Green Bay made three trips to the red zone, scoring just one touchdown and settling for two field goals. Early in the first quarter, the Packers faced a fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy opted to kick the field goal instead of going for the touchdown. McCarthy’s decision to kick will receive its share of scrutiny this week, but the Packers didn’t blow a 16-point lead because they didn’t go for a touchdown six minutes into the game. They lost because Seattle made the key second-half plays.
In my preview of this game, I picked Seattle because I thought they’d make the big play in crunch time. The Seahawks needed more than just a big play or two, though. Nearly everything had to go their way in the second half, and that’s exactly what happened.
They converted a key third-and-19 midway through the third quarter when Wilson found a wide-open Doug Baldwin. Four plays later, they scored a 19-yard touchdown on a fake field goal when holder Jon Ryan hit Clint Gresham for the score. After cutting Green Bay’s lead to 19-14 in the fourth quarter, they recovered an onside kick after Green Bay tight end Brandon Bostick failed to secure the ball. This led to Seattle taking their first lead of the game with less than two minutes remaining. Green Bay managed to force overtime, but the Packers never saw the ball in the extended period, as Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown to send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
In many ways, the Packers blew it more than Seattle won it. Green Bay mishandled two crucial plays late in the game. Wilson threw his fourth interception of the game with about five minutes remaining. Safety Morgan Burnett, who caught the ball off a deflection, went to the ground immediately after making the play. You don't go to the ground with five minutes left, and Burnett just learned this lesson the hardest of ways. He had a lot of open field to gain yards. A decent return would've put the Packers in field goal range.
Burnett’s running mate in the secondary, rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, had a pair of interceptions on the afternoon, but his judgment on Seattle’s two-point conversion was bizarre. The Packers heavily pressured Wilson on the attempt. He scrambled to his right before throwing the ball across the field. The ball lingered in the air long enough for Clinton-Dix to make a play on it, but he never did. Instead, it landed safety in the arms of tight end Luke Wilson, and Seattle’s improbable lead extended to three.
With less than two minutes remaining, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers drove the Packers down the field, putting them in position to tie the game. Kicker Mason Crosby connected on a 48-yard field goal, sending the game to overtime. Had Clinton-Dix made a better play on the ball just minutes earlier, Crosby’s kick may have sent the Packers to the Super Bowl.
Wilson is now 10-0 against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, owning wins over Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Eli and Peyton Manning. However, Wilson was not the hero of this game. Sure, he made two crucial overtime throws, but Green Bay clearly rattled him early. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell recognized this, and turned to running back Marshawn Lynch.
In a performance that’ll surely come up when the Hall of Fame debates Lynch’s candidacy for enshrinement, the Seattle running back steamrolled his way through the heart of Green Bay’s defense. He finished the game with 25 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Seattle’s defensive effort also deserves commendation. Green Bay’s early start had more to do with their field position advantage than their execution against the Seahawks defense. The Packers gained just 306 total yards, with Rodgers throwing for 178 on just 19 completions. Running back Eddie Lacy, who had 100 or more yards in 10 consecutive games, gained just 73 on 21 carries.
The Packers return to Green Bay devastated. They were less than five minutes away from reaching their sixth Super Bowl. Losing in Seattle goes down as one of the most excruciating defeats in the franchise’s history, arguably more so than Super Bowl XXXII and the 2007 NFC Championship.
History awaits Seattle two weeks from now. With a victory, they’ll be just the eighth team in the history of the NFL to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and the first to do so since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.
They’ll also have a legitimate claim as the team of the decade.