On the verge of a thrilling upset on the road and a berth in the Super Bowl, the Packers instead were victims of one of the most stunning collapses in NFL playoff history Sunday. They allowed two touchdowns in the final 2:09 of regulation, rallied for a tying field goal in the final seconds, but lost 28-22 in overtime on Russell Wilson’ 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in a fantastic finish to a memorable NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field.
“I never doubted our guys,” said Wilson, who had a miserable 7.0 passer rating (no touchdowns, four interceptions) in the first 56 minutes of the game and a perfect 158.3 rating (6-of-7, 1134 yards, one touchdown) in the final 7:11. “The resilience of our team is unmatchable. The character … the belief of the guys we have, that makes the difference.”
The unbelievable finish catapulted the to Seahawks into the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., where Seattle will try to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the New England Patriots after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
How unbelievable was it?
“It can’t be explained. It’s got to be God,” Seahawks quarterback Byron Maxwell said. “We’ve got one more to go — we’re going to get it.”
“I’m clueless right now,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “It makes you just sit back and like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s bigger than you. It just brought me back to … we really need each other out there.”
The Packers were in shock — left to pick up the pieces after failing to crush the defending champions when they had the chance. The Packers scored six points off five takeaways.
“It hurts. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” guard T.J Lang said. “For 55 minutes we were the better team. Ultimately when you play a team like that you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity and we didn’t do that. They found a way to finish better than we did. This is one that really hurts. It’s sucks.”
“We gave it away,” Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said.
“This was to go to the Super Bowl and to come up short, that’s frustrating as hell,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It’s tough. We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. Offensively we weren’t able to keep the clock moving to get first downs. That stings. They’re a good football team. You can’t do that against good football teams. Especially in this type of situation and atmosphere. You just can’t do that. ”
The Packers led 16-0 in the first half and had a 19-7 lead with possession after Morgan Burnett intercepted Wilson with 5:04 left in regulation. But the Seahawks forced a three-and-out. And Wilson, Marshawn Lynch (25 carries, 157 yards, one touchdown) and Lady Luck did the rest.
Wilson scored on a one-yard run with 2:09 to play. The Seahawks recovered an onside kick when Packers tight end Brandon Bostick mishandled a ball he wasn’t even supposed to be trying to catch. Lynch scored on a 24-yard run with 1:25 to play and Wilson — barely avoiding a sack — made an uncanny cross-field throw to Luke Willson for a two-point conversion to give the Seahawks a 22-19 lead. The Packers rallied to tie on Mason Crosby’s 48-yard field goal with 14 seconds left in regulation.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Bostick said. “I’m supposed to block the second guy. I just reacted. I thought I could make a play on it. Obviously I didn’t. I let my team down. There was a lot riding on this game. If I would have done my job — my assignment was to block and Jordy [Nelson] would have caught the ball and the game would have been over.”
The Seahawks won the overtime coin flip, took the ball and never gave it back. Facing a third-and-seven from his 30 after a sack, Wilson threw a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin to the Packers 35. On the next play he threw a pass down the middle of the field to a streaking Kearse — who got behind Packers cornerback Tramon Williams — at the goal line for a spectacular finish to a phenomenal game.
“A lot of teams would have given up. We kept fighting,” Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “We kept fighting and believing. The motto of our program is finishing, and that’s what we did.”
It was a three-phase collapse for the Packers. The offense lost four yards on three play after Burnett’s interception gave them the ball at their 43 with 5:04 to play in regulation. Dom Capers’ defense, heroic for most of the day, allowed 206 yards on 17 plays on the Seahawks final three scoring drives. Special teams allowed the only Seahawks touchdown until the fateful finish — on a fake field goal, when holder Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard pass to tackle eligible Garry Gilliam that cut the Packers lead to 16-7 in the third quarter.
The botched onside kick by Bostick was critical. But it overshadowed the two-point conversion after Lynch’s touchdown that ultimately made the difference. About to be sacked while he rolled to his right, Wilson desperately turned and threw a pass toward the end zone to the other side of the field. It was anything but a dart, but the Packers reacted poorly and it somehow found its way into Willson’s hands. Without that play, Crosby’s 48-yard field goal would have been a game-winner.
Asked how many times he would connect on that play if he ran it 100 times, Wilson replied, “Never.” And he was probably right. But he got it right the one time he needed it.
“Funny thing was … Luke is the backside protector [on the two-point conversion],” Wilson said. “I was going to tell Luke, ‘Hey, you never know — just be ready.’ But I did’t want him to leave too early, so I didn’t tell him anything in the huddle. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking if there’s nothing to the right, I’m spinning back and I’m finding a way.
“I kind of spun back and went back and just tried to extend the play and just gave those guys a chance and he makes a crazy catch. That’s just knowing the game and trusting the guys that are going to make a play and throwing it up.”