Russell Wilson will receive credit for his redemptive comeback, leading three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and overtime after throwing four interceptions — and deservedly so. Nevertheless, he was afforded that opportunity by a defense which continually held Green Bay to three points on a short field, some good fortune, and the Packers, who lacked the requisite aggression and execution to land a knockout blow.
And as far as the Packers’ blame game goes, the focus will be on Mike McCarthy’s conservatism, Brandon Bostick’s ill-advised header, and Haha Clinton-Dix for blowing coverage on a two-point conversion, but there were upwards of a dozen plays along the journey to a game that will live in infamy in Green Bay. Here are six of the biggest factors that ultimately resulted in Seattle walking off the field victorious in overtime, in chronological order.
Taking the points
Three times — and twice from the goal line — Mike McCarthy opted to kick on 4th-and-1. When a team goes for it on fourth down and gets stopped, there’s a chorus of announcers, led most prominently by Phil Simms, that will later bring up what might’ve been if only the team had those three points. As Bill Barnwell has pointed out on many occasions, you never hear commentators lament that a team could perhaps have four more points had they gotten a touchdown. (You sure do read about that on Twitter, though.)
On one hand, it’s hard to get on McCarthy for these decisions because his overall gameplan had the team with a 96% win probability with five minutes remaining. The Packers went 2-for-5 on 4th-and-1 conversions in the regular season. However, if you combine those numbers with what they did on 3rd-and-1, the Packers were 19 of 31. Getting the touchdown on one of two goal line attempts would give the team an extra point over two field goals, and pin the Seahawks back deep in their own territory on the other. When you’re a 7.5-point underdog on the road against a better team, isn’t it better to go down swinging the sword? To be continued …
Aaron Rodgers has had better days.
Amidst all the other mystifying things that happened yesterday, Rodgers’ struggles have flown under the radar. We’re all aware that one of his legs hasn’t been working, and this is not to imply that it was anything like when Geno Smith or even Jay Cutler has an atrocious game, but the presumptive MVP had a performance that was several rungs below the goddamn assassin who closed out Dallas. Rodgers threw two interceptions in the first half. The first, challenging Richard Sherman on an endzone target to Davante Adams, happened on the edge of field goal range. The other came on an apparent miscommunication with Randall Cobb.
Other missed passes were less obvious. Rodgers twisted his ankle and failed to connect on a screen to Eddie Lacy that appeared to be well set up. This third quarter completion to Cobb could’ve gone for a huge gain — or, at the very least, a first down rather than a subsequent punt — had it been delivered in stride:
The failings of the offense to get more than one touchdown were not all on Rodgers, who did play a better overall game than Russell Wilson. Again, the Seahawks defense is phenomenal. Beyond that, a Mike Daniels taunting penalty (which didn’t seem any more egregious than what Richard Sherman had done to Davante Adams on the prior possession, but oh well) turned 1st-and-goal from the four to 1st-and-10 from the 19 (and goal to go from the seven). In the fourth quarter, James Starks dropped a maybe-touchdown that would’ve been a solid grab, but, the drive ended in yet another field goal …
Doug Baldwin got wide open on 3rd-and-19
Rewinding a little bit: Before a brilliant and ballsy fake field goal capped a touchdown drive in the third quarter, Seattle faced 2nd-and-30 after Clay Matthews sacked Russell Wilson for a 15-yard loss (as an aside, JR Sweezy got flagged for unnecessary roughness on that play, but it got declined, and I can’t figure out why that wasn’t a dead ball foul compounded on the loss of down like TJ Lang’s was last week?. Citing a league source, PFT says it’s a judgment call, but my question is if the hit happened before the whistle, what was unnecessary about it?). Marshawn Lynch busted an 11-yard gain to make it 3rd-and-19, and then, after playing aggressive defense all game, a meek three-man rush gave Wilson enough time to film a new commercial before Doug Baldwin found a gap and picked up 29 yards.
If you’re looking for a tidy turning point in the game, this was it. Before this pass, Wilson had four completions, 28 yards passing, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Afterwards, Seattle had new life.
Later, Haha Clinton-Dix dropped a potential pick-six.
Though this play did not cause any direct damage as the Seahawks’ mid-fourth quarter drive ended in a punt, Wilson’s pass went straight through the safety’s hands. The probable scenario here is at least an extra 40-50 yards of field position.
Not throwing at injured Sherman
We’re reaching the late point in the game where the scapegoats are obvious. The Packers had the whole fourth quarter to attack Sherman, who was playing with one arm after taking friendly fire from Kam Chancellor (below), and didn’t go after him until a six yard completion to Jordy Nelson on 3rd-and-10 with 26 seconds remaining. Why not line Jordy up against him, run quick routes, and force Sherman to make tackles?
After the game, Aaron Rodgers spoke about the Packers’ “not playing as aggressive as we usually are.” You can bet he especially meant the team’s two three-and-out drives that began with 6:53 and 5:04 remaining in the fourth quarter (the latter of which began on an interception-and-slide by Morgan Burnett, another play that looms large in retrospect for costing potential big field position). Contrast these drives with last week against Dallas, whose coffin was nailed on a 3rd-and-11 completion to Randall Cobb.
Given that the Packers had allowed just seven points before this, you can understand why Mike McCarthy trusted his defense. But when you look at the two teams left standing, you see perhaps the two most aggressive coaches in the league in Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. When people look back on this game, they’re going to remember McCarthy kicking field goals on 4th-and-short and clenching up with the game in crunch time while Carroll risked three points with that fake field goal, not the brilliant game plan that had the Packers five minutes from proving a vast majority of pundits wrong.
And then this happened.
If there’s one moment that defines the Packers’ collapse, it’s Brandon Bostick breaking rank and jumping in front of the sure-handed Jordy Nelson to knock the ball directly into the waiting arms of Chris Matthews. Nevermind that everything we just talked about (as well as a clutch touchdown drive by the Seahawks, which led to this) happened before it, this play will obscure everything else like 4th-and-26 has eclipsed the memory of one of Brett Favre’s worst interceptions ever (which actually came later in the game), and Terrell Owens’ catch stands out above an uncalled Jerry Rice fumble earlier that drive.
Bostick, who owned his mistake, deserves a lot of credit for how he handled the aftermath:
Everything after the onside kick recovery — a long Marshawn Lynch touchdown followed by a two-point conversion that hung up in the air forever, settling for a field goal to force overtime, losing the coin toss, and a third straight inexorable Seahawks march for the win — just felt inevitable. With all that had happened before it, did anyone on Earth think the Packers were gonna come away with the game at that point? That play was like when someone spoils a television show you’re watching on DVR. Once you know the ending, how important is the rest of the script?
[Photos via Getty and USA Today; GIFs by Michael Shamburger]