Packers Let Championship Slip Away

Aaron Rodgers said the Packers were the better team, so how did they lose Sunday's NFC Championship Game to Seattle? We count the numerous blown opportunities that would have made the difference. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY)

It’s going to be the longest of offseasons for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers missed enough opportunities to fill a tractor-trailer heading to Arizona. From botched red-zone possessions to game-turning gaffes on special teams, the Packers blew the most golden of opportunities to get to the Super Bowl.

Instead, with a furious comeback, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC Championship 28-22 and will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Glendale, Ariz.

“It’s going to be a missed opportunity that we’ll probably think about for the rest of my career,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We were the better team today and we played well enough to win and we can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”

For the Packers, the list of self-inflicted wounds ran long.

— On the opening drive, with the Packers in field-goal range on third-and-10 from the Seattle 29, Rodgers was intercepted by Richard Sherman in the end zone. After the game, Rodgers said he thought he had drawn Michael Bennett offsides. Upon review, it was close.

— On Seattle’s opening drive, cornerback Tramon Williams broke up a pass, which was caught by safety HaHa Clinton-Dix and returned to the Seattle 4. Instead of first-and-goal, however, defensive tackle Mike Daniels was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That moved the ball back to the 19. Green Bay got to the threshold of the end zone, anyway, but John Kuhn was stopped on second-and-goal and Eddie Lacy was stopped on third-and-goal. Coach Mike McCarthy called for the field-goal unit, with Mason Crosby’s 18-yarder giving the Packers a 3-0 lead.

“Frankly, I would have liked to have gone for it there on fourth down but, based on what we saw on second and third down, I just felt that you had to take points,” McCarthy said. “I didn't think it would take a lot of points to win this game, was my thinking coming in. I felt great about our defense all week, just the way they've been building here in the last eight, nine weeks. So, that's why we had to take the field goals.”

— Field goals, plural. On the ensuing kickoff, Brad Jones forced returner Jonathan Baldwin to fumble, which Morgan Burnett recovered at the Seattle 23. On second-and-goal from the 6, Rodgers led Jordy Nelson too far on what should have been a touchdown. On third-and-goal, Rodgers fired a quick pass to receiver Randall Cobb. Had Davante Adams blocked safety Earl Thomas, Cobb would have been one-on-one with Richard Sherman. Instead, Adams missed the block and Thomas dropped Cobb at the 1. In came Crosby for a 19-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead.

— With the Packers leading 13-0 early in the second quarter, Micah Hyde returned a punt 29 yards to the Seattle 33. On third-and-13, Rodgers fired a bullet to Cobb on a crossing route, which might have put the ball inside the Seattle 10. Instead, he dropped it. A defensive penalty gave the Packers a first down, anyway, at Seattle’s 31. Three consecutive runs led to Crosby’s 40-yard field goal to make it 16-0.

— On the first play after the kickoff, Wilson was intercepted by Clinton-Dix, who returned it 27 yards to the Seattle 41. An illegal block by linebacker Clay Matthews, however, moved the ball back 15 yards. Moments later, Rodgers was intercepted when he and Cobb weren’t on the same page.

— Midway through the third quarter, a blown coverage allowed the Seahawks to convert on third-and-19 with a 29-yard completion to Baldwin. The defense stiffened but, on fourth-and-10, Seattle ran a fake field goal that caught the Packers napping. Punter Jon Ryan flipped a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie tackle Garry Gilliam, who was well behind the defense.

“It was a well-orchestrated play. It was well-executed,” McCarthy said. “They were having trouble, obviously, generating point production so the awareness there and the execution by them, that was obviously a big play. The big plays on special teams definitely were a factor.”

Big “plays” against the special teams. There’s that plural again.

— With Green Bay leading 19-7, Rodgers and the offense took possession with 6:53 remaining. After two runs for 6 yards, tight end Andrew Quarless couldn’t catch a pass against quick-closing linebacker K.J. Wright. The possession took 1:40 off the clock.

— The Packers punted but the Packers got the ball right back when Wilson’s pass deflected off of Kearse and into the hands of safety Morgan Burnett. Burnett, strangely, slid to the turf almost immediately rather than trying to make a dash to the end zone. Either way, three running plays lost 4 yards and the Packers punted again, with Seattle calling two timeouts and the Packers using 1:12.

“Not very good,” Rodgers said, pausing for a full 6 seconds. “When you do that, that’s how you lose games.”

Added Cobb, “Obviously, when you’re up like that and you get the ball back, you want to put your foot on the gas and end the game. We had multiple opportunities and we didn’t cash in on them.”

— Seattle pulled within 19-14 with 2:09 remaining. Then disaster struck on the onside kick. Tight end Brandon Bostick, who’s supposed to block so Jordy Nelson can field the ball, went for the recovery. The ball bounced off his facemask and was recovered by receiver Chris Matthews. Seattle turned that into Lynch’s 24-yard touchdown and a 20-19 lead.

“In critical spots in the game, it’s important for everyone to do their job,” McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case on that play. That’s the result of it.”

— Who knows what happens if the Packers successfully defend the two-point conversion. Sam Barrington and Julius Peppers provided an excellent pass rush, which forced Wilson back and to his right. With Barrington closing in, Wilson heaved the ball across the field to Luke Willson, who somehow made an easy catch despite Clinton-Dix being in excellent position. That made it 22-19.

— In overtime, the Packers had the Seahawks in a third-and-7. Baldwin, however, easily beat Casey Hayward for a gain of 35. On the next play, Wilson hit Kearse for 35 and the winning touchdown.

Said Williams, who was victimized on the winning score: “We squandered away every opportunity for us to put that game away and really there's no excuse for that.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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