Special Teams Sink Packers

On the fake field goal, Seattle noticed how hard the Packers crash their edge rushers on field goal attempts and wanted to take advantage of the pursuit. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

SEATTLE — The last time Seattle punter Jon Ryan recalled throwing a pass that led to points, he was tossing a 2-point conversion for the University of Regina.

Steven Hauschka couldn't recall attempting an onside kick in his four seasons with Seattle.

And Chris Matthews only spent four weeks on the Seahawks' active roster.

While Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will deservedly get the bulk of the attention for Seattle's fourth-quarter comeback and eventual 28-22 overtime victory over Green Bay in the NFC championship on Sunday, the Seahawks would not have been in position for the comeback if not for special teams.

You can’t let them complete a pass for a touchdown on a fake field goal, you can’t give up an onside kick,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Seattle's win — that clinched a second straight Super Bowl trip — was filled with unlikely characters coming through in key moments.

Tight end Luke Willson wasn't even supposed to be involved in the 2-point conversion he caught to give Seattle a 22-19 lead. DeShawn Shead, with all of 89 defensive snaps in the regular season, was forced into action in the second quarter when All-Pro Earl Thomas left with a shoulder injury.

And Jermaine Kearse capped it all with his 35-yard touchdown catch in overtime.

"It just shows the character throughout, from top to bottom, for the entire team," said backup tackle Garry Gilliam, who caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan — who played his college ball in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan — in the third quarter for Seattle's first points.

"At any given time, anyone can make a play," Gilliam added. "Given the opportunity, you've just got to do it."

Seattle didn't put the fake field goal into its game plan until Thursday. Ryan said anytime he was near head coach Pete Carroll or special teams coach Brian Schneider, he brought up wanting to run the play.

Seattle noticed how hard the Packers crash their edge rushers on field goal attempts and wanted to take advantage of the pursuit. The original design was for Ryan to keep the ball and run, using his athleticism to try and get the corner.

But when A.J. Hawk came up toward Ryan, he threw to the wide-open Gilliam.

"It was brought from the sideline and as long as we had the look on the field that we want to go with we would stick with it," Ryan said.

Packers safety Sean Richardson said the team wasn't expecting a fake so was caught off-guard. In anticipation of a fake, the Packers can call an “alert” and play a straight-up defense rather than rush. No “alert” was called.

“It didn’t enter my mind,” Richardson said. “I was pretty sure they were going to kick it. Great call. Great play by them.”

While Ryan said the play happened quickly, Gilliam felt it took forever for the ball to find his hands. Gilliam was a tight end at Penn State before making the switch to tackle his senior season, believing that was the best chance at having a professional career.

"I saw the guy that would have been covering me shoot down, so I was like, 'Well the ball has to come to me at that point,'" Gilliam said. "So at the point, just catch it and score."

The fake field goal was the jump start Seattle needed. They were trailing 16-0, had just 120 yards of total offense and had committed four of their five turnovers.

"That's what we needed. We needed seven points," Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell said. "We started little by little. That was the key, that got things rolling. The game shifted back our way."

While the fake field goal was the start, the onside kick was the difference. Wilson had just scored with 2:09 left to pull within 19-14. Hauschka said very little is done in practice with onside attempts. The hope is to get the ball in the air and hope for a fortunate bounce.

"I thought he was going to catch it," Hauschka said of seeing Brandon Bostick initially get his hands on the ball. "And then, it's got a lot of spin on it. I guess you're lucky. It's a 50/50 ball after that."

Bostick is supposed to block on the play, which would allow receiver Jordy Nelson to field the ball.

It was Seattle's first successful onside kick since Oct. 4, 2009, at Indianapolis.

Matthews was the recipient of being in the right spot. Matthews was in camp with Seattle, released at the end of August and then on and off the practice squad at various times of the season. He was signed to the active roster in early December, appearing in three games without catching a pass.

But after recovering the onside kick and enjoying the on-field celebration, Matthews was overcome being part of what transpired.

"They set me up in the best position to succeed and I wanted to take full advantage of it," Matthews said. "Hopefully I did what I had to do."


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