Seattle Seahawks come from behind to reach Superbowl
Champions will defend their title after recovering from 19-7 down in the fourth quarter
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (L) celebrates as confetti falls after the Seahawks defeated the Packers to win the NFC Championship Playoffs game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Photograph: EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO)
Seattle looked nothing like the No 1 seed in a dismal first-half display, but down 19-7 deep in the fourth quarter they scored 15 points in 44 seconds with quarterback Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch running in touchdowns — the latter after a successful onside kick.
Then in overtime Wilson, who had thrown four interceptions, found receiver Jermaine Kearse with a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass, Kearse collecting despite the close attention of Tramon Williams, to win the game.
An emotional Wilson looked utterly drained at the end.
“I have been in a lot of games, seen a lot of games in a lot of sports but I think the resilience that this team has unmatchable,” he said.
“To be where we are takes a lot of great plays, ups and downs, a lot of belief and a lot of grit,” he added.
For a Green Bay team that had led 16-0 at halftime it was a cruel defeat that will surely remain with them and they will rue their failure to take full advantage of Seattle’s unusually sloppy first-quarter display.
“It is a hard one to swallow,” said head coach Mike McCarthy.
But the victory highlighted once again the outstanding spirit that Pete Carroll has instilled in the Seahawks as well as the brave and bold decision-making of the coach.
Nothing had been working for the Seahawks offense but, in the third quarter, a fake field goal was brilliantly executed with holder Jon Ryan finding an open Garry Gilliam with a 19-yard touchdown pass that put Seattle on the scoreboard.
That shifted the momentum and the Seahawks rediscovered their rhythm on offense and their intensity on defense as they launched a fourth-quarter assault that the Packers were unable to restrain.
After Wilson burst into the end zone from a yard, Carroll made another calculated gamble, opting for an onside kick — again it came off with the Seahawks successfully recovering. Receiver Chris Matthews recovered the ball after Brandon Bostick failed to collect a bouncing kick from Steven Hauschka.
The Seattle fans sensed blood and with Green Bay’s defense crumbling Lynch, combining his power and speed to perfect effect, charged into the end zone from 24 yards to put the Seahawks in the lead with 1:25 left on the clock.
A successful two-point conversion made that lead a three-point one — and in keeping with the game it was an unusual play. Wilson was forced deep and threw optimistically into the corner where tight-end Luke Willson grasped the ball at the second attempt, staggering into the endzone with little attention from the Green Bay defence.
The Packers found the strength to force the game into overtime though, quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading them down the field on a seven-play, 48-yard drive which ended with a 48-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.
But Seattle got the ball first in overtime and Wilson, now looking confident and energised, found Doug Baldwin with a 35-yard pass and then followed that with the dramatic game winner to Kearse.
But what a hole they had to dig themselves out of.
The mood of a loud and raucous Seattle crowd quickly changed when Wilson was intercepted by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, although Green Bay were disappointed with having to settle for a field goal after failing to convert on third and one.
Seattle then presented their visitors with another generous gift as Baldwin fumbled the kickoff, allowing another turnover.
Once again though, Green Bay visited the red zone but left only with three points — receiver Jordy Nelson failing to collect a slightly overthrown pass from Rodgers in the end zone and it was left to Crosby to convert from 18 yards.
With hindsight Green Bay may regret not taking a chance on fourth and short opportunities and settling for the field goals but McCarthy stood by his calls.
“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. I didn’t think a lot of points would win this game,” he said.
The Packers found their offensive rhythm at the end of the first when Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb with a 13-yard touchdown pass at the end of a seven-play drive.
Another Crosby field goal, this time from 40 yards, extended Green Bay’s lead to 16-0 and with the pressure on to get points on the board before halftime, the Seahawks went into meltdown.
Earl Thomas, linchpin of the Seattle defense, had to leave the field with injury but worse still Wilson was struggling even to complete a pass.
A pass down the middle intended for Kearse was gobbled up by the impressive Clinton-Dix although the Packers again failed to capitalize with Rodgers himself being intercepted on the resulting drive.
Inside the two-minute warning, with the Seahawks desperately trying to reduce the deficit Wilson again tried to connect with Kearse but Packers cornerback Sam Shields read it superbly and inflicted a third interception on the Seattle quarterback.
At halftime Wilson’s statistics made shocking reading — he had completed just two passes to his own teammates for a total of 12 yards.
In the end though, those numbers counted for nothing as the Seahawks found a way to turn the game around and it was hard to argue with an angry Baldwin who berated the media outside the locker room.
“You don’t win games in the first half, you win games in the second half, what did we do? We came out and did what we do. We will see you all at the Super Bowl.”