Fourth-quarter meltdown dooms Packers in NFC title game

SEATTLE (AP) For the first three quarters, the Packers took advantage of Seattle’s mistakes before crumbling after several missed opportunities in the fourth.

Green Bay built a 19-7 lead early in the fourth against the defending champion Seahawks in Sunday’s NFC championship game before letting it slip away in a 28-22 loss in overtime.

Russell Wilson’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse 3:19 into the extra period won it.

The Packers’ defense intercepted the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson four times and forced five Seattle turnovers. Wilson was sacked five times.

But it all fell apart for Green Bay at the end. The Packers couldn’t muster a fourth-quarter first down and a dropped onside kick as Seattle seized the momentum.

”Losses are bad either way,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. ”But the way we lost, up two scores, late in the game, with the ball, you expect to put that game away.”

Packers linebacker Sam Barrington was stunned.

”We were so close and we let it go,” he said. ”Let it be understood that team is not better than we are, we gave them what they are out there celebrating right now. That’s what hurt the most.”

Rodgers and his sore left calf were the focus going into the game.

Injured against Tampa Bay in Week 16, Rodgers was limited in practice before Green Bay’s 26-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. Throwing mostly out of shotgun formation, he finished with 313 yards passing and three touchdowns.

He was limited in practice again this week as the team prepared for the Seahawks.

But he had a track record of overcoming obstacles in the playoffs. The Packers were 10-6 following the regular season in 2010. They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in a wild-card game, then downed the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons before beating the Chicago Bears for the NFC championship.

Rodgers was the MVP after leading Green Bay to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.

”We had some chances early, we had some chances late to do some things, and didn’t do it,” Rodgers said after Green Bay squandered an opportunity to return to the Super Bowl. ”When I go back and think about it, I think at times we just weren’t playing as aggressive as we usually are.

Rodgers finished with 178 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions against the Seahawks.

Even though Rodgers was intercepted on Green Bay’s first drive, the Packers returned the favor on Seattle’s subsequent drive, when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepted Wilson.

The Seahawks’ defense held Green Bay out of the end zone, and Mason Crosby capped the drive with an 18-yard field goal.

Seattle’s next drive ended when receiver Doug Baldwin fumbled and Packers safety Morgan Burnett recovered at the Seahawks 23. But the Packers settled again for a 19-yard field goal from Crosby.

Rodgers hit Randall Cobb with a 13-yard scoring pass, his lone TD pass of the game. Crosby’s 40-yard field goal made it 16-0 and Sam Shields intercepted Wilson’s attempt to Kearse in the end zone with 1:55 to go in the half.

The Seahawks narrowed it to 16-7 on a fake field goal with 4:44 left in the third quarter. But Green Bay added Crosby’s 48-yard field goal with 10:53 left in the game to extend the lead to 19-7.

That’s when it all fell apart for the Packers.

Andrew Quarless missed a third-and-4 pass from Rodgers at the Green Bay 19. Green Bay intercepted Wilson on his first throw from scrimmage, but Green Bay again went three and out.

Wilson scored on a 1-yard keeper with 2:09 left, and then the Seahawks recovered the onside kick when the ball landed in Chris Matthews’ hands after it was bobbled by Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick.

”I just reacted and tried to make a play on it,” Bostick said. ”Obviously, I didn’t.”

That led to Marshawn Lynch’s 24-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion put Seattle in front 22-19.

Rodgers was steady, leading a drive to the Seattle 36, but his third-down pass to Jordy Nelson fell short and Green Bay settled for Crosby’s 48-yard field goal to tie it and send the game to overtime.

Seattle won the toss, and the crowd at CenturyLink Field roared.

”It’s tough,” Rodgers said. ”We had a good drive there, Mason made a great kick to put us into overtime. You lose the toss and next thing you know we’re out of it.”

But he admitted the Packers were already reeling before that.

”You can’t let them complete a pass for a touchdown on a fake field goal, you can’t give up an onside kick, and you can’t not get any first downs in the fourth quarter and expect to win,” Rodgers said.

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