Rodgers battles pain and Green Bay falls in NFC title game

SEATTLE (AP) Aaron Rodgers was sore the whole game, even if he didn’t always show it.

Battling his left calf sprain, Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers built a 19-7 lead in the NFC championship game before stumbling in the fourth quarter for a 28-22 overtime loss to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The Seahawks return to the Super Bowl. The Packers go home.

”We had some chances early, we had some chances late to do some things, and didn’t do it,” Rodgers said. ”When I go back and think about it, I think at times we just weren’t playing as aggressive as we usually are.”

Russell Wilson’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in 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 failed to corral an onside kick as Seattle seized the momentum. Afterward, Rodgers admitted the calf bothered him the whole game.

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

Rodgers’ sore calf was a 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 in the regular season in 2010 before beating Philadelphia in a wild-card game, top-seeded Atlanta in divisional playoff game and then Chicago 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.

With his calf clearly taped underneath his sock on Sunday, Rodgers finished with 178 yards passing with a touchdown and was intercepted twice.

Rodgers looked to be handling the pain well at the start. Although he 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 and touchdown pass by holder Jon Ryan 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. The Packers 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.

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.

”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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