Packers ‘gave it away,’ fail to close out Seahawks and advance to Super Bowl

The Green Bay Packers were less than four minutes away from advancing to their sixth Super Bowl in franchise history. With a 19-7 lead and the Seahawks taking possession at their own 31-yard line with just one timeout left, the Packers were seemingly in complete control. Mathematics sure liked their odds, as a win probability calculator had Green Bay’s chances of closing out the victory at 99 percent.

Then it all fell apart. Or, in Aaron Rodgers’ own post-game words, the Packers "gave it away."

There was Green Bay’s decision to rush three on third-and-19 midway through the third quarter, which resulted in a 29-yard completion from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin. There was the Packers being fooled by the fake field-goal play, as punter Jon Ryan connected with undrafted rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam to give Seattle its first points of the game. There was the dropped third-down pass by Andrew Quarless with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. There was Morgan Burnett opting to slide after his interception rather than trying to advance the ball farther down the field. There was the conservative offensive play-calling in the ensuing drive to give the ball to Eddie Lacy three times in a row for a total of minus-4 yards. There was Green Bay’s defense, playing so well for the first 56 minutes, giving up 69 yards in seven plays in the span of 1:43. There was Brandon Bostick botching the onside kick recovery. And finally (at least in regulation), there was the Packers’ defense, suddenly reeling, allowing the Seahawks to score a go-ahead touchdown by taking the ball 50 yards in 44 seconds.

While Mason Crosby pulled the temporary hero card to get the game into overtime, Green Bay’s defense had lost every bit of its momentum by that point. That was clearly evident when Wilson marched Seattle down the field 87 yards in six plays, capping it off with a conference-winning 35-yard touchdown strike to Jermaine Kearse.

And like that, the Packers went from their 99-percent chance of representing the NFC in Super Bowl 49 to having one of the biggest postseason letdowns in team history.

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

For 56 minutes, it was some of the best football that Green Bay could have possibly played. In that environment. Against that defense. In that pressure-packed situation.

Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

Sure, Rodgers was uncharacteristically intercepted twice and didn’t have one of his better games. But playing through his left calf injury continued to provide an emotional spark for Green Bay, just like it had in the recent wins over Dallas and Detroit.

Yes, the Packers were twice shut down at the goal line in the first quarter, forcing Mike McCarthy to make difficult decisions on fourth down at the 1-yard line. Rather than a possible 14-0 lead, Green Bay settled for two 19-yard field-goal makes and carried a 6-0 early advantage.

But this was a Seattle team that had been dominant the past two months. It’s a defense that had given up an average of eight points in the past seven games. In some ways, just getting any first-quarter points at all was a big deal for the Packers.

It’s certainly not a fluke when a team has a 25-2 record at home in the past three years. That’s how tough it’s been for any opponent to go into CenturyLink Field and win. Yet, Green Bay was in prime position to put a halt to all the praise for the "12th man" and the "Legion of Boom."

Wilson was barely looking like a competent quarterback. If Wilson was a completely unknown quarterback who was getting his first NFL action, his performance through 56 minutes was the type that gets players out of the league in a hurry. He had a 0.0 passer rating at several different stages of the game. In case the numbers don’t make it obvious, a quarterback literally can’t do worse than a 0.0 rating. Before Seattle’s final comeback push, Wilson was 8-for-22 passing for 75 yards with four interceptions. Those statistics had bumped his passer rating all the way up to 7.0. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked Wilson off twice, while Sam Shields and Burnett each got him once. Wilson had also been sacked four times before overtime.

Entering the game as 7.5-point underdogs, the Packers simply looked like the better team. The much better team. Now, they fly back to Green Bay with a promising season in the books.

Two days before this game, Rodgers reflected about the opportunity for him to win a second Super Bowl. He knew that winning a couple more would go a long way to "really kind of cement your legacy." Many times throughout the season he talked about being halfway through his career. "Nine in, nine to go," Rodgers would say. It sure looked like Rodgers would, in the worst-case scenario, get a second trip to the Super Bowl to begin the second half of his career. Now, he has to wait until his 11th NFL season to get a shot at a second Super Bowl appearance.

Everything about the 2014 Packers seemed special to Rodgers and McCarthy. It had the look and feel of a championship team.

That remained true until the fourth-quarter clock had 232 seconds left to expire. That was when the Packers gave it away.

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