Packers report card: A good 56 minutes, completely unraveled
Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers’ 28-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game:
From a passer rating perspective, it was the second-worst game of Aaron Rodgers’ season. Only in the Week 15 game at Buffalo did Rodgers have a worse passer rating (34.3) than he did Sunday in Seattle (55.8).
Rodgers was battling through his left calf injury and was once again limited in his mobility. The way he hopped out of bounds on just his right leg late in the fourth quarter was one of several examples that showed a quarterback fighting through obvious pain and limitations.
With that injury and against the NFL’s top defense, Rodgers still helped get the Packers in perfect position to win. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 178 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He challenged Richard Sherman in the end zone early on a pass to Davante Adams and got picked off. Rodgers later had a miscommunication with Randall Cobb and was intercepted by Byron Maxwell.
Green Bay certainly wasn’t avoiding Sherman this time around. Jordy Nelson lined up on the right side frequently, but only one of his five catches was with Sherman in coverage. When Sherman seemed to be playing with one arm late in the game following an injury, for some reason he wasn’t targeted again.
Cobb led the team in targets (10) and receptions (7). The night before the game, Cobb spent three hours in a Seattle hospital fearing that he had appendicitis, according to a report from FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer.
Richard Rodgers had a nice game as a receiver with four catches for 35 yards. Adams continued to be hit or miss on game day, and this game fell to the latter as he had one reception for seven yards.
The offensive line mostly protected Rodgers well, especially considering his lack of scramble ability, giving up one sack. The Seahawks did officially register six quarterback hits, though.
The biggest negative in the Packers’ running game came on their second drive. With the ball at the 1-yard line on second down, Green Bay couldn’t punch it in with either John Kuhn or Eddie Lacy. With a touchdown there rather than a field goal, it could have made a significant difference in early momentum.
Late in the fourth quarter, Lacy lost four yards on a series of three consecutive running plays, but Seattle was completely lined up to stop the run in that situation.
Facing a great run defense, the Packers did achieve gains on the ground at different points. Lacy had a steady diet of consistent gains, finishing with 73 yards on 21 carries (3.5 average). Excluding the four running plays already mentioned (goal line, plus the late fourth quarter obvious run situations), Lacy’s 17 rushing attempts produced 77 yards, which is a much better 4.5 average.
James Starks got his first carry of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. With Lacy resting, Starks gave the Packers a huge boost with a 32-yard gain. Starks finished with 44 yards on five rushing attempts in the game.
Overall, putting up 135 rushing yards and a 4.5 average is statistically a good day, especially against a great defense. But it’s those two early goal-line failed runs that loom large in the loss.
If this was divided by half, Green Bay would get an "A" or "A-minus" for the first two quarters. At halftime, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson had a combined 10 rushes for 39 yards.
In the final two quarters and overtime, the Packers put together a very "D-minus" type of performance. It was in the final 33-plus minutes of the game that the duo of Lynch and Wilson had 22 carries for 143 yards (6.5 average).
Lynch walked in to the end zone at the conclusion of his 24-yard go-ahead touchdown run in the fourth quarter. By that point, Green Bay’s defense appeared emotionally and physically spent.
The Packers did a very nice job against Wilson the running back, who had seven carries for 25 yards. They did a similarly impressive job on Wilson as a runner in Week 1, holding him to 29 yards. This was a player who had 849 rushing yards in the regular season and finished 16th in the league in rushing yards, better than half of the league’s starting running backs.
But with 195 total rushing yards on 35 carries (5.5 average), the end result was Seattle demonstrating just how good of a running team it is, and Green Bay showing that it still had holes that could be exposed.
Again, if separating by first half and second half, the Packers would have earned themselves every bit of an "A-plus" by halftime. If there was a grade better than that, Green Bay deserved it. Wilson had a 0.0 passer rating after two quarters. A quarterback cannot ever possibly be worse than a 0.0. Wilson had thrown more "completions" to Packers defensive players (3) than he had to his own teammates (2) at that point.
However, Wilson had a significant second-half turnaround, and Green Bay’s defense really fell apart late in the game trying to stop him. In the third and fourth quarters, plus overtime, Wilson completed 12 of 20 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown and one interception (88.9 passer rating). It was the one touchdown pass, of course, that ended the game. He also completed a high, cross-field pass for a two-point conversion.
On the final two plays of the game, Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams were beat by Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, respectively. Those two plays totaled 70 yards and undid so much good work that the Packers’ passing defense had put together before that.
But while Green Bay’s passing defense couldn’t finish the job, look at the entire body of work for the game. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had two perfectly played interceptions (and dropped what would’ve been a third), Sam Shields won a jump ball in the end zone against Kearse before halftime to keep the Seahawks off the board and Morgan Burnett had what should have been a game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter.
The pass rush was all over Wilson, too, sacking him five times. Burnett had two sacks, Peppers had 1.5 (one shared with Letroy Guion) and Clay Matthews got to Wilson once. The Packers had a total of nine QB hits on Wilson, as well.
Wilson’s end-of-game passer rating was 44.3. A winning quarterback almost always needs to have a better passer rating than that. Wilson’s performance in overtime was tremendous, and Green Bay couldn’t finish what it started, but with four interceptions and five sacks, it was still a good performance overall in this particular area from the Packers.
If readers are wondering why this grade isn’t worse, don’t forget that Brad Jones forced a fumble on a kickoff return in the first quarter that was recovered by Burnett. That gave Green Bay the ball at the 23-yard line and a great chance to further its lead.
Also on the positive side, Mason Crosby was incredible. Crosby made all five of his field-goal attempts, including a 48-yarder to send the game into overtime. It was his second 48-yard make of the game, in addition to booming one from 40 yards.
Now come the negatives, and were they ever some big negatives.
First was the fake field-goal play. With Seattle still not on the board 40 minutes into the game, Jon Ryan rolled out to the left after catching the snap and found undrafted rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam for a touchdown. The Seahawks deserve credit for perfectly executing it in every possible way, but it was just another blunder for a Packers special teams group that was rocky all season.
Then, who will ever forget the onside kick. Brandon Bostick surely won’t. Bostick, whose job was to block and allow Nelson to field the ball, instead opted to jump up for it. The ball bounced in and out of Bostick’s hands and was recovered by Seattle. The reaction from special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum on the sideline towards Bostick said it all. Four plays later, the Seahawks took the lead.
It was certainly not a boring day on special teams.
For 56 minutes of this game, Green Bay was in control. Playing in the most difficult venue in the NFL, against the league’s best defense and best offensive rushing attack, the Packers did almost everything necessary to win and advance to the Super Bowl.
It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as "Fourth-and-26," but "3:52" should be what is remembered in this game. That was the time remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter when Green Bay had a 99 percent probability of winning.
The Packers did many things well in this game. A 16-0 halftime lead is a good bookmark to go back to in showing just how in control Green Bay was. Intercepting a quarterback four times and sacking him five times is a recipe for victory.
But for the 56:08 it took the Packers to build a comfortable lead, it took 3:52 (plus 3:09 in overtime) for it all to be erased and for Green Bay’s season to end in dramatic fashion.
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