Marshawn Lynch got into the middle of a stunned Seahawks locker room and gave an impassioned speech to the team he returned to when it needed him most.
“It was intimate,” Russell Wilson said.
Jadeveon Clowney collapsed to his knees on famed Lambeau Field when it ended. He was spent. He was pained. And he was crushed.
K.J. Wright sat with his head down, silently, for many minutes. Tre Flowers stared ahead across the quiet room still in full uniform while everyone else had removed theirs.
Wilson? The Seahawks’ franchise quarterback and cornerstone smiled.
“Five minutes left, we get the ball back? I thought the game was going to be over,” he said. “Thought we were going to win it. I think everybody in the stadium, everybody watching, felt that, too.”
Wilson had the ball, and the season, in his hands.
Then Malik Turner had the ball, and the season, in his hands, too.
But Turner dropped it.
The Seahawks got smacked around by Green Bay in the first half of this NFC divisional-playoff game Sunday night at Lambeau Field, falling behind by 18 points. Then Wilson and the Seahawks rallied. Yet again, in this season of slow starts and flourishing finishes.
Lynch scored two touchdown on short runs, his third and fourth in three games of his Seahawks return. The defense suddenly started stopping Aaron Rodgers. The Seahawks trailed 28-23 and Wilson had the ball with 5 minutes left. Lambeau was full of nervous noise.
“That’s the good thing about us: It’s never over,” Wilson said. “That’s what we bring to the table.”
Turner then dropped a pass that would have put Seattle into Packers territory on the Seahawks’ final possession. Wilson took a third-down sack. Coach Pete Carroll decided fourth and 11 on his side of the field was too long to go for it and punted. The defense could not stop Rodgers on two third and longs.
And the Seahawks’ rally fell short in an excruciating, 28-23 loss to the Packers that ended another season on the road in the division round.
“We are still terribly disappointed,” Carroll said.
“Because we should still be playing.”
Wilson and Rodgers met at midfield amid a mosh pit of cameras. They hugged.
Rodgers was heading with his Packers (14-3) to San Francisco for next Sunday’s NFC championship game.
The Seahawks (12-6) were heading home with a road loss in the second round of the postseason for the fourth time in four tries.
“There’s no question...We had it going. It was GOING,” Carroll said. “I think everybody in that stadium could tell, and they could feel it. ...It was happening. You could feel it.
“It was electrifying.”
The Seahawks’ jolted offense did awaken, but only after it was too late:
Seattle gained 135 yards and scored just three points in the first half. The Seahawks trailed 21-3.
In their first two days of the second half: 153 yards, 14 points. And their totals for the final two quarters: 240 yards, 20 points.
Wilson (21 for 31 passing for 277 yards and a touchdown) took over the Seahawks’ game offensively in third quarter running for 13 yards, then 22 yards on third down, then 7 yards on third and 1 to the Packers 9-yard line. On the next play, Wilson ran again, to the right, then when Tyler Lockett’s defender fell down in the end zone flipped the ball to the Seahawks’ wide receiver for a touchdown.
That’s how Seattle pulled to within 28-17 entering the fourth quarter.
The defense needed to do its part.
Bradley McDougald did. Again. The strong safety made a huge hit to force a third and long.
McDougald had a big third-down stop with an open-field tackle to keep the Seahawks from getting completely annihilated in the first half. He’s done that for three years in Seattle’s secondary, make clutch, sure tackles short of lines to gain.
Then All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner read Rodgers’ short pass quickly and almost intercepted for what would have been a walk-in touchdown. He knocked it down instead to force a Packers punt.
“He threw it too far outside,” Wagner said.
“I was SO close.”
Story of this game.
Story of the Seahawks’ season. They became the first team to win 10 games by one score in a season since the 1978 Houston Oilers. Then they won their playoff opener in Philadelphia—by one score.
The Packers had third and 9 at the Seattle 4 with 6 minutes left in a 28-23 game. Shaquem Griffin, playing a specialized edge-rusher role with Quinton Jefferson out during the game with a foot injury, ran an inside, looping stunt and came free unblocked with his twin brother Shaquill blitzing at his side from cornerback. The Seahawks’ sideline erupted over Griffin’s first career sack, and the Packers punted.
“Doing that, I knew my brother was coming?...My mom has probably has called me 15 times already,” Shaquem Griffin said.
“Obviously, we didn’t come out with the win. But to have the opportunity to get a sack with my brother, what are the odds of that?
“It seems like everything is with my brother.”
Then it came down to Wilson with the ball down 28-23 with 5 minutes left, from his own 23. He completed a pass to Lockett for 14 yards. But then Turner, open inside, allowed Wilson’s perfect pass to clang off his chest while he turned his head. The catch would have put Seattle into Packers territory with a first down.
That changed the tone of the drive. And the season.
On third down, Wilson got sacked by Preston Smith, who went by tight end Jacob Hollister and right tackle Germain ifedi. Seattle had to punt and use its time outs on defense before the 2-minute warning.
It’s not hard to imagine the Seahawks winning and being on their way for a third game against the rival 49ers for a place in the Super Bowl right now had the wide-open Turner caught Wilson’s pass from the Seattle 37 to the Green Bay 47 with 4 minutes left.
“We had a couple miscues here and there on that last drive,” is about all Wilson said about that.
Carroll considered going for it on fourth down, but the sack made the odds of converting on fourth and 11 too long. The Seahawks almost had All-Pro punter Michael Dickson come up huge with a booming, 64-yard punt. But the ball bounded forward, into the end zone for a touchback, rather than back into the field of play inside the 10 as it so often does for the Australian magician with the ball.
On third down from the Green Bay 22-yard line with 2:12 left, the Packers got Davante Adams, who had a monster night (a Packers playoff-record 160 yards receiving), one on one with rookie nickel back inside in the slot. Rodgers threw perfectly over Amadi for a crushing, 32-yard gain across midfield.
Carroll said the Seahawks were hoping Amadi could make the play there in the tough assignment against Adams.
“They were just better than us on that play,” Carroll said.
On third and 9 from the Seattle 45 with 2 minutes left, Rodgers (16 for 27, 243 yards, two touchdowns) threw across the middle to former Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham bulled past safety Lano Hill just to the line to gain for the first down that ended Seattle’s season.
A replay review was inconclusive that Graham did indeed get to the first-down line, so the call on the field of a first down stood. Carroll said his assistants seeing replays and entire sideline seeing it live still don’t think Graham got the first down.
Carroll ultimately had two themes dominating his thoughts on this season-ending loss: pride and inspiration at his team’s belief and heart. He said this defeat reminds him of Seattle’s rally from way back in the divisional playoffs at Atlanta in the 2012 season, Wilson rookie year, before losing in overtime.
The Seahawks used that as a springboard to their Super Bowl title to end the 2013 season.
“We are real disappointed that we put ourselves in this position that we had to come flying back in this game,” Carroll said. “And it crazy as it seems, we went in at halftime and these guys were jacked up to go ahead and take on the challenge of coming back...
“And they did it. They did it again. I am so proud of this team. I mean, this is this team. ...This, I think, is the start of this team. It feels like 2012 all over again. ...
“This was so similar. I mean, there was not a guy on that sidelines that we are connected to that did not feel like we were going to win that football game. And all the way until we didn’t. And that is what this team felt like, all year. It’s an amazing chemistry and it’s an amazing group.”
First-half snooze. Again.
The Seahawks got boat-raced in the first half for the fourth time in four divisional-playoff games on the road. The defense allowed 201 yards in the first half, the offense got stopped on third and 1 and failed four times in five tries on third downs. Seattle’s running backs had just 14 yards on six carries—all by Lynch—in a game the had to produce to slow down Green Bay’s pass rush on Wilson.
Meanwhile, the Packers scored all three of their touchdown on third down, including Aaron Jones’ 1-yard run late in the half.
That’s how the Seahawks trailed 21-3 at halftime.
They’ve been outscored 91-13 in their last four divisional-playoff games on the road: 20-0 at Atlanta in January 2013, 31-0 at Carolina in 2016, 19-10 at Atlanta in 2017 and Sunday.
That is why it’s imperative the Seahawks win enough during the regular season to get home playoff games—specifically, win the division so they can have a home game in the second, divisional round. They came up a yard short of winning the NFC West two weeks ago in the last-play home loss to San Francisco.
Can’t stop Adams
The Seahawks had one true Packers threat at wide receiver to cover. Adams had 83 catches for 997 yards and five touchdowns this season. No other Green Bay wide receiver had more than 35 receptions.
Yet the Seahawks could not—did not—cover Adams.
Green Bay’s first points, on the opening drive, came when Adams ran a double move past Flowers and behind Amadi. Flowers and Amadi were left looking at each other as Adams grabbed Rodgers’ 20-yard pass for an easy touchdown early.
After Seattle got within 21-10 on the opening possession of the third quarter, former Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham got free behind the linebackers and in front of safety Quandre Diggs for 27 yards on third and 6. That moved the Packers from their own 29 to the Seattle 44. Then Adams ran across the field from right to left. Rodgers’ play-action fake created plenty of time for Adams to ran past Flowers, catch Rodgers’ pass, then run diagonally in the opposite direction past Flowers again to the end zone for his second touchdown.
The Packers’ lead was back up to 18, 28-10.
At that point, Adams had seven catches on eight targets for 128 yards, most of those uncontested, and two of six career playoff touchdowns.
Hollister’s start doesn’t help
Hollister was like his team: he had a rough first half.
The tight end Seattle traded a seventh-round draft choice to New England to get in the spring lost a fumble on the Seahawks’ first offensive play, after catching a short pass from Russell Wilson and getting upended. A replay review ruled Seattle retained possession because it saw no clear recovery of the fumble by the Packers.
That was after Green Bay took the opening kickoff and drove eight plays to a touchdown, Rodgers’ 20-yard pass to wide-open Adams. Cornerback Tre Flowers and rookie nickel defensive back Ugo Amadi were left looking at each other as Adam ran free past them both for the quick early score.
Then on third and 6 inside the Green Bay 30 late in the first quarter, Hollister dropped Wilson’s pass a couple yards short of the line to gain. That forced Seattle to settle for Jason Myers’ 45-yard field and a 7-3 deficit, after Tyler Lockett had beaten Packers cornerback Kevin King from the University of Washington down the left sideline for 28 yards.
Duane Brown returns
The Seahawks’ offensive line was (almost) back to full working order.
Pro Bowl veteran left tackle Duane Brown played for the first time in four games following knee surgery.
Carroll doesn’t know how.
“Extraordinary,” the coach said.
“He did an unbelievable thing to play in this ball game today. I don’t know how he did it. He got operated on three weeks ago.
“Just the kind of stuff these guys are made of.”
Brown playing allowed Fant to go back to his usual role as an extra blocking tight end for running backs Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch.
Fant played an average of 17 snaps per game in 12 games during the regular season as a blocking tight end, but had to give up that role the previous two games starting for Brown.
But the Seahawks were minus one starting lineman against the Packers. Left guard Mike Iupati was inactive because of a nerve issue in his neck. Jamarco Jones, usually a tackle, started for the second consecutive game—and second time in his career—at left guard.
Then Jones got a concussion in the first half. Rookie Phil Haynes replaced him as the Plan C left guard for his first NFL snaps on offense.
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah was inactive with the same injury as Iupati. That meant a larger role in the pass rush for Rasheem Green and Quinton Jefferson helping three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Ansah has been inactive for seven of Seattle’s 18 games this season, including Sunday’s playoff one.
Clowney played his third consecutive game with a core-muscle injury that will likely require surgery after the season.
Rookie safety Marquise Blair was inactive. He injured an ankle in practice this past week. The second-round draft choice had been a sixth, dime defensive back in long-yardage situations recently.
The rest of the Seahawks inactives were not surprised: rookie defensive end and first-round draft choice L.J. Collier (a healthy scratch for the seventh time this season), backup offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, not needed with Brown and Fant playing, rookie wide receiver John Ursua and backup guard Kyle Fuller.