We perish because we know not… #TLENews
The Seahawks huddled on their sideline Sunday afternoon, and inside the circle, their coach, Pete Carroll, pointed and shouted and waved.
How they came to be standing there — and not back in their locker room, sulking over a performance hardly befitting a defending champion — defied logic and all good sense, not to mention the first 58 minutes of the game.
“God blessed us with a few bounces,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The Seahawks had committed five turnovers. They had trailed by 12 points with a shade over two minutes remaining. They had missed tackles and dropped passes and played one of the worst first quarters, if not first halves, that many of them had ever played.
Still, they will defend their Super Bowl championship, having defeated the Green Bay Packers, 28-22, in overtime in the N.F.C. championship game before the largest announced crowd, 68,538, in CenturyLink Field’s history.
Some of those fans left the premises late in the fourth quarter, although they may not admit it, not after the Seahawks erased that 12-point deficit with two touchdowns in a 44-second span, recovered an onside kick that facilitated a go-ahead score, and secured victory with a second 35-yard pass in two snaps. That arcing toss from Russell Wilson was caught by Jermaine Kearse, who scored a touchdown for a fourth consecutive postseason game.
“That’s Jermaine Kearse in a bottle,” a fellow Seahawks receiver, Doug Baldwin, said. “It doesn’t matter what he’s done in the first three quarters of a game, the first four quarters of a game. When you need him in a crucial situation, he’s going to come up with it.”
It had been quiet at CenturyLink Field as Green Bay scored the game’s first 16 points, but after Kearse popped up in the end zone, the Seahawks swarmed him by the goal post, and the fans roared so loudly that the press box felt as if it would detach and fall onto the heaving crowd below.
It will take the Packers until the first snap of next season — if not longer — to process how their opportunity at the title disappeared.
The abridged version is this: After a 1-yard touchdown run by Wilson cut the Seahawks’ deficit to 19-14 with 2 minutes 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter, after Chris Matthews recovered an onside kick muffed by Brandon Bostick, after Marshawn Lynch scored from 24 yards out to put Seattle ahead, and after Mason Crosby made a 48-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to force overtime, Seattle won the overtime coin toss, and that was that.
Wilson, in his third season, has played 10 times against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. He has won all 10 games. No matter how poorly he played for much of Sunday, Wilson did not panic. He likes to say that he is always prepared, that he visualizes every possible scenario before it happens so that nothing surprises him.
The Seahawks, a team that had won its last six games by 10 or more points, trailed by 13-0 after the first quarter — and they were lucky it was that close. The Packers outgained the Seahawks, 137 yards to 3, in the quarter, and Seattle did not pick up a first down until more than half of the second quarter had elapsed. Wilson did not complete his first pass until four minutes remained in the first half.
Seattle had committed a franchise-low 14 turnovers in the regular season. It committed five on Sunday, four in the first half. Four were interceptions by the unflappable Wilson, who completed 14 of his 29 passes in the game for 209 yards and a 44.3 passer rating while being pummeled by the Packers’ pass rush, led by Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews.
The Seahawks’ first touchdown pass was thrown not by Wilson but by their punter, Jon Ryan, on a fake field goal. (Ryan, the holder, took the snap, ran to his left and threw the ball, as if putting a shot, to an open Garry Gilliam, an offensive tackle, for a 19-yard score that sliced Green Bay’s lead to 16-7 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.)
Still, after Lynch’s late touchdown, Wilson rolled to his right, avoided a couple of onrushing Packers and threw a rainbow pass back across the field to tight end Luke Wilson for a 2-point conversion that put the Seahawks ahead by 22-19.
“To be honest, that’s not even part of the play,” Willson said. “That was like a made-up thing. I saw the ball in the air and was like, Oh wow, something didn’t go right.”
He added, “I bet if we ran that 100 times, one time I would get the ball, and that was today.”
In overtime, Wilson drove the Seahawks 87 yards in six plays, the final 70 coming on consecutive deep tosses. The first pass, down the near sideline, landed in Baldwin’s arms. The second, deep down the middle, found Kearse, and Seattle could dream of repeating.
In Seattle’s kingdom, uttering that word — “repeat” — might as well be a finable offense. It contradicts the culture that Carroll has cultivated: that if some games mean more, then others mean less. This one did mean more, though — how could it not?
By Sunday, 19 weeks after the N.F.L. season had opened with this matchup at this stadium, attrition and endurance had winnowed the field in a parity-laden conference to a rematch, a game that defied every iota of understanding gleaned over these last four and a half months.
No matter how Aaron Rodgers felt — or said his injured left calf felt — the Seahawks, in preparing for Sunday, considered him as fit as an ultramarathoner. They had watched him manipulate the pocket last week against Dallas. They had watched him sidestep pressure. They had watched him throw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, darts all.
On their teams’ first drives, Rodgers and Wilson traded interceptions, occurrences rarer than a two-dollar bill, and Green Bay recovered a Baldwin fumble on a kickoff not long afterward. After those turnovers, the Packers ran six plays inside the Seattle 8-yard line — including two from the 1 — but came away with only two field goals, from 18 and 19 yards, by Crosby.
The Packers forced a three-and-out on Seattle’s next drive, and Rodgers followed by leading them on a 56-yard scoring drive capped by a 13-yard toss to Randall Cobb. It came on the final play of the first quarter, and Green Bay’s dominance bled into the second quarter.
But the Seahawks improbably seized control of the game to earn a return trip to the Super Bowl. Minutes after the winning touchdown, defensive lineman Michael Bennett commandeered a bicycle from a police officer and rode it around the outside of the field.
“When you win a Super Bowl, you can do whatever you want,” he said.
By Ben Shpigel
New York Times
Photo Credit: Reuters/Getty Images/Associated Press