GREEN BAY, Wis. — Not long after the game, snow began to fall at Lambeau Field. The hard Midwest winter, delayed, was under way. Also underway was an off-season for the Seahawks, who delayed its start until they ran out of absurd ways to confound.
Season-enders are always awkward, especially this season, when so many times they looked deader than dead, only to pop off the gurney. Per usual, against the 13-3 Packers, the Seahawks, populated by more walk-ons than most college teams, looked terrible until they were about to win.
Few in the crowded, muffled Seahawks locker room Sunday were accepting of the notion that a 28-23 defeat (box) actually had been dropped on them.
“I can’t believe it,” said LB K.J. Wright.
“I thought we were really rolling,” said TE Luke Willson.
“I’ve seen so many games (where) this organization is able to pull things off like that,” said FS Quandre Diggs.
“As it started happening, you could imagine it happening again, because we surely did,” said coach Pete Carroll.
“Shouldn’t have lost,” said RB Marshawn Lynch.
All were convinced a win would happen because QB Russell Wilson said at halftime that it would happen, despite being down 21-3.
“We were going to win this game,” Wilson said. “Everybody in the stadium, and I think everybody watching it, felt like that too.”
After second-half touchdown drives of 69, 84, and 79 yards, the second-biggest playoff crowd (78,998) in the venerable joint’s history was looking upon the final five minutes of the fourth quarter as if it were the first scratch on a new car.
— Sports ON Tap Seattle (@SONTSeattle) January 13, 2020
Green Bay’s defense seemed broken and exhausted after chasing Wilson. QB Aaron Rodgers seemed to be Mr. Three-and-Out. Wilson was everywhere, and it was driving rookie Packers coach Matt LaFleur bats.
“It just seemed like every time I looked up, he was making somebody miss in the pocket and creating and extending plays,” he said. “I mean, he’s done it his whole career. That’s why he’s who he is. He’s so good at that.
“Those guys, they do a great job. He was able to create a lot of big plays.”
Just not quite enough. It would be easy to say the script was flipped, but there is no script for Wilson. It’s always night at the improv. But his supporting cast let him down.
With 4:54 left, down five points and cheeseheads in full droop, the Seahawks abruptly went three-and-out. They punted, the Packers converted two third downs to run out the clock and moved on to the NFC Championship next Sunday in Santa Clara against the 49ers. The Seahawks lost for the 10th time in 11 games at Lambeau, the hardest place in club history to prevail, but for only the second time on the road this season.
As with almost every game, margins were thin. The season’s roster was never Super Bowl caliber, but if they limited errors, Wilson’s uncanny ability to see around corners would allow them to lurk until the other guys spit up.
On the first play of the final possession, WR Malik Turner, wide open, dropped a first-down pass at midfield. After a five-yard gain, the battered offensive line — operating with a third-stringer, rookie Phil Haynes, at left guard, a backup, Joey Hunt, at center, and a left tackle, Duane Brown, who was three weeks removed from knee surgery and had no business playing — allowed a sack by LB Preston Smith.
At fourth and 11 at their own 36, the Seahawks had no real choice but to punt it away.
“We felt our odds were low,” Carroll said. “We had he opportunity to stop them and get the ball back.”
They never did. On third-and-eight at the Packers 22, Rodgers saw rookie CB Ugo Amadi matched up against star WR Davante Adams. He dropped a perfect ball over Adams’ shoulder for a 32-yard gain, part of a 160-yard night that set a Packers playoff record.
After the two-minute warning, third-and-nine at the Seattle 45, Rodgers struck again, barely and diabolically. TE Jimmy Graham, the disappointing former Seahawk who was let go in free agency, took a nine-yard pass in front backup FS Lano Hill. It appears Graham was tackled just shy of the first down, but replays were inconclusive, the first down call stood and the game was over.
Carroll is never shy about playing his youngest players, which, long term, pays dividends. But in the short term of various health emergencies, they will make enough mistakes that even Wilson’s wizardry can’t overcome.
The late-moment misfires can’t overshadow the accomplishments of a splendidly entertaining season that produced Seattle’s eighth post-season appearance in Carroll’s 10 years. By mere inches on Dec. 29, they lost a 26-21 game against San Francisco that would have produced a more favorable playoff seeding and avoided another dreary outcome at Lambeau, where the Seahawks are now 0-3 in the playoffs.
“It was terribly disappointing because we should still be playing,” Carroll said. “We were an inch a couple weeks ago, and we were an inch (with Graham). That’s how close it is.
“There was not a guy on that sideline that we were connected to, that thought we weren’t going to win that football game.”
His highest praise went to Wilson, who after the slow start finished 21 of 31 for 277 yards and a touchdown for a 106.5 rating on a cold, but dry and mostly windless night. And for the second playoff game in a row, he led the team in rushing with 64 yards in seven carries.
“The throws that he made, the runs that he made, the escapes he pulled off,” Carroll said. “It was awesome.
“Really proud of him and the of the guys.”
Wilson acknowledged that the facts intruded on his beliefs.
“The reality is, we didn’t make the one or two plays that we needed to,” he said. “I know we have winning habits. To be a championship-caliber team, to win a championship, to win multiple championships, you have to make one, two, three more plays here and there.
“I look forward to that next year.”
A team that began the season with the fourth-youngest roster ended up 12-6 and in the NFL’s final eight, inches away from a conference title shot, has more than $60 million in cap room and an array of youngsters who grew abruptly.
As always in the NFL, things change fast. Unlikely to change, however, is Wilson’s unwavering will to carry a team to maximize its talent and improvise beyond that. Ask the cheeseheads, should their jaws unclench in the next week.
Lynch takes to the podium for a dutch-uncle chat
— Gary Horcher (@GaryKIRO7) January 13, 2020
Marshawn Lynch had 26 yards in 12 carries and scored two touchdowns, but his most unusual feat was to take a turn at the post-game podium, where he offered perfunctory answers to a couple of questions about himself before launching unprompted into a one-minute advice column for his younger teammates.
Asked about his three-game return to the Seahawks, he said, “It was solid.” How about four touchdowns in three games? “Pretty solid.” And will he have another year with the Seahawks? “We’ll see what happens.”
Then Lynch, 33, who apparently spoke to the team after the loss, speechified to make sure the young guys don’t drift.
“I’ll say this though, it’s a vulnerable time for a lot of these young dudes,” he said. “They need to be taking care of their chickens (money), right, you feel me? If it was me, or if I had an opportunity to let these young (players) know something, I’d say take care of your money, African, cause that shit don’t last forever.
“Now I’ve been on the other side of retirement, and it’s good when you get over there. You can do whatever the fuck you want to. So I’ll tell y’all right now, while you’re all in it, take care of your bread so when you’re done, you go ahead and take care of yourself. So while y’all at it right now, take care of your bodies, take care of your chickens, take care of your mentals. Because we ain’t lasting that long.
“I had a couple players I played with, they’re no longer here. They’re no longer. So start taking care of your mentals, your bodies and your chickens so that when you’re ready to walk away, you can be able to do what you want to do.”
With that, he walked away with a grin. Chickens, apparently, need tending.