The 2014 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field last Sunday will go down in the annals of NFL history as one of the greatest comebacks. This game played out like a microcosm of the Seahawks' 2014 season. Struggles and adversity presented themselves repeatedly over the course of the year. Time and again, the Seahawks rallied, finishing strong down the stretch. They won their last six regular season games after many had written them off as dead, securing not only a playoff spot, but the coveted No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
For a majority of the game, the Seahawks continually shot themselves in the foot, burying them in a 16-0 hole at halftime. But as has been his modus operandi since the day he arrived in Seattle, Russell Wilson led the Seahawks back to victory with an incredible rally in the fourth quarter, then won the game in overtime, sending the Seahawks to their second Super Bowl in as many years, and the first team to go in successive seasons since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots, their opponent in the upcoming big game.
The game started out with a loud Boom from the Legion thereof. Richard Sherman proved the Packers wise for not targeting his side of the field in the NFL opener earlier this season. The Packers moved the ball down the field after the opening kickoff, and Aaron Rodgers attempted to connect with rookie wide receiver Davante Adams in the end zone, but was intercepted by Sherman. The man the rest of the NFL loves to hate gave them all another reason to do just that with a beautifully played pick.
The Seahawks' joy was short-lived, however, as Wilson began what turned into one of his worst games as a professional with an interception on his third play from scrimmage. His pass glanced off Jermaine Kearse's hands and into the waiting mitts of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for an interception, who returned it inside the Seahawks' 10 yard line, setting up the Packers with a golden opportunity to take the early lead.
The Seahawks' defense held their ground, aided by an official's reversal of a called touchdown on a short run by John Kuhn. The Legion of Boom held the Packers with a big goal-line stand on third down and limited them to a field goal for an early 3-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Doug Baldwin, pressed into kick return duties by the previous week's injury to Paul Richardson, fumbled the kickoff at the 23 where it was recovered by the Packers. Again, the Legion of Boom held tough, with Earl Thomas stopping Randall Cobb at the one yard line, forcing the Packers to kick another short field goal for a 6-0 lead.
After a Seahawks' three-and-out, the Packers scored a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter when Rodgers found Cobb wide open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Seahawks fans were wondering if their team was sleepwalking through the earlier-than-normal noon start time. It certainly seemed that way at times.
The second quarter featured more slogging along by the Seahawks. After yet another three-and-out, Micah Hyde returned a short Jon Ryan punt to the Seahawks' 33 yard line. The Pack extended their lead to 16-0 a few plays later on Mason Crosby's third field goal of the first half. Short fields presented to the Packers were killing the Seahawks.
The teams swapped interceptions on the next three series. Clinton-Dix intercepted Wilson with one hand on an underthrown deep pass intended for Kearse. Byron Maxwell returned the favor against Rodgers three plays later.
It seemed as though that play turned the Seahawks' fortunes around. They methodically moved the ball down to the Packers 18 yard line, but again Wilson's pass for Kearse was intercepted, this time in the end zone by Sam Shields.
The Packers took their 16-0 lead into halftime, and the Seahawks fans were left dumbfounded. At least the halftime proved entertaining as Seattle grunge legends Alice In Chains performed an appropriate two-song set list of "Man in the Box" (representing the first half…buried in something!) and "Would?" (a prescient foretelling of the upcoming rally).
I found it strange that while I lived in the area back in the heyday of grunge, I never saw either Soundgarden or Alice in Chains live…until this season at CenturyLink Field in games where the Seahawks played the Packers. Soundgarden was pre-game entertainment at the Week 1 opening game ceremonies.
The third quarter started with the teams trading three-and-outs before Seattle finally moved the ball again. The team began feeding The Beast (aka Marshawn Lynch) a steady diet of work, and he gained 35 yards on the drive.
It appeared as though the drive would stall after Wilson took a 15-yard sack. An unnecessary roughness penalty on J.R. Sweezy was declined on the play, and the Seahawks faced second down and 30. It seemed that this play was the dividing line between bad Seahawks play and a team that we fans at least somewhat recognized.
After Lynch got 11 of the yards back on second down, Wilson connected with Baldwin for a 29 yard gain down to the Packers' 19 yard line. The Packers' defense held up and kicker Steven Hauschka was summoned to attempt a 37 yard FG. But he never got the chance.
Acting on something the Seahawks noted in their notoriously diligent film study, the "Charlie Brown" play was called…a fake field goal. It is a rare day indeed when the Seahawks attempt a fake field goal. At that point in the game, the Seahawks needed ANY points. The fact that head coach Pete Carroll made the call to attempt the fake shows how much of a gambler he truly is. But it was a calculated gamble.
Film study showed that one Packers' defensive end continually crashed hard to block the kick, and the Seahawks used that tendency to make the Pack pay. Ryan sold the kick by spinning the laces forward before picking the ball up and rolling to the left (the side that one particular defensive end lined up on). Ryan then sold the run by having the ball in his left hand, forcing the pursuing LB to play the run. This freed up rookie backup tackle Garry Gilliam down the field on a beautiful go route (quite possibly the shortest go route in history).
Ryan then switched the ball to his right hand and lobbed a a beautiful strike to a wide-open Gilliam for a 19-yard touchdown, and getting the Seahawks on the board. The difference between three and seven points would prove critical as the game played out.
The teams traded defensive stands before the Packers successfully broke through the hard-playing Seahawks defense. James Starks provided the big play with a 32-yard run and the Pack settled for a 48-yard Crosby field goal to extend their lead to 19-7 early in the fourth quarter.
After the teams swapped punts again, Wilson attempted to find Kearse over the middle, and again the ball glanced off his hands and into the waiting hands of Packers safety Morgan Burnett. There seemed to be a lot of room for Burnett to run. He perhaps could have made it to field goal position. But he took a dive, certain that the Packers offense could run the remaining five-plus minutes off the game clock.
After the Packers ran the ball three straight times without getting a first down, they were forced to punt to the Seahawks. And that's when the magic really started happening.
Wilson led the Seahawks on a quick march down the field and scored from one yard out on a read-option run. The Packers defenders crashed hard towards Lynch, who had been gashing them in the second half, and Wilson walked into the end zone untouched, capping a 69 yard drive in less than two minutes.
There was only 2:09 left on the game clock, and the Seahawks were down to one timeout, having been forced to use two timeouts earlier in the quarter to preserve as much clock as possible. An onside kick seemed their only option to have a chance to pull out a miracle finish.
Hauschka's onside kick was a perfect high-hopper. Packers TE Brandon Bostick, supposedly in to help block to allow soft-handed receiver Jordy Nelson have easy access to the ball, inexplicably decided to attempt to field the ball himself instead of blocking. The ball went directly through Bostick's hands, bouncing off his helmet, and into the hands of the Seahawks' Chris Matthews. The Seahawks had pulled off the improbable onside kick and had the ball at midfield with two minutes to go!
The Seahawks took the lead for the first time in the game four plays later when Lynch went over left tackle for a 24 yard touchdown run. An improbable two-point conversion to Luke Willson, in which the ball seemed to hang in the air forever, gave the Seahawks a three-point lead. Those two points proved ultimately important.
There was 1:24 left on the clock when the Packers got the ball back after the ensuing kickoff. That was more than enough time for them to move down the field and kick a game-tying field goal with 14 seconds left, forcing overtime at 22-22. A marvelous play by an injured Sherman on third-and-ten forced the field goal attempt. Sherman had been playing the entire fourth quarter with a sprained elbow, and was effectively limited to one arm tackling. A great play by a great player.
The Packers called "tails" on the all-important coin toss before overtime, and the magic of coin-toss-presence wizard Tarvaris Jackson willed the toss to come up heads (Jackson inexplicably has the ability to make the Seahawks win any overtime coin toss).
Just as he had done earlier in the season against the Denver Broncos, Wilson led the 'Hawks downfield for the winning touchdown on the first possession of overtime, never giving the dangerous Rodgers a chance to touch the ball. This time it didn't take him nearly as long.
He moved the team 87 yards in six plays. And in an example of redemption for the ages, he targeted Kearse on the game-winner. Kearse had been targeted five times earlier throughout the game, with zero receptions and the Packers intercepting four of those attempts.
Wilson's beautifully lofted pass settled into Kearse's waiting arms and the receiver they call Chop Chop held on to the ball to impel the Seahawks onward to their second NFC Championship in as many years.
This game showed the resilience of this team. A team that many national pundits had written off after a loss to the Cowboys. A team many had written off as in complete chaos after trading Percy Harvin after that Cowboys defeat. So much was written negatively about this team during the late weeks of October and early November.
All they did was push onward through the negativity. They overcame the injuries that plagued them and ultimately, they discovered some new leaders in the clubhouse that propelled them to a 9-1 finish over the season's final ten games.
The team also put its trust in its depth when it mattered most. Gilliam catching a touchdown on a fake field goal. Matthews, an unsung wide receiver who had been on the practice squad most of the season, called up when injuries decimated the receiving corps, making the play that saved the season. The players have all bought into Carroll's philosophy, and it shows with their play and "next man up" attitude.
Indeed…this game was very fitting as a barometer of the season. Down early, written off for dead, only to rise from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix. Oddly enough, that is where they will defend their NFL Championship (OK, OK, Glendale…but that don't work for me here).
This team is solidified and acting as one. They are all they got…they are all they need.
And to complete the written-off-for-dead-back-to-life story, the NFC Championship game will serve as the springboard to ultimate redemption at Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale in two weeks.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Seattle Seahawks to allow me to continue this foray into journalistic blogginess. It has been an extreme treat to be allowed to do this for the team I love in the sport I love and ultimately, for the fans of that team. I cannot express enough thanks to those at the Seahawks who gave me this opportunity. I hope I have done a decent enough job to be invited back next year.
Thanks to all of you, as well, who enjoy my work here. It is very rewarding to be recognized by you at the games and on social media as providing a valuable service. I am very humbled by the recognition No. 12 gives me. It makes me feel as though I am doing something right for a lot of people. Thank you for sharing your 12th Fan View stories with me…those stories are why I do this.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the "big game" this year, but I am OK with that. That frees up a seat for a 12 that hasn't had that experience yet. If you go, enjoy the game, root hard 'till ya drop, and represent well all of us who are wishing we were there.
Thank you all, and GO HAWKS!!!!
Photos of the 12s hanging in there, and cheering the Seahawks to a thrilling overtime win the the NFC Championship game!