Seattle — They don’t forget any playoff game in the National Football League’s smallest city. All 51 of them live on and on, and on.
Lombardi’s bitter defeat in Philly followed a year later by the 37-0 blanking of the Giants. The late cross-field bomb to Sterling Sharpe that beat the Lions in the Silverdome, the first of Brett Favre’s 12 post-season triumphs. Of course, the Ice Bowl.
When historians remember the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field, what should it be called? The Big Choke would be appropriate.
How else to describe a game in which the Packers, perhaps the league’s healthiest team this season, were in total control for about 57 minutes against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks before they threw it all away?
Coaches, executives, players, staff, everyone in that locker room were walking around like zombies after the Packers collapsed, 28-22, in overtime.
“It’s terrible,” said tackle David Bakhtiari. “I’m still in shock.”
Seattle (14-4), the top-seeded team in the NFC, will meet the New England Patriots (14-4) Feb. 1 in Super Bowl XLIX. Green Bay (13-5), the second seed in the NFC, will watch from home wondering what might have been.
“That’s football,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “We felt we had a chance to add more to this organization. That’s why it’s so disappointing to lose a game like this.”
The Packers beat the Patriots on Nov. 30. Given an additional week for Aaron Rodgers to treat his injured calf and the fact they appeared to exit yet another Sunday with no new injuries, the Packers would have been in prime position to win a second Super Bowl under Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers.
Second Super Bowls often means Hall of Fame. As young as Rodgers is (31), there would be chances to win even more championships.
Those chances remain, but that 14th title for Titletown will have to wait.
“It’s about as bad as it gets,” team president Mark Murphy said. “You hope for more (opportunities), but you can’t take anything for granted. To be in this position doesn’t happen that often. It’s a game we should have won.”
It ended suddenly, as many overtimes do, on Russell Wilson’s 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin behind Casey Hayward and, on the very next play, his 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse against Tramon Williams.
Seattle won the overtime toss. Seattle started backed up at its 13. Seattle went 87 yards in six plays.
The Seahawks turned the ball over five times, were penalized constantly and played neither with strength nor poise for almost the entire game.
A powerful team with designs on becoming the first Super Bowl repeat champion since New England in 2003-’04, the Seahawks were flat, loosely prepared and obviously missing several key performers lost to injury.
Alvin Bailey, forced to start at right tackle when Justin Britt was a surprise scratch (knee), was taken to school early and often by Julius Peppers. Wilson’s passer rating at the half was 0.0. The passing game was null and void.
The Seahawks, even with their leather-lunged fans screaming throughout, looked inept.
“Well, for the fans in the northwest, this has got to be one for the ages,” said coach Pete Carroll. “This is an extraordinary win because of who the Packers are.
“They’re so good, and they jumped on us and tore us up in the first quarter. We just made mistake after mistake, and just looked terrible.”
The Packers led, 16-0, at halftime and 19-7 with just under 4 minutes remaining. Those in the record crowd of 68,538 hadn’t left, but the handwriting certainly was on the wall.
Vulnerability was evident a few minutes before that. Backed up, McCarthy ran James Starks twice and saw Rodgers’ sideline-stop pass for Andrew Quarless broken up by linebacker K.J. Wright.
After Tim Masthay’s punt, Kearse dropped Wilson’s perfect pass at the Green Bay 40 and the ball bounced straight to Morgan Burnett for an interception. Rather than avail himself of an open sideline on the return, Burnett saw Peppers’ stop sign and promptly fell down at the Green Bay 43.
“I think he thought the game was over,” former Colts coach Tony Dungy said in the press elevator. “He could maybe have gotten into field-goal range.”
No worries, right? Just 5 minutes were left, and the Packers had aced their four-minute offense all season closing out the Jets, Vikings, Patriots, Falcons and Cowboys.
“It’s a tough situation, but something we thrived in,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We had a couple wasted possessions in the third quarter. We let them hang around. Against a team like that they’re going to cash in.”
By this point, the Seahawks were selling out at the line. Eddie Lacy lost 4 yards in three carries and Masthay successfully punted out of bounds at the Seattle 31.
Then the defense caved. Four plays gained 60 yards. Wilson’s 1-yard TD made it 19-14. Just 2:09 remained.
“We felt good getting the ball back with 2 minutes left,” said Lang. “Then they recovered the onside kick.”
Brandon Bostick butchered his assignment to block and whiffed on the ball. The Seahawks were in the end zone four plays later, and when Wilson rainbowed a crazy-quilt conversion pass to Luke Willson Seattle was ahead, 22-19.
Rodgers, in the midst of another one of his ordinary playoff performances, moved the team 42 yards. He had three plays to win the game from the 35 at the same location and end of the field that Wilson would win it from a few minutes later.
A back-handed incompletion. A botched back-shoulder fade to Richard Rodgers. A scramble and 6-yard pass to Jordy Nelson left it up to Mason Crosby.
What a field goal it was, 48 yards dead-center perfect.
There was life in the Packers. Then came the extra session.
After the bomb to Baldwin, Seattle deployed two running backs, two tight ends and Kearse wide right. On cue, safety Sean Richardson replaced Sam Shields.
“In that formation, they go either way,” defensive end Datone Jones said. “It was 50-50 run-pass.”
The Packers got away playing Cover 0 several times late in games. The stress point is on Williams, who was in press coverage against Kearse. Wilson saw the matchup, the fact there would be no safety help and checked to a deep post.
“(Kearse) has really got a two-way go at that point with me and him,” said Williams. “I was in bump and he was slightly outside (the numbers). He took an inside release and I was running with him.
“There’s no safety in the middle of the field so his first thought is to throw it away from the corner. It’s a tough play. We were playing the run. Everybody was in a gap.”
Williams reached across Kearse in textbook fashion by using his left hand to avoid pass interference. But the throw was perfect and Kearse hauled the ball in at the 1 with Williams clawing away alongside.
“(Wilson) had been off all day,” marveled Dungy. “Receivers weren’t getting open, weren’t getting separation. But when you had to do it he did.”
Bakhtiari said the offensive line played a magnificent game. “We (expletive) kicked (expletive),” he said. “Pass pro, I mean, (expletive), you can’t ask for more from five offensive linemen in this environment, and I also think we run-blocked really well.”
Rodgers had all day to throw countless times against the NFL’s finest secondary but his passer rating was 55.8 and longest completion was merely 23 yards. The inability to strike downfield was critical to why the Packers had to settle for field goals three times in the first half.
How does one sum up a defeat of such catastrophic, appalling dimensions?
“I don’t regret anything,” the ninth-year coach said. “Hell, I expected to win the game. We were positioned to win the game.
“I thought clearly there were two championship teams playing today. It was an incredible game to compete in. It is a very difficult loss to swallow.”
It’s also one that will never, ever be forgotten in Packerland and points beyond.