Monday, January 19, 2015

Packers Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in NFC Championship

Fans of the Green Bay Packers witnessed a game yesterday that will go down in Packers' lore...for all the wrong reasons. The team played 56 minutes of good, not great, football against a Seattle Seahawks team they had on the ropes, waiting for a knockout punch that never came. In the end, the beaten and bruised champ rose from the canvas (or turf, in this case) and wound up delivering the sucker punch that ended the game and the Packers' season. The Packers lost in overtime to the Seahawks, 28-22.

The post-mortem on this game will go on and on. For Packers fans, it will live forever. There is no way of setting this monumental collapse aside. It was (insert hashtag here) an epic fail. The Pack all but had their ticket punched to the Super Bowl in Arizona. But unlike in recent weeks where they could close out a game in the waning minutes, the Packers let Seattle hang around, let them back into the game, and then could not hold on for the win. As a result, Seattle is going to its second straight Super Bowl and the Packers are going home for the off-season to ponder what could have been.

What went wrong?
Where do you start to list the series of apparently little things that all added up to the loss? Here's just one writer's list:
  • Mike Daniels' 15-yard taunting penalty after Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix's first interception. Instead of first and goal from the 4-yard line, it was first and goal from the 19.
  • Failure to punch the ball in on two runs from the 1-yard line.
  • Head coach Mike McCarthy settling -- twice -- for field goals on fourth-and-goal rather than going for the touchdowns.
  • Getting only six points off five Seattle turnovers.
  • Giving up a touchdown off a fake field goal to reignite the Seahawks' hopes.
  • Giving up a third-and-nineteen pass completion for a first down.
  • Morgan Burnett's interception with about five minutes remaining when he went to the ground rather than pick up, possibly, another 15 yards of open field and field goal range.
  • TE Brandon Bostick's decision to not follow his assigned blocking role on an onside kick but rather to attempt to make a play on the ball instead, leading to a recovery -- and quick go-ahead touchdown -- by Seattle with about 2 minutes left in the game. Oh, the designated "hands" on that side of the field and position was Jordy Nelson. Bostick was supposed to block so Nelson could get the ball.
  • Giving up 15 points in 44 seconds to let Seattle take the lead late in the game.
  • Allowing Seattle to drive 87 yards in six plays for the winning touchdown in overtime.
These are just a few of the miscues that came back to haunt the Packers.

Lost in all this was the exceptional performance of kicker Mason Crosby who went 5 for 5 on the day, keeping the Packers in the game, including a tying 48-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to take the game to overtime. Had the Packers won, Crosby should have been the game's MVP.

A great season for a very good Packers team came to a crashing -- and crushing -- end. The Packers were the better team for most of the game. Or so it seemed. But all those little things that they did or didn't do added up in the end to a loss to a team that was ripe for the picking. Hats off to the Seahawks for never giving up, despite dismal play most of the day. Their coach played to win, the Packers coach played not to lose. We know the rest of the story.

As Wayne Larrivee, radio voice of the Packers noted on radio this morning, anywhere from 25 to 33 percent of this Packers team will be changed for the coming season. That's how it works on average, he said. Some of those players we've come to know and like -- or not -- will be gone. New players will take their place. Whether that new combination will have the makings to be as good a team as this one came to be over the course of the season, only time will tell.

But as Larrivee also noted, the windows of opportunity in the NFL for a Super Bowl run aren't based upon careers, they are based upon seasons. This was a season in which the Packers could have made it to Arizona for the Super Bowl. They would have had a rematch against the New England Patriots, a team they handled in the regular season. A Super Bowl win was perhaps in the cards. But...not.

The Packers, in the end, handed that opportunity to the Seahawks, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.