Wild finish delivers crushing loss in Seattle

Sep. 25, 2012

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SEATTLE — You can add the Seattle Hail Mary to the Green Bay Packers’ list of crushing last-second defeats, along with the Terrell Owens touchdown catch and the Philadelphia Eagles’ fourth-and-26.

The Packers had appeared to have pulled out a tough win against a good defensive team, only to have Seahawks receiver Golden Tate pull a Hail Mary pass out of safety M.D. Jennings’ hands for a 24-yard touchdown on the last play of the game, sending the Packers to a stunning 14-12 loss at CenturyLink Field on Monday night.

“Very unusual,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “Most unusual football game that I’ve been apart of. I know it’s been a wild weekend in the NFL and I guess we’re a part of it now.”

Said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: “What a night. Golleee. Tremendous night for us here.”

This was a regular-season game, so it doesn’t have the finality of their two other most prominent last-second defeats – a touchdown catch by Terrell Owens that beat the Packers in the playoffs in the 1998 season, and the Philadelphia Eagles’ fourth-and-26 conversion that kept alive the game-winning drive in overtime in the playoffs of the 2003 season.

But this road defeat nonetheless will be a tough loss for the Packers to take and left the team dumbfounded that the game-winning play wasn’t called an interception or perhaps a offensive pass-interference penalty. It also was a high-profile incident in a nationally televised game that raises even more the biggest issue in the NFL today, the performance of the league’s replacement officials while the regular officials are locked out.

It all came about because of a wild last play in which Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled and then threw a high pass to the left corner of the end zone, where five Packers defensive backs (Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Tramon Williams and Jennings) went up against two Seahawks receivers (Tate and Sidney Rice).

Jennings was alongside Tate and went up for the interception, but somehow, Tate got just enough of the ball to convince the officials that he also had the ball. Carroll said the officials told him they ruled it simultaneous possession, which meant offense gets the ball, which meant touchdown. The play was automatically reviewed, and the call was upheld, sending the Packers to the final-play defeat.

The Packers were convinced Jennings had the ball and Tate had his arm, not simultaneous possession, until after the players were wrestling on the ground, which would have meant it was an interception. The Seahawks thought Tate had enough of the ball when Jennings first caught it. The Packers also thought Tate pushed Shields before going up for the ball.

“Tie goes to the runner,” Carroll said. “Good call.”

Said McCarthy: “Obviously, the communication from our players was that (Jennings) had the ball. I still haven’t seen the replay of the play.”

After a chaotic game-ending scene that saw players from both teams swarm the end zone, the teams left the field, only to have the officials call them out for the anti-climactic extra point with no time on the clock.

The defeat drops the Packers to 1-2, while the Seahawks improved to 2-1.

“Tell them the truth,” McCarthy said of what he told his players. “We need to move on. Talked about what I felt about the game, everything that happened in the game to the players. It’s very important for us to get back and get ready for the (New Orleans) Saints (this week).”

The Packers had appeared to recover from a horrendous first half that saw quarterback Aaron Rodgers sacked eight times for 12 second-half points for the comeback win. They scored on their first three possessions of the second half – two field-goal drives, then a touchdown drive in the middle of the fourth quarter – to take a 12-7 lead, and appeared to have locked up the game when Seattle failed to score on a fourth-down play from the Packers’ 7 with 1:54 left.

But Seattle had two timeouts remaining, stopped the Packers on three plays and got the ball back at the Packers’ 46 with 46 seconds to play. Wilson got them down to the 24, which set up the final-play heroics.

The Packers came out in the second half obviously intent on running the ball and had a chance to tie the game with a long drive on their first possession of the third quarter. Halfback Cedric Benson gained 34 yards on seven carries on the drive, and the Packers had a chance to score on third down from the 10. Rodgers moved around in the pocket and had plenty of time to throw a laser to Donald Driver, but Driver bobbled the throw, which was a little high, and by the time he caught it he was out of bounds.

Mason Crosby’s 29-yard field goal on fourth down cut Seattle’s lead to 7-3.

On their next possession, the Packers cut the lead to 7-6 with a 66-yard drive from their 12 to Seattle’s 22. Rodgers helped keep that drive alive early by converting a key third down when he scrambled to his left and threw a dart down field to tight end Jermichael Finley, who came back hard to beat safety Earl Thomas to the ball for a 31-yard completion. The Packers got another key third-down conversion on a penalty. Though Benson was stopped a yard short on a third-and-five run, cornerback Brandon Browner was called for a five-yard penalty for hands to the face while covering receiver James Jones. The Seahawks ultimately stopped the drive when cornerback Richard Sherman stripped out the ball just as Finley was catching a short slant that would have converted a third-and three. Crosby’s 40-yard field goal pulled the Packers to within 7-6 with 1:14 left in the third quarter.

The Packers got nothing going in the first half, mainly because Seattle’s front four dominated for much of the game and sacked Rodgers a staggering eight times, which tied the Packers’ record for most sacks allowed in a game. Outside rushers Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin were a big part of that, though several of the sacks were coverage sacks in which Rodgers held onto the ball too long also.

Clemons had four of the sacks and Irvin, a first-round draft pick this year, had two, as did inside rusher Brandon Mebane. The low point of the first half for the Packers was their last possession, during which Rodgers was sacked three times: One by Mebane on a coverage sack, and two by Clemons, on which he beat left tackle Marshall Newhouse cleanly on an inside move, and one where Rodgers stepped away from initial pressure but then held the ball.

Though Seattle outgained the Packers 147 yards to 87 in the first half, the Seahawks had as much trouble as the Packers sustaining any offense. But Seattle hit on one big play, a 41-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Tate that gave them a 7-0 lead with 6:22 left in the second quarter.

Tate broke open on the play when Woodson, playing as a single high safety, covered tight end Anthony McCoy down the middle after McCoy had badly beaten linebacker A.J. Hawk on a seam route down the middle of the field. Tate, who ran a deep route on the outside, was behind Williams, who appeared to be expecting help over the top from Woodson. Wilson hit Tate in stride, and the Seahawks had a 7-0 lead.

The Packers also committed a critical penalty on Seattle’s touchdown drive when inside linebacker D.J. Smith retaliated for a borderline late hit by guard Paul McQustan with a shot to the facemask. That 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness set up Seattle at the Packers’ 41, and Wilson hit Tate for the touchdown on the next play.

pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @petedougherty.

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