SEATTLE – Brandon Bostick sat in his locker, knees tucked to his chest. His hands were clasped, shoulder pads still strapped. His head was down.
Fifteen minutes after the Seattle Seahawks' stunning comeback to win the NFC championship Sunday afternoon, a comeback propelled by Bostick's botched onside kick attempt, the Green Bay Packers' tight end had tears in his eyes.
Bostick wasn't left alone. Teammates walked over to his locker one at a time. They tapped his knee, whispered encouragement. He didn't budge.
Inconsolable, Bostick looked like a man hiding in a cave.
"I feel like I let everyone down," he said.
The biggest play in Green Bay's 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game kept replaying in Bostick's mind, he said. With 2:09 left in the fourth quarter, the Packers were one first down from sealing their sixth trip to the Super Bowl.
All they needed to do was secure an onside kick.
Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka bounced the football high off CenturyLink Field's turf. Bostick said he was supposed to block on the play, clearing space for receiver Jordy Nelson to catch the football.
Instead, Bostick tried to catch the ball.
"No, that's not my job at all," he said. "I was supposed to block. I felt like I had my hands on the ball. It just slipped away, I guess. I just got hit and didn't have the ball.
"I just reacted to the ball. I thought I could get it. Obviously, I couldn't."
Bostick said he reacted to the football. It was instinctual. He had an opportunity to all but seal Sunday's game, and he took it.
Fellow tight end Andrew Quarless was also on the Packers' recovery unit. He and Bostick had the same assignment. Quarless said players have the green light to make a play on the football, if a play can be made.
Once that line is crossed, Quarless said, it requires total commitment. There is no going back.
"He's got to be decisive," Quarless said. "He chose to go for it. He just couldn't bring it in. … If you go for it, you've got to get it."
The Seahawks were outplayed for most of Sunday's game. The Packers led 16-0 at halftime, a lead no team had ever surrendered midway through a conference title game. They led 16-7 with possession at their 43-yard line and 5:04 left.
Fullback John Kuhn, another member of Green Bay's recovery team, said there were momentum swings throughout Sunday's loss. The most memorable will be Bostick's botch. Seattle had slowly built momentum before the muff, pulling within 19-14 with 2:09 left on quarterback Russell Wilson's 1-yard run.
After the onside recovery, the Seahawks had possession at midfield, all the momentum and their first chance to pull ahead since before the Packers took a 13-0 lead with a 13-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb on the final play of the first quarter.
"We've got to execute," Kuhn said of the onside kick. "We've been in that situation before. That's just one of those plays where if we recover that, it could be a totally different ballgame.
"That was a tough one to try to recover from."
It was a shocking mistake from Green Bay's special teams, yet it's been a season of mistakes for those units. Their issues in the regular season were highlighted by a combined seven blocked kicks and punts, most allowed in the league.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said several times he was aware special teams were a weakness. Opponents watched the film, McCarthy said, and identified Green Bay's special teams as ripe for an attack. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum vowed to correct the problems.
Until he did, it was always possible special teams could cost Green Bay a win – especially in the playoffs.
The Packers' shoddy special teams never were more impactful than Sunday. The Seahawks' lone touchdown through the first three quarters came on a fake field goal. Punter Jon Ryan completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Garry Gilliam.
Then, Green Bay's failed onside kick recovery changed the game.
"Brandon, just like anything, you get in critical spots in the game," McCarthy said. "It's important for everybody to do their job. And unfortunately that wasn't the case on that play, and that's the end result."
Jarrett Bush, a special teams captain, was hesitant to call special teams a "big factor" in Sunday's loss. He allowed that special teams played its role, no more than any other aspect.
Bush's stall was across the visitor's locker room from Bostick. He didn't have a chance to encourage his teammate before speaking with reporters, and he didn't know if he would. Nothing, Bush admitted, could change the way Bostick felt.
"You're your own worst critic," Bush said.
So Bostick sat in his locker stall, alone in his thoughts. Only after most of his teammates left for the bus did he remove his pads. Bostick slowly picked himself up, staggered to the showers, then briefly met with the media.
He faced questions for less than two minutes. Speaking slowly. Offering short answers.
"It keeps replaying through my mind," Bostick said. "I don't know how long it's going to take for me to move on from it, but I'm just going to do my best to try to move on from it."
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