Packers' fumbled opportunity in Seattle will sting forever
SEATTLE -- One player after the other was unable to shake off stunned disbelief as they entered the Green Bay Packers locker room.
Their Super Bowl ticket was all but punched, leading the turnover-prone Seattle Seahawks, 19-7, with 10 minutes 53 seconds left in Sunday's NFC Championship Game when everything came undone in a crushing, 28-22, overtime loss at CenturyLink Field.
The second seed Packers will miss out on Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 because they couldn't protect a 16-0 halftime lead before suffering the worst collapse in NFC championship history.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' psyche hurt as badly as his much-scrutinized strained left calf after falling short of a chance to win his second Super Bowl.
"We were very confident we were going to win the game," Rodgers said. "This one is going to hurt for a while because of the close proximity and the feeling when the clock hits zero.
"We gave it away. Losses are bad either way, but up two scores, you expect to put that one away."
The Packers much-maligned defense had intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson four times and sacked him on four other occasions. The Seahawks resembled a staggered boxer only to have Green Bay let the reigning Super Bowl champions off the ropes.
The Seahawks began their comeback with a little trickery. Jon Ryan set up for a field goal only to take the snap and complete a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie tackle Gary Gilliam. Then, reserve receiver Chris Matthews recovered Steven Hauschka's onside kick that bounced off Packers backup tight end Brandon Bostick's helmet. It set up Marshawn Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run capped by Wilson's two-point conversion pass for Seattle's first lead 22-19 with 1:25 left.
"I was supposed to block," Bostick said. "I just reacted to the ball. I thought I could get it. Obviously, I couldn't."
It was the microcosm for an opportunity that slipped away.
Cornerback Tramon Williams, beaten by receiver Jermaine Kearse on the winning touchdown 3:19 into overtime, described the collapse as a slow-motion car wreck.
Williams had man coverage on Kearse in cover zero, meaning he had no safety help over the top when Wilson roped a perfect, 35-yard dart down the seam a beat ahead of the cornerback.
"We saw what was unfolding, but we still thought we'd win," Williams said. "A lot of things turned from earlier. You really can't explain it. But you could see it."
Linebacker Clay Matthews took a long time to dress at his locker, slowly packing his cleats into his travel bag.
"You come so far during the season, put in so much hard work into getting back to the Super Bowl and to come up short like that is devastating," Matthews said.
Rodgers didn't have his best statistical day, throwing for 178 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
"The defense played great, picked them off four times," Rodgers said. "But you can't allow them to throw a touchdown on a fake field goal. You can't allow them to recover an onsides kick. This was a great opportunity. We were right on the cusp."
Follow Jim Corbett on Twitter @ByJimCorbett