This time, the Green Bay Packers left no doubt.
Eight months after a demoralizing loss in the NFC championship game, the Packers earned a small piece of redemption Sunday night when they held off the Seattle Seahawks for a 27-17 win in front of regular-season record of 78,433 at Lambeau Field.
Like January’s 28-22 overtime loss to the Seahawks, the moment of truth came in the fourth quarter. After losing three consecutive games at CenturyLink Field, the Packers rebounded thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ magic and a pair of forced turnovers from outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott that stymied any hopes of another Seattle comeback.
Down 17-16 in the fourth quarter, Rodgers was a perfect 8-for-8 for 79 yards on the Packers’ 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers. Green Bay took a 24-17 lead after Rodgers connected again with the second-year tight end on the two-point conversion.
“He’s the general. He’s special,” said receiver James Jones of Rodgers, who completed 25-of-33 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. “These situations don’t surprise me. They keep surprising you guys, but they don’t surprise me. I see him do it every day.”
Seattle still had a chance to answer on its next series, but the former undrafted free agent Elliott picked off an attempted screen from quarterback Russell Wilson intended for Lynch on what turned out to be the final blow in the Seahawks’ bid for a fourth consecutive win the series.
After Mason Crosby hit a 21-yard field goal with 1 minute, 56 seconds to extend the lead to 27-17, Elliott then forced a fumble of veteran running back Fred Jackson, which was recovered by defensive back Micah Hyde.
“That boy J.E., he had a day,” Hyde said. “That was a huge pick and then at the end that was a huge forced fumble. I saw him running from behind and I’m like, ‘Please hit the ball. Please hit the ball,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
Rodgers’ big series came without the help of Eddie Lacy, who left after the first series because of an ankle injury and did not return. James Starks rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries, but the game-changing series came with receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, and Richard Rodgers in the backfield.
After converting a second-and-15 situation with an 18-yard pass to Cobb, Rodgers never came close to seeing a third down the rest of the drive. It was the NFL’s reigning MVP at his finest.
Rodgers’ ability to draw the opposition offsides and catch defenses with 12 men on the field was on full display in the first half, beginning on the Packers’ first series when he actually caught the Seahawks with 13. Officials didn’t catch it right away, but the Packers won a challenge to continue the drive.
On the next play, Rodgers caused Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett to jump on first-and-10, the first of three times Bennett jumped in the first half. The Packers declined it when Rodgers hit Randall Cobb on a 21-yard completion.
Rodgers earned yet another free play when he caused Bennett to jump and found Jones for a 29-yard touchdown off a post route. Jones gained separation from all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman to create the score.
Like the first half of the NFC title game, the Packers’ defense held Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense in check in the first 30 minutes. The Seahawks totaled 104 yards in the first half, scoring only once off a 54-yard Steven Hauschka field goal.
After allowing 183 rushing yards to Chicago, running back Marshawn Lynch was contained to 29 yards on 12 carries (2.4 yards per carry) and only 41 for the game.
Green Bay’s offense slowed after its explosive start, but winning the field-position battle in the first half helped set up a 54-yards field goal by Mason Crosby on its second series. The Packers were establishing a promising drive on their fourth series before Starks fumbled.
The Packers’ third and final score of the first half was again keyed by Bennett. With another free play, Rodgers heaved a deep pass to rookie Ty Montgomery, who then picked up a pass interference call on Sherman for a 52-yard penalty.
Sherman was called for another holding penalty on the next play, setting up a 25-yard pass to Cobb. The Packers had to use all three of their timeouts in the first quarter, forcing them to throw three consecutive times from the Seattle 1 with 13 seconds left.
The Packers took a 13-3 lead into halftime after a Mason Crosby 18-yard field goal.
After rushing on only two occasions in the first half, Wilson came out scrambling out of halftime to key the Seahawks’ first touchdown-producing drive. He scrambled twice for 18 yards and started creating plays out of the pocket.
The Packers stopped Seattle on fourth-and-goal from its own 10, but outside linebacker jumped offsides. On the next play, Wilson connected with recently acquired running back Fred Jackson on a five-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 13-10.
Rodgers and the offense went three-and-out to on their opening drive of the second half, getting sacked by both ends on third down. Meanwhile, Wilson found Doug Baldwin for a 13-yard touchdown on post route ahead of nickel cornerback Micah Hyde to take their first lead of the game 17-13.
Overall, the defense held up its end of the bargain after last week’s disappointing performance against Chicago. The Packers held Marshawn Lynch to 41 yards on 15 carries and contained Wilson for the most part, especially down the stretch.
““I was happy about the second half because we had some adversity,” said defensive tackle B.J. Raji. “We lost our cool a little bit. We were undisciplined. I think we lined up offsides or something like that. We made some mistakes, but the good thing about that we forgot about it. We kept playing. I think that’s a good sign of a good team.”
In need of an answer, the Packers received their response when Starks broke a 35-yard run on second-and-4. With Seattle’s secondary settling in, Green Bay completed only one pass on the eight-play, 46-yard drive, which cut the deficit to 17-16.
It set up the Packers’ next offensive series where Rodgers and the offense regained their footing to retake the lead for the final time and send the Seahawks home 0-2 on the young season. A small repayment for the pain of last January’s letdown.
“It feels good,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “Obviously, it doesn’t count for anything more than a win, but it is probably one of the more satisfying regular-season wins we’ve had to get that monkey off our back of not being able to beat these guys. It is what it is. We’re going to enjoy it for a couple days and then move on and get ready for Kansas City.”
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.