How five third-down plays helped Packers prevail against Seahawks
GREEN BAY - In a five-point divisional round playoff victory decided in the waning minutes, there are few small plays. When literally every yard the Green Bay Packers gained helped them advance to the NFC championship with a 28-23 victory over Seattle at Lambeau Field, all of them mattered. And when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was willing his team to the doorstep of erasing an 18-point first-half deficit, the handful of plays that set him back mattered.
But few carried more weight than these five, a quintet that propelled the Packers to victory:
Packers 14, Seattle 3
Second quarter, 2 minutes, 0 seconds, third-and-1 at the Seattle 4-yard line
All week, the Packers' offensive coaches, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line felt an old-school quarterback sneak could come in handy against Seattle. The Seahawks’ defensive front often presented looks where it could work, and in this moment the game situation and down and distance all aligned for the call.
“These guys like to tease Aaron about the lack of QB sneaks that we’ve attempted,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “Yeah, that’s something we haven’t had up too many times but had it up for this game.”
The head coach and Rodgers discussed it then at the break, and LaFleur started to prepare a fourth-down call just in case.
“I said, ‘Hold on. Hold on. I’m going to get this one, OK. I’m going to get this one,’” Rodgers said.
Once Rodgers settled in behind center Corey Linsley, he had to diagnose that the proper defensive look was there. If not, he had a check to get out of it. He stuck with the call.
“It was cool. I was pumped,” Linsley said with a smile.
Rodgers slithered in between Linsley and left guard Elgton Jenkins for two yards. It set up a first-and-goal, which resulted in a touchdown by Aaron Jones three plays later. It gave the Packers a 21-3 lead, and they needed all those points in the end.
“It was very crucial,” Jenkins said. “We needed to pick up that (first down) to keep the ball moving, the offense rolling. We talked about it all week — moving the down linemen and give him enough to give him a yard.”
Packers 28, Seattle 23
Fourth quarter, 9:19, third-and-10 at the Green Bay 27
The Packers were fading at this point, having scored early in the third quarter to go up 28-10 but then having been stymied since. Seattle was marching back, and every first down mattered. Facing their second straight three-and-out, Geronimo Allison lined up to Rodgers’ left on the outside of Davante Adams. He motioned inside, and the Seahawks disguised the coverage.
If Allison was going to be contacted, Rodgers’ read moves off him. Instead Seattle safety Lano Hill moved to jam tight end Robert Tonyan. By getting a free release, Allison knew he was the target. Rodgers zipped it low and to Allison’s back right shoulder as he slid. Rodgers clapped, pointed skyward, and then pointed to Allison on the conversion.
“Man, clutch. Needed that,” Allison said. “Pushed the third down. Middle of the field blew open, blew wide open and Aaron was able to put the ball down there for me to go down there and get it.”
It was Allison’s only target of the game, and the Packers ran off another four minutes of clock.
Packers 28, Seahawks 23
Fourth quarter, 3:22, third-and-5 at the Seattle 42
Preston Smith was standing on the Packers' sideline, itching to get back on the field. He had been slow to get up on the previous Seattle possession and came out of the game, a drive that cut the lead to five. He missed a handful of plays, but didn’t want to miss what could be the last one.
Lining up over the right edge of the Seattle offensive line, tight end Jacob Hollister was left to handle him one-on-one. Hollister tried to pass Smith off to right tackle Germain Ifedi to get out into a pattern, but it was too late.
“That’s between them and their blocking assignment,” Smith said of confusion up front. “I don’t know what that guy was supposed to do. I know what I’m supposed to and I executed.”
Ifedi got stuck watching a lurking Adrian Amos and didn’t commit fully to Smith, who notched his second sack of the night. It was Seattle’s last offensive play.
“I came back and I still felt like I had something left in the tank to give for the team,” Smith said.
Packers 28, Seahawks 23
Needing two first downs to be able to salt the game away, Rodgers first connected with Adams on a corner route for a long gain over Seattle free safety Ugo Amadi. Amadi had no chance as Adams won off the line and hauled in the over-the-shoulder catch. Lined up in the slot, it forced the Seahawks to put the safety on their best receiver.
“Davante ran a great route in the slot there,” Rodgers said. “I think the leverage looked like the defender may have jumped inside at the snap, and he got a great release, got off the ball and I tried to put it in a good spot for him.”
Two plays later they ran a design for tight end Jimmy Graham, a mirrored route underneath Allison, who cleared the middle of the field. Graham caught the ball in front of Hill and just beat him for the nine yards needed to clinch the game. The play was reviewed twice by the booth, but the spot of a first down stood.
“We knew that coming into this week that he had some advantage with the matchup,” Allison said. “And that was something we wanted to attack, and we had some plays in there that were kind of schemed up him for him to execute and he did it.”
There is little coincidence these were third-down plays. The Packers went 9-for-14 (64%) while the Seahawks were just 3-for-9 (33%). Such execution made the difference.
“That was pretty indicative of our entire season right there with another game right down to the wire,” LaFleur said. “So proud of our guys and the way they battle and play for each other. It’s a resilient group. It wasn’t always pretty at times, but it was great at the end of the game there we made plays when we had to. Our defense stepped up and was able to get that sack on Russell, and there’s no better way to close out a football game than in a four-minute mode where you have to convert a couple third downs.”