Packers hold on to beat Seahawks 28-23, advance to play 49ers in NFC championship game
GREEN BAY - No playoff lead against the Seattle Seahawks is safe. At least not for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers learned that the hard way five years ago, leading the Seahawks in Seattle for 55 minutes of the NFC championship game, only to collapse in the end. Those flashbacks were starting to resurface Sunday night, with the Seahawks clawing back from an 18-point halftime deficit to get possession within a touchdown of the lead with 4:54 left.
That’s when the Packers' defense, unlike so many times in playoff defeats past, came up with the play it needed.
Preston Smith’s sack of Russell Wilson on third-and-5 with 3:22 left helped seal a 28-23 win over the Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoff round, advancing the Packers to the NFC championship game next Sunday at San Francisco. Smith’s sack for a 6-yard loss forced the Seahawks to punt.
From there, the Packers ran out the final three minutes. Their big play came on a 9-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to tight end Jimmy Graham on third-and-9. Graham, playing his former team, had three catches for 49 yards. Each of his receptions converted a third down.
"I'm so proud of our guys and the way they battle and play for each other," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "It's a resilient group. It wasn't always pretty at times but it was great (how) at the end of the game we made plays when we had to.
"Our defense stepped up and was able to get that sack on Russell, and then there's no better way to close out a football game than, in four-minute mode, we had to convert a couple of third downs and I'm really happy for all our guys; a guy like Jimmy Graham stepped up and made some plays. Jared Veldheer stepped in and did a great job for (ailing right tackle) Bryan Bulaga. I thought our quarterback did an outstanding job. Obviously, Davante Adams did a great job ... there were a lot of great performances."
Rodgers (16-for-27, 243 yards and two touchdowns) expressed similar sentiments.
"We have had some ugly wins this year, but they've also involved some moments of adversity that we've pushed through, and I think it's a characteristic of this football team that we've come up with the plays, whether it's a pass or the line blocking or a run springing or a defensive stop or a great, game-winning punt," Rodgers said. "We've had a lot of those moments where we've needed a play at a certain time ... there's a lot of belief in those moments that we're going to get the job done, and today it was fun to have to have plays and make them."
The Packers-49ers game will kick off at 5:40 p.m. on Fox.
Here are five observations from the Packers' victory:
Adams has historic night
An offense that had one of its best games of the season stuck with its top receiver all night. Adams set the Packers’ single-game postseason record with 160 yards on eight catches, including a pair of touchdowns. His 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, where he juked Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers twice and then cut across the field to the end zone, counts among the most impressive plays of his career. This was as dominant as Adams has looked since his Week 4 explosion against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jones, the workhorse
It’s clear LaFleur has lost interest in preserving Jones. No need to in the playoffs. The Packers continued what they’d been building up to late in the season, using Jones as a true workhorse more than any time all season. Jones had 21 carries for 62 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Second in rushes was Rodgers, who ran three times. Jamaal Williams had just one carry for 3 yards.
Remember when running the football from the 1-yard line was such a novel idea? The Packers’ first loss of the season was greatly assisted with goal-line stubbornness. In the fourth quarter against the Eagles, the Packers ran eight plays inside the 10-yard line. They ran once. That included four straight incompletions from the 1-yard line. Learning is part of the process for any first-time head coach, and LaFleur showed how much he learned near the end of Sunday’s first half. The Packers, hoping to gain a near-decisive lead, were twice stuffed on the ground from the 1-yard line. After a defensive offside, LaFleur called for another run play. The third time was the charm, with Jones barreling into the end zone to give the Packers a 21-3 lead before halftime.
Two Smiths > one Wilson
Using his legs, Wilson took over after halftime. After the Packers bottled up his scrambling ability during the first half, Wilson went off in the second. He finished with 64 rushing yards on seven carries, tiring the Packers’ defensive front as the night progressed. Even more, Wilson was able to maximize the scramble drill as a passer, creating the exact success off of play extension that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said he feared. It was a masterful performance, the type that reminds you of the value in having the better quarterback in a playoff game. (Wilson was the second-team All-Pro this season, not Rodgers.) But the Packers got just enough from their pass-rushing duo, Za’Darius and Preston Smith (two sacks apiece), to win.
The NFL is fortunate its blunder in the first half didn’t swing a playoff game. Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister fumbled on the Seahawks’ first drive, and it appeared Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan recovered. Except the play was ruled dead. After review, officials decided Hollister indeed fumbled, but the Packers did not receive possession because there was no clear view of who recovered. The problem is that this play should have been continued through the whistle instead of being blown dead because, as with all turnover plays, it would have been automatically reviewed. That, actually, is an even more troubling problem than the missed call. It didn’t affect the game this time, but next Sunday is championship week. It would be a shame for a team to possibly miss a Super Bowl trip for the second straight year because of shoddy officiating.