BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 01/20/2015

Anatomy of an epic rally — and historic collapse

Battered early and often by the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks overcame several historical obstacles in moving on to Super Bowl XLIX.

Tight end Luke Willson exults after catching a two-point conversion against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Your time is short on this planet if you witnessed Alan “The Horse” Ameche, the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner who spent six seasons (1955-60) with the Baltimore Colts. Ameche was famous for scoring the winning touchdown in overtime in the 1958 NFL Championship against the New York Giants, a game often called “the greatest ever played” – not because it was, but because it prompted network television to invest in pro football for the first time.

Not since Ameche’s one-yard, game-winning run had a conference title game, NFL or AFL, been decided by an overtime touchdown until Sunday at CenturyLink Field, where Russell Wilson, a former Wisconsin Badger (as was Ameche), threw what is now the most celebrated touchdown pass in Seattle history, a 35-yard burst of perfection to Jermaine Kearse that sent the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX.

Thrilling, enthralling, epic, miraculous — it was all of that. It was also, in many ways, the most unlikely victory by any team in conference championship history.

Trailing 16-0, the Seahawks needed (would you have bet on this?) to set an NFL record for the largest halftime deficit overcome in a title game to advance to the Super Bowl – and do it with a quarterback who, after two quarters, sported a 0.0 passer rating and had completed more passes to the Packers (three) than his own receivers (two).

Trailing 16-7, the Seahawks needed (would you have bet on this?) to become the first team in history to win when trailing by more than seven points at the start of the fourth quarter – and do it with a quarterback who, at that point, had a 7.0 passer rating, the worst mark in history by a quarterback who had thrown at least 20 passes.

Then the Seahawks needed Jon Ryan (would you have bet on this?) to become the first punter in championship-game history to throw a touchdown pass, not to mention throwing it to a rookie 300-pound tackle, Garry Gilliam, who had never caught an NFL pass, much less a 19-yard touchdown.

Trailing 19-7 as the two-minute warning approached, the Seahawks needed to become (would you have bet on this?) the third team history to win a postseason game after trailing by 10 or more points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. These three did:

Year Date Team Opponent Deficit Skinny
1972 Dec. 23 Cowboys 49ers 12 Trailed 28-16, won 30-28
2015 Jan. 17 Seahawks Packers 12 Trailed 19-7, won 28-22
1987 Jan. 3 Browns Jets 10 Trailed 20-10, won 23-20

A comeback would not have been possible if the Packers scored touchdowns instead of  settling for field goals on fourth-and-goal from the Seattle one-yard line twice in the first quarter. Especially with the way RB Eddie Lacy was running.

According to Elias, the Seahawks are only the third team since 1960 (Dallas, 2004; San Francisco 2013) to prevent touchdowns on two drives that reached their own one-yard line in the same game.

A comeback wouldn’t have happened without Russell Wilson’s 26-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch with 3:02 left, the key play (upon review, Lynch was ruled to have stepped out at the nine) that set up Wilson’s 1-yard TD at 2:13.

It would not have been possible without the onside kick recovery that WR Chris Matthews never should have touched. At 2:09, the Packers were one first down from sealing their sixth Super Bowl trip; all they needed to do was secure Steven Hauschka’s onside kick.

Green Bay TE Brandon Bostick was supposed to block on the play so that star WR Jordy Nelson could catch the ball. But Bostick couldn’t resist going for it. The ball slipped through his grasp, and Matthews came up with it, setting up Lynch’s 24-yard TD at 1:33.

Given Mason Crosby’s subsequent 48-yard field goal, the Seahawks would have lost without Wilson’s two-point conversion — actually a two-yard Hail Mary — to Luke Willson, who made only the third such play in postseason franchise history (Marcus Pollard from Matt Hasselbeck vs. Washington, Jan. 5, 2008; Zach Miller from Wilson at Washington, Jan. 6, 2013).

That capped a 15-point spree in 44 seconds. But Seattle still might not have won if backup QB Tarvaris Jackson had lost the overtime coin flip, which enabled Wilson to finally do his thing after delivering the worst 55 minutes of his career.

Wilson had never thrown four interceptions in any game at any level, and those four picks marked the 37th instance since 1960 in which a quarterback tossed four in a postseason game.

But leave it to Wilson, who did the equivalent of striking out five times with runners aboard before hitting a walk-off grand slam in extra innings: He is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to win a conference championship despite four or more interceptions, and only the third to win a playoff game of any kind since 1960 with four or more picks:

Year Date Quarterback Team Opponent INTs Score
1962 Dec. 23 George Blanda Oilers Chargers 5 Hou 10-3
1981 Dec. 27 Joe Ferguson Bills Jets 4 Buff 31-27
2015 Jan. 18 Russell Wilson Seahawks Packers 4 Sea 28-22

Blanda won because his opposite, Jack Kemp, threw four interceptions. Ferguson won, in the wild card round, because his opposite, Richard Todd, also tossed four. Wilson won, in part, because the Packers did little with five Seattle turnovers (four Wilson interceptions, one Doug Baldwin fumble), turning the miscues into only two field goals.

The Green Bay Press Gazette described the outcome as “the most devastating playoff loss in franchise history, an epic collapse,” a commentary shared by Packers right tackle T.J. Lang.

“With five minutes left in the game, there was nobody on our sideline who thought we could possibly lose,” said Lang.

The two quarterbacks had differing views on what happened.

“We gave it away,” said Aaron Rodgers.

“We took it by making plays,” said Wilson, who executed with Kearse one of the greatest plays in Seattle’s pro sports history.

Since 1995, the Edgar Martinez, franchise-saving double against the Yankees has stood as Seattle’s default greatest single play. Richard Sherman’s tip of a Colin Kaepernick pass into the end zone in the 2013 NFC Championship came to rival it. Now we have Wilson, set to become the first quarterback to start in two Super Bowls in his first three seasons, to Kearse, the first player in NFL history whose only reception in a playoff game was a TD catch in overtime.

Good omen

The game was the sixth conference title game since 1970 to go into overtime. The past three teams to win such a game — Giants, 2011; Saints, 2009; Giants, 2007 — went on to win the Super Bowl.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    Though the Internet is not the best barometer in determining accurate statements I’ve read many statements from the Packers players and coaches on how they should have won the game. That they gave it away. Though that’s true it’s only in part. I don’t see the Redskins or Jaguars being able to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to the Seahawks. Only a champion could do what the Hawks did on Sunday.

    As far as best sports moments in Seattle sports history I’ve racked my brain trying to think of something as comparable. Only The Double can compare IMHO. Not the Whammy in Miami, not the Game 6 double OT game vs. the Rockets in 1987, 2010 Holiday Bowl, Felix’s perfect game, game 3 of the 2004 WNBA Finals, the Huskies upsetting Arizona for the 2011 Pac-10 title or Game 7 of the West Finals against the Jazz in the 1996 West Finals. That’s my list of great Seatte sports moments and Sunday’s game seems to top them all with the possible exception of The Double. Maybe. I don’t know.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      Talk is so cheap…they can talk til they are the color of Blue(cheese)in the face but much like Tate’s catch in the fail mary game?Its seen in Wisconsin as a “non win”…but records(and History) hold the game as a W for Seattle.
      Same as last Sunday.They can talk. But no amount of talk will get them to the Super Bowl in Glendale.Its a recorded win and well earned as far as reality is concerned. Go Hawks!

    • Effzee

      You forgot one.

      • jafabian

        No, I remembered. That was a great game but not a close one.

        • Effzee

          Gotcha. ;)

    • Eric K

      I’d add the comeback drive at Stanford in 2000

  • Kevin Lynch

    It does take two to tango. The Hawks came through with some real guts and sterling play at the end but, ah….as long as the holy angel of fortune stays where she is there can be no problem anyway. The minute she flies you’ll need the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. You’ll be faced with the fact that you’re playing against the greatest coach in NFL history and maybe the greatest quarterback, on a neutral field to boot. I can guarantee you Brady is not going to play ‘not to lose’, like the Packers. They have waited 10 years for this.

    But they don’t have a brilliant defense, like you do. Don’t turn the ball over and you can win. I’m predicting the Hawks only have one turnover if the weather is dry.

  • marcus

    This game and how it ended is the greatest moment in Seattle sports history. And I say that being a HUGE Edgar Martinez fan. How that Double saved baseball is dubious given the actual outcome of the earlier public vote (which had narrowly failed). The Legislature had to step in and the anger from that action later helped fuel Eyman’s slew of initiatives. I would say that the Mariners postseason glory (the first time ever) certainly helped keep the Mariners here, but it’s not as cut as dry.
    More importantly, you have to consider what was at stake in these games. The Mariners went to the ALCS where the Cleveland Indians promptly showed them the door. The Seahawks won and are going to the championship game. If Edgar’s Double had sent the Mariners to the World Series the moments would be comparable, but it did not. To this day the Mariners are still waiting to reach the Series. The Seahawks are going back to the championship with a chance to win it all. The Comeback > The Double.

  • http://rip-ragged.com/dross Raymond Meyers

    The internet is abuzz with people who just don’t get the “sports” thang. They say the Packers are the better team and should have won. Nope. The Packers didn’t end up with more points, therefore they should’ve lost, and they did. They say the Seahawks won due to pure, sh**house luck. Bah. The champion is the guy who makes the second to last mistake. In my mind, as soon as the game went into overtime I was sure the Seahawks would win. The Packers weren’t scoring touchdowns much. So it was a pretty good bet Seattle would have gotten a possession. The Seattle offense always (ALWAYS) scores in crunch time. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and that pedestrian, mediocre, average receiving corps is not a luck-based group. I’ll bet $20 on the Hawks to win no matter how bad the score or how late in the game. And I’ll make money doing it.

  • Eric K

    the one thing I’d dispute is that teh Hawks had to win the coin toss, the Packers didn’t have a TD drive the entire game, their one TD was off a short field. If they had won the toss they likley get a FG and Hawks then cna drive for the win.

    Here is how I described the win on SI’s forum:

    I think the way to put it is the Packers made a series of mistakes that gave the Hawks the opportunity to come back, but the Hawks still had to make all the plays as well. It isn’t like Shuab in Houston throwing gimme pick 6s, all their TDs were on drives.

    So you can say that GB choked it away, but you can also say that against probably 28 or more other teams they still win. It took the Hawks D to hold GB to 19 (13 in the 1st quarter and then 3 in the 2nd and 3 in the 4th until the last drive to tie) against most teams after all those turnovers GB is up 27-0 or more.

    I think a big part of it as well is that the Hawks offense wasn’t playing as bad as the stats and score indicated before the last 5 minutes as well. Two of the Ints were a wide open Kearse tipping passes. Another drive ends when Bladwin drops a wide open throw back that might have gone for a score and so on, so itsn’t like they flipped a switch and became a different team, Lynch had been running well all day and they mostly stopped beating themselves on passing plays.

  • Greg

    It could be argued that Sunday’s successful onside kick, though not a glamorous play, is more comparable to Edgar Martinez’ double in 1995.
    That onside kick was crucial. The TD pass to Kearse could have fallen incomplete and the Hawks would have had more downs to move down the field.

  • Matt712

    Had the Seahawks lost, I think it would have been more accurate to have said, “WE gave the game away.” But, as one of Pete Carroll’s most iconic sayings goes (and he will probably never have a better example of it)… “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”

    Hopefully not lost on us due to the epic offensive heroics of the last quarter, was probably the most gutsy game of defense I have ever seen – especially with what was given them on the outset by the other two units. Add to it, that your two best players get injured and refuse to come out, then hold the league’s best passer to 50-something rating. Seattle never should have been in a position to make a comeback, but except for a select few unfortunate fans, no one in C’Link ever seemed to give up.

    Best game: Conference Champinship to go to the Superbowl. Best moment: So many improbables overcome, unbelievable redemption factor for both guys on that play.

  • ll9956

    Thanks for another good article, Steve.

    Well, here I go into Nervous Nellie mode. I think the Patriots are beatable, but the Hawks will have their hands full. There’s no end of the statistical games one can play. For instance both teams lost four regular season games. In those games the Patriots were outscored by a total of 53 points compared to 22 points for the Hawks. So what?

    At this stage it would seem that there are only things for certain:

    1. For the Hawks to have any hope for victory, Sherman and Thomas both have to regain their health. I can only hope that the doctors and Mother Nature can work their magic to make that happen.

    2. The Hawks absolutely have got to avoid a first half that even remotely resembles that of last Sunday. Hopefully that was an anomaly that won’t occur again any time soon. If it does, it’s all over.

    Go Hawks!