DK Note: I originally published this article back on January 19th, 2015, but I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane.
The wild finish to the NFC Championship game will go down as one of the most unlikely and unbelievable comebacks in NFL history. The Seahawks erased a 16-point second-half deficit -- the largest comeback in championship game history -- including a 12-point Packer lead with under three minutes to go. Only twice before in postseason history has a team overcome a 10-point deficit under three minutes and gone on to win.
Down 19-7 with 3:52 remaining, just about everyone had given Seattle up for dead. To that point in the game, Russell Wilson was living a nightmare, and despite coming into the game with one postseason pick on 152 attempts (the lowest interception rate in NFL postseason history), he'd thrown a career-high four picks and had only completed 8 of his 22 attempts for 75 yards.
But, that's when an improbable chain of events would kick into motion. From that point on, Wilson would finish out the game 6-of-7 for 134 yards with a touchdown pass, a touchdown run, and a successful 2-point conversion.
The bizarre, exciting final three minutes of regulation
Seattle took control of the ball at their own 31-yard line, down two scores and beyond desperate to get something going. They got things started off with a nice read-option run with Marshawn Lynch that picked up 14 yards and then quickly followed that up with a 20-yard pitch and catch from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin. Seattle was now into Green Bay territory and threatening. A first-down misfire to Baldwin again set up a second-and-10.
2-10-GB 35 (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to M.Lynch ran ob at GB 9 for 26 yards.
The Seahawks would run a simple, yet effective two-man route combination that would send Marshawn Lynch out-then-up on a wheel route over the top of tight end Luke Willson, who is flexed outside at the snap. The angle of Lynch's release baits Packers' linebacker No. 58, Sam Barrington, underneath the tight end hitch route, and when Lynch cuts it upfield, Barrington is toast.
Lynch stretches to make an athletic catch, not the easiest or most natural feat for a lot of running backs. He reels it in, tiptoes the sideline, and on the live broadcast, would actually break a few tackles and go on to score. But, subsequent replays would say he stepped out of bounds at the 9-yard line, bringing the play back. Nonetheless, Seattle had some juice back, and were threatening to push this thing to a one-score game.
On first down, Marshawn Lynch would rush for 4 yards, followed by a 4-yard scramble by Russell Wilson on second down. That set up a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
3-1-GB 1 (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Wilson left tackle for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN
At the handoff mesh-point, the Packers miscommunicate assignments, and two defenders crash down hard on Marshawn Lynch. Wilson, seeing this unfold, pulls the ball back, keeps it, and strolls into the end zone.
Things were getting interesting at this point as the Seahawks cut into Green Bay's lead, which now sits at 19-13. I'd suppose most Seahawks fans at this juncture were tempering their hopes and dreams though, because onside kicks are notoriously hard to convert.
After kicking the extra point to make it 19-14, Seattle lines up for that crucial onside kick.
(Onside Kick formation) S.Hauschka kicks onside 15 yards from SEA 35 to 50, impetus ends at SEA 48. RECOVERED by SEA-C.Matthews.
Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka's kick was on the money as it bounced high into the air, and it was mishandled by second-year tight end Brian Bostick. Bostick reacted to the football instinctively but had it go through his hands and into Seattle's Chris Matthews' hands. Depressingly for the Packers, it looks like Jordy Nelson would've been there to field the ball.
For what it's worth, Bostick owned up to his mistake after the game.
"I felt like I had my hands on the ball and it went through," Bostick said. "I got hit and I didn't have the ball. ... It wasn't my job at all. I was supposed to block. I just reacted to the ball and thought I could get it. Obviously, I couldn't."
The young player's mistake led to another opportunity for the Seahawks, one they took advantage of.
To this point in the game, the Seahawks had saved their read-option package as an ace up their sleeve. Had Seattle lost, I think it'd be easy to say they'd finally gone to it heavily too late, but, regardless, it was extremely deadly right when the Seahawks needed a spark. Including that Russell Wilson keeper touchdown run mentioned earlier, Seattle ran the read-option eight times in the fourth quarter and picked up 85 yards with it, a 10.6 yards per carry clip (compared with seven read-option rushes for 28 yards in the first three quarters). One such run came on first down following the onside kick recovery, and that put Seattle back at the Green Bay 35-yard line.
A Marshawn Lynch run, followed by a quick pass to Luke Willson for a first down, set up a first-and-10 from the Green Bay 24-yard line with 1:33 remaining and Seattle down five.
1-10-GB 24 (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Lynch left tackle for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
That's when Marshawn Lynch would do this, again, on a read-option run.
The key to the run came on the blocking up front by Seattle's offensive line. Left tackle Russell Okung does a great job of kicking the defensive end out, and left guard James Carpenter combo-blocks with center Max Unger on the defensive tackle to create a run lane for Beast Mode.
As Unger crashes down on the defensive tackle, a gap opens up off his right hip, which Clay Matthews fills.
Lynch cuts it back across Unger and off a great seal by Carpenter.
With the help of some great blocking downfield by his wide receivers, Lynch hits paydirt and the Seahawks take the lead. At this point in time, the home fans are going bananas, and just about everyone across the country is trying to figure out what has just happened.
So, the Seahawks now lead by one, and knowing there's still 1:19 on the clock, a 2-point conversion means the Packers can't win with a last-second field goal. This 2-point conversion will end up being enormous.
2-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. R.Wilson pass to L.Willson is complete. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.
Ok, so this is just stupid.
As Russell Wilson rolls to his right, the Packers play all his options exceedingly well. He tries to spin back to his left, but is met with resistance, so he continues rolling right. He looks back at the last second and hucks it up.
"Funny thing was," said Wilson after the game, "We spread it out and Luke is the backside protector, and I was going to tell Luke, 'Hey, you never know, just be ready.' But I didn't want him to leave too early so I didn't tell him anything in the huddle, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking if there's nothing to the right I'm spinning back and I'm finding a way.
"And I had spun out the first time, and I think Clay had gotten me, but that time I kind of spun back and went back and just tried to extend the play and just gave those guys a chance and he makes a crazy catch to get the two point conversion. That's just knowing the game and trusting the guys that are going to make a play and throwing it up. You don't ever throw it out of bounds in that situation, you just give him a chance to make a play."
Still, that throw was a little flukey, and had the Seahawks been playing in Dallas the ball probably would've hit the jumbotron it was such a rainbow. As Luke Willson put it after the game, "If we run that play call 100 times, that might happen once."
How many times would Russell Wilson think they'd hit that play if they run it 100 more times? "Never."
I'm not sure if Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix just misplays the flight of the ball because it's so absurdly high, or what, but Luke Willson reels it in and the Seahawks are now up three.
After winning the coin toss, the Seahawks would elect to receive the ball and would return the kickoff to their 13-yard line. Four plays later, they'd moved to their own 30-yard line but faced a key third-and-7 to keep their drive alive and avoid punting the ball back to the best quarterback on the planet.
That's when Seahawks' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell dialed up an isolation route downfield to Doug Baldwin.
3-7-SEA 30 (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to D.Baldwin to GB 35 for 35 yards (C.Hayward).
After identifying man coverage in the slot on Baldwin, the Seahawks' top receiver ran a little hesitation sluggo seam route that drifted away from the numbers toward the sideline. Casey Hayward opens up with inside leverage and Baldwin's jab step to the middle forces a subtle hesitation from Hayward. This is enough for Baldwin to burst into some separation.
And, Russell Wilson laid it up for him perfectly. The big gainer now puts the Seahawks into Green Bay field position with a fresh set of downs.
"That's a great throw for Russell," Pete Carroll said after the game. "What was really exciting from the coaches' vantage point was the patience that Doug showed to get off the line of scrimmage, because he knew what he was doing and he believed in it and did a great release and got out there ahead of the guy. And then the ball was right dead on the money.
"There ain't nothing more beautiful than that last play, though. That was exquisite football, across the board for all of the guys to get the check and all of that to take advantage of that and to execute it to perfection to win a game, that was pretty big time."
Carroll's referring, of course, to the Seahawks' next play, the game-winning touchdown bomb to Jermaine Kearse.
1-10-GB 35 (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep middle to J.Kearse for 35 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Seattle comes out in a run-heavy set with two tight ends and two running backs and only one receiver on the field -- Kearse. Prior to the snap, Russell Wilson sees a defensive look to counter their personnel grouping that he likes, and he checks into another play, sending fullback Will Tukuafu out to the wing.
As Tukuafu is followed by strong safety Morgan Burnett, the coverage becomes clear. It's a cover-0 scheme (no safety help over the top) with nine strong in the box to stop the Seahawks' run formation.
So, how did Wilson know to audible into this play?
"Just the film study," he said at his post-game presser. "They had brought everybody up in the box, cover zero, and I just wanted to give Jermaine Kearse a chance to go win the game and he always finds a way to do that somehow. I ... audibled the play, checked the play, and sure enough, we were able to hit Jermaine Kearse for the touchdown to go to Super Bowl XLIX."
"Actually the funny thing," Wilson mentioned afterward, "is I told [Darrell] Bevell on the sideline right when we won the coin toss, I'm going to hit Kearse for a touchdown on a check, and sure enough, we did."
"Yeah, once I saw the coverage I had a feeling he was going to check to that play," Kearse confirmed to reporters. "I knew if I could just beat my man he was going to give me an opportunity.
"So that play that we checked to, it was installed this week. We saw that it was coverage zero, so everybody was lined up, probably at linebacker depth or whatever, and I knew it was just me and Tramon [Williams]. I'm still trying to gather myself. I knew it was going to be one-on-one with no one in the middle, and I just got off the ball and just tried to make a play."
Kearse mentions what he and Wilson were seeing when Wilson determined to check to the deep bomb. All nine defenders "at linebacker depth," as Kearse put it, with no safety help over the top -- as Wilson had sent Tukuafu over to the wing.
Once the check was made, here's what it looked like when he threw said bomb.
Wilson: "If we're going to go down, I'm going to go down swinging."
I've highlighted the Seahawks' comeback as an offensive miracle, but it's worth noting that this win was obviously a team effort. Without excellent play by Seattle's defense over the first 57 minutes of the game, the Seahawks would be headed for their couches, and not Glendale, Arizona.
Instead, the NFL's best defense over the course of the season held the vaunted Packer offense to 4.7 yards per play on the day and held Rodgers himself to just 19-of-34 passing for 178 yards, a touchdown and two picks -- a 55.8 QB rating. After acquiring excellent field position numerous times early on, Green Bay's offense would fail to get back into the Seattle red zone over the final three quarters. Seattle's defense held on for just as long as the offense needed them to, and then the offense did their job.
Better late than never.