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Seahawks-Packers NFC Championship Game: Six early moments when the NFCCG was unlost

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"Can you win the game in the first quarter?""Can you win the game in the second quarter?""Can you win the game in the third quarter?"So goes the saying. If you've memorized your lines, you know the answer is supposed to be "No." An emphatic NO, even.Well, not to disagree too much with Pete, but the Seattle Seahawks could easily have lost the 2015 NFCCG in the first three quarters. But they didn't. Here's how.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For years to come, we will celebrate the late-game heroics that improbably chucked the Seattle Seahawks into Super Bowl XLIX. (Which is an event that we did not collectively hallucinate. You will not be waking up from this nightmare-turned-wet-dream seconds from now, with specks of sleeps in your eyes and the calendar plunked open to Sunday, January 18, 2015. Relax. R-E-L-A-X. If that were going to happen, it would've by now.)

The things that happened, happened.

The Jon Ryan touchdown pass. The onside kick. The Beast Mode go-ahead TD. The two-point "Hell, Mary" conversion. Overtime. The big-play offense finally XLIXing. The Sickest thRoW. The ensuing loss of mind.

Like 43-8, those things will never unhappen.

But without six earlier events, six largely forgotten events, there is no comeback. There is no Improbable 8:30, as Kenneth put it yesterday. There is no perfect pandemonium, no blissful bedlam -- no impending invitation to immortality.

1. The Sherman Statement

Timing: 11:23 left, first quarter, 3rd and 10 from the Seattle 29

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We know Sherm likes to bait quarterbacks. What we didn't know was how long of a con he was capable of sustaining. How about we start with "at least 19 weeks."

It's hard to overlook a Richard Sherman interception of Aaron Rodgers. But given the rest of Sunday's drama, this early pick isn't getting a lot of press. It was the next-to-last time the MVP would throw at his developing nemesis. (Much later, Rodgers would manage a six-yard completion to Jordy Nelson, who was tackled immediately by Sherman's one good arm, forcing fourth down. Not once, while Green Bay led, did Rodgers test Sherman.)


This season, here's Richard Sherman's "PARRK," his Personal Aaron Rodgers Rating Kill for the season: -95.6. Aaron Rodgers collected a 112.2 passer rating against non-Shermans this season. It was 16.6 against actual Shermans on Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers is one full 2014 Russell Wilson Passer Rating worse against Richard Sherman than against the rest of the league.

Or, if you prefer, number 25 turned the MVP into a one-seventh shadow of himself. Beginning with an interception that potentially wiped out three points.

2. Five Men At Work in Cramped Spaces

Timing: 9:47 through 8:56 left, first quarter, inside the Seattle 2

This is the collective praise portion of the post, because no less than five Seahawks stopped a Packer at the one-yard-line during this defensive series. Demarcus Dobbs caught up with Eddie Lacy to set up a second and goal; Kevin Williams and Bobby Wagner then turned John Kuhn back at the one-foot-line; finally, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin stood Lacy up on the next play.

Kuhn's run was originally called a score, but somewhat ironically for students of history, a booth review showed that only his helmet crossed the line. Somewhat ironically. Thank goodness for the installation of instant replay, amiright?

Four more points off the board. We're at seven.

3. The Earl Stops (You) Here

Timing: 5:48 left, first quarter, 3rd and goal from the Seattle 6

Again, an instance where one defensive play keeps evil points at bay. How different is the second half if Earl Thomas fails to make this tackle?

He doesn't. He stops Randall Cobb after five yards.

Up to eleven Packer points have now vanished. What more is there to say about the greatness and the necessity of Earl Thomas? Next.

4. The "You're Maxwellcome" Moment

Timing: 8:29 left, second quarter, 1st and 10 from the Seattle 33

This is a largely forgotten, but crucial turning point in the game. Byron barely hangs on to this errant Rodgers pass. It takes a dive and sure hands for him to corral it.

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Say Maxwell drops it, or Rodgers adjusts the trajectory a couple feet on the release, while he notices the play break down. Then it's a simple throwaway, and the Packers remain on the edge of field-goal range, facing just second down. There's no telling whether the drive turns into zero, three or seven points, but given Crosby's perfect accuracy Sunday, three points is a reasonable amount of defensive value to assign this play.

Going that route, we're up to 14 points saved.

5. The Pointless, Yet Non-Pointless Drive

Timing: 8:21 through 2:00, second quarter, from Seattle 31 to GB 18

On the Hawks' four first drives, they gathered yards the way a Magic: The Gathering convention gathers horny young women. Seven yards, total, on four possessions.

The Hawks' second-quarter fruitless foray into Packer territory takes up 6:21 of game time. Yay. It yields no points. Yay?

Yep, it's a definite positive moment and maybe even a game-saving drive. Because Earl Thomas spent the entire possession on the bench and in the locker room receiving treatment for his undefined shoulder injury. By the time Russell Wilson finds a wide-open Sam Shields in the end zone, ET is taped up and ready to play.

Imagine the Hawks go three-and-out here, or maybe spend 1:30 spinning their wheels on a few plays, including a couple incompletions. Then they punt from somewhere near midfield. If presented with the ball at their own 20, how many points does Green Bay score against a Thomas-less defense? It's probably at least three more, right?

We're up to the vicinity of 17 points saved. Maybe less. Maybe more.

But instead, six minutes are chewed up, three third downs are at last converted -- two by Marshawn on the ground and another by Ricardo Lockette, chiming in with a clutch catch.

6. Briefly Being Tony Romo

Timing: 6:51 left, third quarter, 3rd and 19 on the GB 48

The last "early" game-saving play comes on a near-impossible situation.

Teams converted 11.4 percent of 3rd and 15's in 2014. One in nine instances. For 3rd and 19, I'm going to posit a success rate near 10 percent. When Tony Romo converted the 3rd and 23 that saved his Cowboys' hide in Seattle in Week 6, it was the league's first succcessful play all season in 30 such situations.

Doug Baldwin shows you how much he cares for your probabilities and statistics.

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Without converting 3rd and 19 (set up by Lynch's underrated 11-yard run on 2nd and 30), the Hawks never get close enough to allow Jon Ryan and Garry Gilliam to do this two minutes later:

(You knew I had to sneak this in here no matter what.)

Additional Words Of Dubious Value While We Somehow Wait For XLIX

The onside kick will always bounce off of Brandon Bostick's helmet and land, with surreal serendipity, in the unlikely soft hands of Chris Mathews.

Marshawn's smooth scoring run will always remove the Hawks from the crevasse into which they'd climbed.

Jermaine Kearse will always fight off tough coverage to meticulously envelop his only catch of the day, at the best possible time, for the best possible result.

But potentially none of those heroics happen without the six moments listed above.