It was an instant classic that took a meandering eternity to unfold.
After being thoroughly outplayed for roughly 57 minutes, the Seattle Seahawks went on a forehead-slapping scoring spree Sunday to secure their second trip to the Super Bowl in two seasons.
Jermaine Kearse caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson on the opening possession of overtime, lifting the Seahawks to a 28-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers in an NFC championship game for the ages.
“When you have the belief these guys have in each other, there ain’t nothing you can’t do,” said Seattle Coach Pete Carroll, whose team overcame five turnovers to win.
“I was only thinking about finding a way to get back.”
The victory kept alive Seattle’s hopes of becoming the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champion since New England did it a decade ago. Those same Patriots will be the Seahawks’ opponent in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., after routing Indianapolis in the AFC title game Sunday night.
The seismometer needle had to be jiggling as CenturyLink Field erupted in pandemonium, with a mosh pit of bounding, delirious Seahawks forming behind the south end zone. Theirs was a comeback that defied all odds.
Seattle’s unbelievable second-half flurry included a fake field goal for a touchdown, a successful onside kick, and a prayer of a fling that was pulled down for an essential two-point conversion — any one of which would have been unlikely in a typical game. But the improbability of all three gave this outcome an almost mystical quality.
“It’s kind of a microcosm of our whole season,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who held his injured left elbow close to his side but said he was “100% sure” he would play in Super Bowl. “It always seems like we’re down and out and everything’s done. We’re all out. There’s no way for us to turn it around. And then we find a way to turn it around.”
As the rain fell in steady sheets, Seattle survived one of its sloppiest games in memory, one that was heavily lopsided in favor of the Packers until the last minutes of regulation.
“I felt we were up to something special tonight,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Especially to come in here, in a hostile environment, get an early lead and keep them at bay. But ultimately they made one more play than we did, and that was the difference in the game.”
Wilson had four interceptions, and the Packers looked as if they would avenge their 20-point loss here in the Kickoff Opener. Green Bay opened a 16-0 halftime lead, and had 33 offensive snaps on Seattle’s side of the field before the Seahawks had a single snap in Packers territory.
Sunday marked the first time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that a team won a conference championship game despite having four passes intercepted. In 1961, Houston beat San Diego in the AFL title game, even though George Blanda had five picks.
The first points the Seahawks put on the board didn’t come on a throw by Wilson, or a run by Marshawn Lynch, but a toss by holder Jon Ryan, who found a heck of a time to complete the first touchdown pass of his career — at any level of football. He connected with offensive lineman Garry Gilliam for a 19-yard score on the fake field goal.
“I had my speech prepared for after the game,” said Steve Ryan, reclining in his brother’s locker stall afterward. “I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to lose an NFC championship game, at least you got to throw a touchdown pass.’ And then the miracle happens.”
In truth, they were rapid-fire miracles, starting with the Seahawks’ coming alive with three minutes left in regulation. That’s when Wilson marched them downfield, getting 26 yards on a pass to Lynch, and scoring on a one-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes 9 seconds to play. That trimmed Green Bay’s lead to 19-14 and brought the frustrated crowd to life.
The stadium got considerably louder moments later when Steven Hauschka booted a high onside kick that Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick was unable to field, the ball bouncing off his hands.
“I just reacted and tried to make a play on it,” Bostick said. “Obviously, I didn’t.”
Seattle’s Chris Matthews recovered the ball at the 50 and the home team had a chance.
Four plays later, Lynch took a handoff, ran around the left side, and scored a 24-yard touchdown to give the Seahawks their first lead, 20-19. His blockers cleared so much room for him, he turned and walked backward the last couple of steps across the goal line, the Packers clearly deflated by his nonchalance.
Then, another pivotal moment. Going up by two would be meaningless, so the Seahawks opted for a two-point conversion. Wilson was under heavy pressure, though, and circled back to evade tacklers. Then he let fly a high fling, the type that is almost always intercepted or falls incomplete.
Except Seattle’s Luke Willson came down with this one and crossed the goal line for a 22-19 lead.
“That’s a sprint right, I’m not even involved, I’m just supposed to release,” the tight end said. “I turned around to see what happened, and I saw Russell scrambling around, so I just released into the flat. The next thing you know I saw a ball in the air. All I know is I ended up with the ball in my hands in the end zone, hugging Jermaine Kearse.”
But the Packers weren’t done. Aaron Rodgers directed them 48 yards in the next 1:11 to set up a 48-yard, game-tying kick by Mason Crosby, his fifth field goal of the game, with 14 seconds left.
That set the stage for a drive that now could serve as a centerpiece in the Seahawks hall of fame, should one be constructed. Six plays, 87 yards, and a pair of huge completions: Wilson to Doug Baldwin for 35 yards on third and seven, followed immediately by Wilson to Kearse down the middle for the 35-yard knockout blow.
The drive from Seattle to the Phoenix area takes 23 hours and only feels interminable.
For the Seahawks and their fans, Sunday’s overtime drive will in fact last forever.