GREEN BAY, Wis. — Given how things played out, it was the most appropriate way for the game to conclude.
And for the Seattle Seahawks it was a tough way for an exhilarating season to come to an end.
The Green Bay Packers twice converted third-and-long in dramatic fashion on the game’s final possession, and the Packers held on for dear life to defeat the Seahawks 28-23 in a divisional playoff game Sunday night at a frigid Lambeau Field.
The Seahawks’ never-say-die attitude saw Seattle rally from a 21-3 halftime deficit and have a golden opportunity to give the ball back to quarterback Russell Wilson for one last shot at victory.
But Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers came up with two incredible third-down throws in the game’s final three minutes, the clincher going to former Seahawk Jimmy Graham on third-and-9 with 1 minute, 48 seconds remaining, which allowed the Packers to run out the clock.
Third-down conversions were the story of the game, as the Packers finished 9-for-14 on third down. All three of their first-half touchdowns also came on third down.
“They were really great on third down,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We stunk. We coudn’t get off the field on third down, unfortunately. We didn’t win our one-on-ones, most of those were one-on-one wins. We needed a little bit more pressure to complement it, (Rodgers) got to hold the ball just enough to make the great plays he made. I thought Aaron played a terrific game, particularly in those situations, he had all the big plays tonight when he needed them.”
It was a dramatic end to a Seahawks season that saw no shortage of drama. Seattle was expected to be a middle-of-the-pack team, with few remnants of the roster that won Super Bowl XLVIII. But Wilson was a magician all season long, and he nearly pulled off his greatest trick Sunday as he inspired the Seahawks with both his arm (21-for-31 for 277 yards and one touchdown) and legs (seven scrambles for 64 yards) to a second-half comeback that fell just short.
”When we were down 21-3 at half I told the guys, ‘We’re going to win this game,’” Wilson said. “Unfortunately we didn’t, but the belief was that we were going to find a way. That’s the thing we’ve been able to do all year, we were able to find a way 95 percent of the time. When we got the ball back with five minutes to go the whole sideline felt it. I think their team felt it, too. The reality is we didn’t make the one or two plays we needed to.”
Wilson again had his telepathic connection working with Tyler Lockett, who caught nine passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Marshawn Lynch was never able to unleash Beast Mode, as he was held to 26 yards on 12 carries, but he did find the end zone twice on short runs during Seattle’s second-half surge.
Lynch, who came out of retirement to rejoin the injury-riddled Seahawks late in the season, answered, “We’ll see,” when asked if he’d return next season.
Rodgers finished the game 16-for-27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Both TDs went to Davante Adams, as Seattle never found an answer to the Packers’ lone threat at receiver. Adams finished the game with eight catches for 160 yards, and he caught a perfect over-the-shoulder pass from Rodgers for the first long third-down conversion on the game’s final drive.
Green Bay, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, advanced to face top-seeded San Francisco in next weekend’s NFC championship game, which will be played in Santa Clara, California. The fifth-seeded Seahawks, the who came into the game 8-1 on the road this season, dropped their ninth straight game at Lambeau Field.
Seattle, seemed dead and buried at halftime, and although the Seahawks scored a touchdown on Lynch’s 1-yard plunge on the first possession of the second half, the Packers answered through Rodgers’ 40-yard TD pass to Adams, and Seattle found itself again trailing by 18 late in the third quarter.
But Wilson kept making plays, scrambling to his right before finding Lockett for a 7-yard TD with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it 28-17. Then after Seattle’s defense finally got a stop, Wilson again engineered a scoring drive that ended with Lynch’s second 1-yard TD. A failed two-point conversion left it at 28-23.
Seattle got another stop and had the ball with 4:54 remaining and a chance to take the lead. However, a dropped pass by Malik Turner and a third-down sack by Preston Smith compelled the Seahawks to punt on fourth-and-11 from their own 36 rather than go for it, Seattle counting on its defense and three remaining timeouts to get the ball back.
The defense forced a quick third-and-8 from the Green Bay 22, but Rodgers dropped a pass just over the coverage and into Adams’ arms for 32 yards with 2:12 remaining. Then after the two-minute warning the Packers faced third-and-9 from the 45, but Rodgers got rid of the ball ahead of the blitz, Graham grabbed the ball at knee level, and he was taken down right at the first-down marker. The Packers were awarded a first down, and video review upheld the spot, allowing Green Bay to run out the clock.