After a wild-card weekend with compelling fourth quarters in all four games, the divisional round started with a 49ers blowout of the Vikings, a Titans blowout of the Ravens, and a Chiefs blowout of the Texans — even after spotting them a 24-0 lead. The Seahawks-Packers game needed some excitement in the final period to even justify a Tipping Points column this Monday. Fortunately, the Seahawks are a reliable provider of fourth-quarter drama. This ended up being their 14th game this season decided by a single score.
Game of the Week
Seahawks at Packers
If the Seahawks hadn’t pulled this trick all season, then I would have feared their own blowout when the Packers scored a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half to go up 21-3. Defensively, the Seahawks could not stop receiver Davante Adams. Neither top corner Shaquill Griffin nor Tre Flowers could match up with him one-on-one. They both finished outside the top 50 qualified cornerbacks with 48% and 49% respective coverage success rates this season, and Adams caught six first-half passes for 88 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks offensive line was overmatched. Left tackle Duane Brown returned from a three-week absence due to a knee surgery, but the interior of the line was still missing left guard Mike Iupati and center Justin Britt. Center replacement Joey Hunt was a turnstyle on Sunday. Russell Wilson took three first-half sacks, and Marshawn Lynch ran for just 14 yards on six first-half carries despite facing a defensive line that allowed 4.96 adjusted line yards in the regular season, second-worst in football.
The Seahawks were no strangers to second-half deficits. In a way, those deficits helped the team get out of its own way and shift offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s play calling away from ineffective early-down runs and toward passes from the team’s MVP candidate Wilson. But Schottenheimer also deserves credit this week for an adjustment to consistently add a sixth pass-protector in the second half. That frequently left Wilson dancing in the backfield as fewer potential receivers were in the pattern, but Wilson is the best quarterback in football at extending plays and finding receivers who have broken out of their initial routes. Wilson led the Seahawks on 10- and 12-play touchdown drives to start the second half, and after linebacker Bobby Wagner dove and deflected a third-down pass intended for Adams at the start of the fourth quarter, Wilson had another chance at a touchdown drive that now would make this a one-score game.
Wilson started that effort with a move for which his opponent Aaron Rodgers is famous: inducing the defensive line to come offsides and then snapping the ball immediately for a free play. That worked as well for Wilson here as it normally does for Rodgers. He lobbed a pass that receiver Tyler Lockett caught at the 40-yard line and impressively secured despite an immediate hit from cornerback Kevin King.
Two plays later, Wilson rifled a pass that rookie DK Metcalf, last week’s star, snatched in heavy traffic. Then he lunged upfield for 14 yards into Packers territory. After an extended run around in the pocket, Wilson made a dangerous lateral that tight end Luke Willson fortunately pulled in for a 1-yard gain along the right sidelines. And then Wilson hit his primary tight end, Jacob Hollister, on a 19-yard out that advanced the Seahawks into field goal range. But they wouldn’t settle. Travis Homer authored one of the team’s few productive runs with a 5-yard carry on first down, and then he made an excellent catch of a Wilson pass forced close to the sideline by heavy pressure. Somehow, Homer was able to stay in bounds and scamper up the sidelines for 16 yards.
Now at the 5-yard line, there was little mystery to how the Seahawks would proceed. But even with their advantage on the defensive line, the Packers couldn’t prevent Lynch from punching in the Seahawks’ third touchdown on their last three drives. Jaire Alexander blew up the Seahawks’ subsequent two-point attempt — a smart strategic decision by Pete Carroll that improved his team’s Game-Winning Chance (GWC) by 1.0% over an extra-point try — with a blitz that saw him unblocked to the quarterback, but the Seahawks had still created their predestined one-score game at 28-23.
The Seahawks had nearly quadrupled the Packers’ time of possession so far in the second half, 16:14 to 4:13. The Packers defense badly needed its offense to stay on the field and give them a rest. That looked unlikely to happen after Bradley McDougald and Griffin deflected passes on first and second down at the start of the next Packers’ drive. But Geronimo Allison made an amazing play to convert the third down. Pressure forced Rodgers into a backpedal that led to a bad throw, low and behind Allison. Despite blanket coverage from Flowers, Allison was able to slide to slow his momentum and lower his hands to make the catch just before it hit the ground.
That conversion plus a 14-yard Rodgers scramble did allow the Packers defense to rest, but it didn’t lead to any points. Pressure forced Rodgers to throw the ball away on second-and-9 from the Seahawks’ 40-yard line. And then pressure forced a sack of Rodgers with brothers Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin converging on the quarterback and pushing the Packers away from the periphery of field goal range.
The subsequent punt left Wilson with just under five minutes to try to complete the Seahawks comeback. He started that effort nicely with a 14-yard completion to Lockett that Wilson threw on-target across his body and on the run toward the right sidelines. But Malik Turner dropped a would-be first-down catch that hit him in the hands, and King dropped Hollister with a tackle immediately after a catch. That forced a third-and-5, and Wilson never had a chance to throw a pass with pass-rusher Preston Smith running around Hollister on the right side of the line with little resistance.
The resulting fourth-and-11 was a long shot for a conversion, but Carroll still sacrificed nearly half of his remaining GWC by choosing to punt (19.6% GWC) instead of pass (11.9%) with just 2:41 remaining. Carroll justified the decision by pointing to his three remaining timeouts, and if the Seahawks defense could have made a quick stop, then Wilson would have had plenty of time for a game-winning drive. But that stop didn’t happen, and Wilson never had another chance on offense.
The Seahawks came closest to a stop after Jadeveon Clowney chased Rodgers to the right sideline and into a throwaway on second-and-8 to stop the clock. But the Packers remained aggressive, and Rodgers dropped a perfect pass for an over-the-shoulder Adams reception 30 yards downfield.
That was Adams’ final catch of what ended up as a 160-yard receiving day, an eerie total given that it perfectly matched DK Metcalf’s total from Seattle’s wild-card game last week. Metcalf and Adams were just the 14th and 15th receivers to catch 160 or more yards of passes in the postseason this century. Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith all accomplished the feat twice.
Adams’ momentum on that catch carried him out of bounds, and that left the Seahawks with a sliver of hope still with two timeouts and the impending two-minute warning. But after Aaron Jones runs for 1 and 0 yards, Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham in the flat. Pressure forced the throw a bit low, which in turn caused Graham to stumble after he made the catch. But replay reviews never showed a clear shot of the location of the ball when Graham hit the turf, and the on-field ruling of a new first down allowed the Packers to kneel to end the game.
The Seahawks had struggled to generate pass pressure all season, finishing last of the 32 teams with a 23.7% pressure rate according to Sports Info Solutions charting. With Clowney healthy, they did pressure Rodgers at times on Sunday and forced some off-balance and off-target throws. But so many of those inaccurate throws still became completions, and the Seahawks only sacked Rodgers twice. They will likely need to either upgrade that pass rush or the secondary to advance further in the playoffs next season.
Meanwhile, the Packers survived the Seahawks comeback bid to play another week. That will be a totally different kind of challenge on the road against the No. 1 seed 49ers, a team that defeated them 37-8 in San Francisco in late November. Despite their 13 wins this season, the Packers are currently just 15th in weighted DVOA and enjoyed the biggest surplus of wins over their Pythagorean win total (9.8) of any team in the NFL. These playoffs have already seen some historical upsets, but the Packers will likely need to get creative to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.