With less than five minutes on the clock in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson knew what was going to unfold in the closing minutes at Lambeau Field. He’d played the starring role in this movie several times before.
Having already led three second half touchdown drives for the Seahawks to cut the Packers lead to 28-23, the star quarterback got the ball back after a clutch three-and-out stop by the defense. Unstoppable after halftime, there was no doubt in his mind his team would finish off the stunning comeback.
“Five minutes left, getting the ball back, thought the game was going to be over,” Wilson said. “I thought we were going to win it. I think everybody in the stadium and I think everybody watching it felt like that, too. That’s the good thing about us, it’s never over.”
After hooking up with Tyler Lockett for a 14-yard completion on the first play of the drive, a sense of panic crept over a sellout crowd at legendary Lambeau Field. Closing in on midfield with Wilson firing darts from inside and outside the pocket, a once-certain playoff win for Green Bay now hung in the balance.
But Wilson’s ensuing pass clanked off receiver Malik Turner’s chest, setting up a 2nd and 10 situation instead of a first down in Packers’ territory. The drop proved costly, as two plays later, defensive end Preston Smith beat tight end Jacob Hollister’s block for a devastating third down sack.
Going for it on fourth down may have been on the table without the sack, but still armed with all three timeouts as well as the two-minute warning, coach Pete Carroll decided to punt with hopes Seattle’s defense could make one more stop. Those prayers weren’t answered, however, and Wilson never got another chance.
“He did everything he could have done,” Carroll remarked after the game. “And I just thought his courage and his toughness showed up. His resolve to find ways all over the field, running and passing. The throws that he made. The runs that he made. The escapes he pulled off. Always going to win is what he was doing.”
And therein lies the lingering problem for Seattle. Wilson did everything he could do to put the Seahawks on his shoulders and carry them, but they still came up five points short. As magically as he played in the final two quarters, he didn’t have enough support from teammates and the coaching staff in the first half, which led to a 21-3 halftime deficit.
From a game planning perspective, the Seahawks took the ball out of Wilson’s hands too often the first half. By design against a defense that had struggled to stop the run this year, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer kept dialing up runs for Marshawn Lynch, only to see an injury-marred offensive line fail to provide any blocking in front of him.
On one particular drive in the first quarter, Lynch rushed for eight yards on first down, setting up a favorable 2nd and 2 situation. But rather than Wilson ever touching the ball, the Seahawks gave it to Lynch the next two plays and he was blown up at the line, forcing a quick punt without Wilson attempting to drop back one time.
By halftime, Wilson had completed just six out of 13 passes for 105 yards. Lynch had six carries for 14 yards, barely averaging more than two yards per rush. The Seahawks converted just one out of five third down opportunities, with two drives ending with Lynch getting stuffed and Hollister dropping a catchable pass.
Defensively, Seattle was equally inept at generating third down stops, allowing Green Bay to move the chains five times on seven third down opportunities. Two defensive penalties also extended first half drives, allowing Aaron Rodgers and company to build an 18-point advantage.
It was yet another sluggish start that has become all too common for Carroll’s team this year, especially in the second half of the season. They fell behind 21-3 at halftime against the Rams in Week 14, entered the third quarter down 17-7 to the Cardinals in Week 16, and were down 13-0 to the 49ers before mounting a late comeback in Week 17.
Just as they did in those previous three games, even with Wilson making things happen at the controls, the Seahawks couldn’t find a way to overcome their dreadful start and defeat the Packers. As a result, they’re officially done playing until July and will now enter an offseason that once again is clouded with uncertainty.
Leading his team to playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons, Carroll’s job isn’t in jeopardy and nor should it be. But after suffering another disappointing postseason exit plagued by a poor start, he and his staff must look in the mirror, consider what they have at the quarterback position, and look closely at the talent they’ve surrounded him with.
Wilson belongs in the discussion among the NFL’s best signal callers and his theatrics in Green Bay only confirmed that. But Seattle must realize that it’s not 2013 or 2014 anymore. The “Legion of Boom” isn’t coming back and neither is the historically dominant defense that helped compensate for conservative, uninspiring offensive showings.
Keeping that in mind, this will be as critical of an offseason as Carroll and general manager John Schneider have had since arriving in 2010. They can continue to conduct business the same way and likely make the playoffs due to Wilson’s greatness, but the same outcome will undoubtedly happen next January.
To take the next step and truly become a Super Bowl contender again, better health would be beneficial and the wheel doesn't need reinvented. Running the ball can still be an integral part of the offense and personnel moves can be made to bolster the defense in free agency and the draft.
But above all else, the Seahawks must stop living in the past, reinforce the talent around Wilson, and modernize their offensive philosophy to an extent to make the most of their quarterback's remaining prime years. The million dollar question is – after achieving so much success in the past decade, will they finally be willing to do that?