GREEN BAY, Wis.— The Seattle Seahawks were routinely Super Bowl contenders just a few years ago thanks in large part to their dominant defense.
That’s no longer the case.
Seattle’s defense bent and then broke Sunday, surrendering 344 total yards and committing costly penalties in a season-ending 28-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round. It was yet another rough outing for a defensive unit that struggled to stop anyone all season.
“I would say, feel the loss,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said of his message to the younger players. “Feel what that feels like, and use that to motivate you in the offseason. Whether it’s your workouts, whether it’s the offseason training, studying, things of that nature. Because if we use it how we’re supposed to use it and we grow, next season should be a really good season. Kind of feels like 2012 again.”
The pieces that led the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015 are mostly gone. Wagner and K.J. Wright are both still here. But Richard Sherman is with the 49ers, Earl Thomas is a member of the Ravens and Kam Chancellor is retired. Malcolm Smith, who was the Super Bowl MVP for the Seahawks in 2014, and Michael Bennett are both in Dallas.
Wright sat at his locker, which was next to Wagner’s, after the loss for several minutes with his head in his hands. The nine-year veteran, all with Seattle, had seven total tackles Sunday.
“Losing’s always hard,” he said. “Whenever the season ends you just know this is the last time these 53 guys will be together, and it always hard for me to just move on. The older I get, the more challenging it gets.”
Wagner’s 137 postseason tackles are the most in the NFL since 2012. Wagner led the league with 159 tackles this regular season. But Wright, Wagner and the Seattle defense haven’t been the same without a shutdown secondary.
Davante Adams did whatever he wanted Sunday, torching the Seattle defense for a franchise playoff-record 160 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches.
“Of course, Davante was extraordinary tonight,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Aaron Jones added two scores, including one with Jadeveon Clowney on the sideline with an injury to his midsection. The Seahawks did manage two sacks of Aaron Rodgers, who passed Dan Marino for eighth on the all-time list of career postseason passing yards, but failed to force a single turnover and couldn’t get off the field when it needed to.
The Packers’ offense, which struggled to find consistency all season, was 9-of-14 on third down and 3-for-3 in the red zone.
“A-Rod did a good job of getting the ball out pretty fast,” Wagner said of Rodgers. “It was hard for us to get to him. When we did get to him, he was finding a way to get out of the pocket and kind of extend the play. So we definitely felt that was a big part of the game.”
The Seahawks finished 2019 with the 26th-ranked defense in the NFL. Seattle had the 27th-ranked passing defense and was 22nd against the run.
Seattle has now lost nine straight at Lambeau Field and is 1-9 all-time in the Packers’ home stadium.
“It’s one of those feelings that starts to creep up in warmups, when you really feel like you’re locked in,” Rodgers said, “and I was glad it translated to the field.”
Jones rushed for 62 yards for the Packers (14-3), who will travel next weekend to take on top-seeded San Francisco. Rodgers, who went 16-for -27 for 243 yards in his 17th career postseason start, Rodgers has 38 touchdown passes in the playoffs. That’s good for fifth in league history.
“He’s definitely hungry for another Super Bowl. He deserves it, so we’re doing everything in our power to put him in that position,” said Adams, who set Green Bay’s postseason record for receiving yards.
Russell Wilson carried the Seahawks (12-6) on yet another comeback, this time from a 21-3 halftime deficit, but the Packers forced a punt shortly before the two-minute warning on the second sack of the game by Preston Smith. That was Green Bay’s fifth of the game.
“Five minutes left, we’re getting the ball back, the thing’s going to be over. We’re going to win it,” Wilson said. “I think everybody in the stadium, and I think everybody watching felt like that, too.”
The Seahawks never got the ball again.
Rodgers sealed the win with two third-down throws: a 32-yard strike to Adams on third-and-8 with 2:19 left and then for 9 yards to Jimmy Graham on third-and-9 right after the two-minute warning to take down a Seahawks team that was 8-1 on the road this season entering the game.
“I’m just going to enjoy a nice glass of scotch tonight,” Rodgers said, “and get on to the film of San Fran and get ready for a tough opponent.”
Rodgers exacted some payback for five years ago, when the Packers blew a 16-0 halftime lead in the NFC championship game at Seattle and were beaten 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks lost their next game to New England when Wilson was infamously intercepted late in the end zone and haven’t been back to the conference title game since then.
Rodgers is running out of time faster than Wilson, though, nine years after his only championship. Though many of Green Bay’s performances haven’t been pretty, with so many hold-on-at-the-end wins, Rodgers and Matt LaFleur have sure meshed well in the coach’s rookie season.
“Let’s be honest, I don’t know that even our fans felt supremely confident in us,” Rodgers said.
The Seahawks had just a plus-seven scoring margin during the regular season, making quite the habit of second-half rallies. Wilson did some of the finest work of his eight-year career in 2019, helping the Seahawks stay on track despite a steady stream of injuries, including the late setbacks in the backfield that prompted the emergency call for Marshawn Lynch.
Racking up 64 yards rushing on seven scrambles and completing 21 of 31 passes for 277 yards, Wilson directed touchdown drives of 69, 84, 79 right out of the gate after halftime. Lynch finished two of them with scores, and Wilson threw on the run to Tyler Lockett, who had 136 yards on nine receptions, for the other one.
“Every time I looked up, he was making somebody miss in the pocket, creating and extending plays,” LaFleur said. “That’s what he’s done his whole career.”
Lynch’s second touchdown with 9:33 left cut the lead to 28-23, but Jaire Alexander blew up the 2-point conversion attempt with a sack on an unblocked blitz. The Packers gave the ball back to the Seahawks with a second consecutive punt, this time with 4:54 left at the Seattle 22, but Wilson ran out of tricks in his seemingly bottomless bag of them.
“He tested our cardio and heart and endurance today,” Smith said.
Lynch, who has 12 rushing touchdowns in 13 career postseason games to tie for fourth in NFL history, had only 26 yards on 12 carries.
“We made it exciting,” Wilson said. “We just wish we would have left here with a win.”
The Seahawks brought their pass rush to life with seven sacks while grinding out a 17-9 win at Philadelphia last week in the wild card round, with Jadeveon Clowney making his presence felt including a hit that knocked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of the game with a concussion. The Packers mostly kept Rodgers much better protected, though, and a Seahawks defense that forced 32 turnovers in the first 14 games played a fourth straight time without a takeaway.
The Packers had three touchdown drives of 75 yards apiece over the first three quarters, plus a 60-yard march preceded by a missed 50-yard field goal try from Jason Myers.
Rodgers hasn’t had much help beyond Adams and Jones this season, but he and LaFleur did a masterful job of getting them the ball with some Graham mixed in. On the opening possession, Adams and Geronimo Allison ran angled routes toward each other before faking the pick and zagging away. Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers was caught in the confusion, allowing Adams to break free for the 20-yard score.
Seahawks fans have plenty of bad memories of their favorite team’s performances in Green Bay, with the losing streak at Lambeau Field now at nine straight games. The last such win for Seattle was on Nov. 1, 1999.
There was the hot mike that picked up Matt Hasselbeck’s ill-fated boast during the overtime coin toss that the Seahawks would win, preceding his pick-six in the 2003 playoffs. There was the blowout in the snow in the 2007 playoffs, which turned out to be Brett Favre’s final win for the Packers. There were also the regular season losses with Wilson in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Seahawks LG Mike Iupati was out with a neck injury, and Jamarco Jones left in the second quarter with a concussion. That forced rookie Phil Haynes into action.
Seattle 3 0 14 6 — 23Green Bay 7 14 7 0 — 28
GB: D.Adams 20 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 10:37.
Sea: FG Myers 45, :28.
GB: A.Jones 1 run (Crosby kick), 9:49.
GB: A.Jones 1 run (Crosby kick), 1:30.
Sea: Lynch 1 run (Myers kick), 9:44.
GB: D.Adams 40 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 7:09.
Sea: Lockett 7 pass from Wilson (Myers kick), :39.
Sea: Lynch 1 run (pass failed), 9:33.
First downs 23 22
Total Net Yards 375 344
Rushes-yards 24-110 30-109
Passing 265 235
Punt Returns 1-10 1-6
Kickoff Returns 5-97 2-22
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 21-31-0 16-27-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 5-12 2-8
Punts 3-53.7 4-43.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-47 4-30
Time of Possession 30:31 29:29
RUSHING: Seattle, Wilson 7-64, Lynch 12-26, Homer 3-13, Moore 1-6, Willson 1-1. Green Bay, Jones 21-62, Ervin 2-25, Rodgers 5-14, Lazard 1-5, J.Williams 1-3.
PASSING: Seattle, Wilson 21-31-0-277. Green Bay, Rodgers 16-27-0-243.
RECEIVING: Seattle, Lockett 9-136, Hollister 5-47, Metcalf 4-59, Homer 2-27, Willson 1-8. Green Bay, D.Adams 8-160, Graham 3-49, Allison 1-11, J.Williams 1-9, Valdes-Scantling 1-8, Jones 1-4, Sternberger 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Seattle, Myers 50.