Just walking into CenturyLink Field makes Mike Daniels mad. Most of the 2018 Packers roster wasn’t around for the Fail Mary or the 2014 NFC Championship Game, but Cheesehead Nation doesn’t need a reminder about what a disaster it’s been when Green Bay travels to the Pacific Northwest.
The horror show played an encore performance Thursday night, with the Packers blowing multiple leads, including a 14-3 lead in the first half and a 21-17 lead through three quarters to fall 27-24. Questionable officiating, rollercoaster play from Aaron Rodgers, and bizarre playcalling cost Green Bay a game it should have won, a familiar story for its trips to Washington state.
It was an embarrassment for the Packers, yet another in a litany for Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers in Seattle, a confirmation that this season no longer holds much promise beyond giving some rookies much-needed experience. For whatever reason, this team simply can’t get over the hump of winning at CenturyLink Field, even leading nearly the entire game and outplaying the Seahawks basically from start to finish. The sad truth is fans have seen them lose games with that exact storyline before.
The first offensive play of the game hinted at a different script. Much-maligned outside linebacker Clay Matthews raked Seahawks running back Chris Carson, poking the ball free for Tramon Williams to recover. There’s something fitting about such a momentous play coming from one of just a handful of players still around for the debacles of years past in Seattle.
In another fitting bit of symmetry, Mike McCarthy dialed up a dump off to Jimmy Graham to start the drive, getting the former Seahawk involved early for 13 yards and a first down. Two plays later, the Packers found the end zone, something they were unable to do early in that infamous conference title game, thanks to a pair of Aaron Jones runs. Aaron Rodgers utilized a sugar huddle, pushing the tempo coming off the turnover, and keeping a struggling-of-late Seattle defense off balance.
But after a Seahawks three-and-out, the game turned in a pivotal first-half inflection point. Rodgers hit Davante Adams on a 41-yard pass down the sideline, but a better throw would likely have resulted in a touchdown. The drive ended in a missed Mason Crosby field goal where the Packers likely should have simply gone on fourth-and-3.
Instead of 14-0, the Seahawks got the ball and kicked a field goal to make it a 7-3 ballgame.
But unlike that infamous NFC Championship Game, the Packers kept scoring and actually put the ball in the end zone. Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan on a 54-yard picture perfect rollout bomb for Tonyan’s first career NFL catch and touchdown to put Green Bay up 14-3. But as Packers fans have learned, no lead is safe at CenturyLink Field.
Despite ending the first quarter 3/8 for just 12 yards, Russell Wilson started to heat up, leading Seattle on a 14-play, 77-yard drive eating up over half of the second quarter, punctuated with a touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin that ate into Green Bay’s lead.
A Frank Clark sack, one of four on third down for Seattle’s defense, gave the ball right back to the Seahawks, who turned that 14-3 deficit into a 17-14 lead with a one-yard Chris Carson touchdown plunge.
This was starting to feel all too familiar.
But yet another impressive offensive drive by the Packers suggested they were ready to get the monkey off their backs. An Aaron Jones drive, a sight not often enough seen on Thursday, pushed Green Bay down the field with catches of 15, 22, and a 24-yard touchdown pass finishing the drive and taking the team into halftime with a 21-17 lead.
Rodgers finished the first half 12/16 for 214 yards with 2 touchdowns and a 156.3 rating, but the stats were misleading. He wasn’t particularly sharp, something that plagued him all game and even the completions required even great catches or prevented the receivers from maximizing their run after the catch.
The two teams, each desperate for wins, traded punches and counterpunches the entire third quarter, ending the period in a 0-0 draw. Green Bay clung to a slim lead of four that felt like it should have been 14 or more.
Third-down execution plagued the Packers all game with either poor blocking, a questionable playcall or a bad throw from the quarterback. Green Bay finished the game a dispiriting 3-11 on the money down.
If it weren’t for the virtuoso defensive play of Kyler Fackrell — that is not a typo — those third down struggles might have mattered more, but Fackrell gave Mike Pettine’s defense splash plays all night. The much-maligned outside linebacker, starting in place of the injured Nick Perry, finished with three sacks, four tackles for loss and four quarterback hits.
But a drive at the end of the third quarter may just have been the backbreaker. Staring from their own three, the Seahawks used a questionable review reversal to turn an incomplete pass into a 27-yard completion. Had the drop stood, Seattle would have gone three-and-out for the fifth straight possession, instead they drove down the field with relative ease. If not for one of Fackrell’s trio of sacks, the Seahawks may just have scored the go-ahead points early in the fourth quarter. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal to make it 21-20 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
That could have been plenty of time for Rodgers and Co. to salt away the game. On third-and-9, Rodgers heaved downfield to find Adams for 57 yards and it looked like Green Bay would be in business, poised to push the lead to eight. Instead, yet another third-down sack had the Packers settling for a Crosby field goal and another four-point lead at 24-20.
That was too much time for Wilson. With the ball back and more than eight minutes left, Wilson matriculated Seattle down the field thanks to a missed call on a 34-yard completion to Tyler Lockett. With just one timeout left, McCarthy decided not to challenge, leading to a 15-yard score from Wilson to Ed Dickson on a beautiful blitz-beater from Brian Schottenheimer.
This should have still been too much time for Aaron Rodgers. Over five minutes left and a timeout in their pocket. Instead, the Packers went three-and-out after a ridiculous, off-target throw on third-and-2 from Rodgers that wasn’t even close. That essentially ended the game and it was a fitting metaphor for the season: it should have been an easy first down, but instead it turned into a punt.
Green Bay couldn’t get the stop it needed to give Rodgers one more chance.
The season now hangs by a thread, the NFC North likely all but lost barring a collapse from the Bears. Rodgers hasn’t looked engaged all season. McCarthy can’t get out of his own way. Special teams can’t stop shooting themselves in the foot. And the defense is too banged up to consistently play at the level they’ve hinted at this season.
All of that adds up to a coach who should be very concerned about his standing in the organization with a fanbase ready and waiting with pitchforks when the team plane arrives back at Austin Straubel Airport. Rodgers can’t avoid his own blame, with one of the most hollow statistical games he’s ever put up in his most hollow statistical season ever. Never has Rodgers contributed more to the losing of a team, and this game offered a prime example.
These are the games good teams win. Another disappointing loss ripped from the jaws of victory only serves to further prove this team isn’t good. And that tells a damning tale about the team’s coach and its quarterback.