The team that champions “finish” as not just a mantra — more like a livelihood — pulled off an astounding one to become a champion again.
Now the Seahawks are back in the Super Bowl to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Mired in the worst football game of his playoff (if not entire) career following four interceptions — all thrown in the direction of Jermaine Kearse — Russell Wilson made his two best throws his final ones. His 35-yard rainbow perfectly plopped into the arms of Doug Baldwin to get Seattle into Green Bay territory in overtime of an NFC championship game for the ages. His next 35-yard bomb landed exquisitely in the arms of the kid from Lakewood who had two earlier interceptions go off his hands.
Kearse cradled the redemptive ball and refused to let Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams wrestle it from him as they fell onto the “W” of the “SEAHAWKS” banner painted in the end zone. That and two improbable touchdowns in the final 2:09 of regulation sent the defending-champion Seahawks back from five turnovers and into the Super Bowl with an unfathomable 28-22 victory in overtime over some stunned Packers Sunday afternoon at a completely off-the-hook CenturyLink Field.
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“The BEST finishing team!” one of Seattle’s assistant coaches yelled as they ran jubilantly out of the press box downstairs to the locker room immediately after the ridiculous finish.
It really was ridiculous on top of ridiculous.
And it has the Seahawks (14-4) in Super Bowl XLIX Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, against the Patriots (14-4). They beat Indianapolis, 45-7, in the AFC title game later Sunday.
“When you have the belief that these guys have in one another, there’s nothing you can’t do,” coach Pete Carroll said. “As crazy as that sounds …”
That’s how absolutely crazy it was.
“I wasn’t thinking about losing,” Carroll said.
Neither was Kearse — though he had reason to. Instead, he got his fourth touchdown in as many playoff games.
“There was never negative. There was always positive. Positivity, we preach it — and it goes a long way,” Kearse said.
“The real test is how you respond to that adversity.”
Test absolutely passed. With literally flying colors.
Blue-and-green confetti rained upon Wilson, Kearse and Baldwin following the astounding game. Amid the color, the quarterback who is now 6-1 in the playoffs was in tears for one of the only times he can remember. Baldwin and Kearse were crying too, overcome with the emotion of a comeback they’ll be talking about around Puget Sound until the salmon stop making their runs.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever been in,” Wilson said. “I think it might be the best game in NFL history.”
He said he was crying while thinking of his father, the late Harrison Wilson III, who taught him to always believe. For the love and bond he has with his teammates. For all the times he’s been told he’s too short, not good enough, too much of a “game manager” to do what he just did in the biggest moment of this season.
“I’ve been told ‘no’ a lot,” Wilson said. “But I continue to believe in myself.”
The belief he showed in Kearse was remarkable, considering the undrafted former Lakes High School and University of Washington star had allowed two of Wilson’s four interceptions to clang off his hands.
Seattle’s top-ranked defense, playing with All-Pro safety Earl Thomas having have his left shoulder popped back into socket and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman playing with only one good arm for the final quarter, held Green Bay to field goals after it had twice gotten inside the 5 following two of the five turnovers. That’s what kept the Packers from not leading by more than the 16-0 margin at halftime.
“I kept telling him, ‘I’m coming back to you,’” Wilson said of Kearse.
Then Wilson got the “zero” coverage — no safeties in the middle of the field — the quarterback had been waiting for since offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had installed it last week. Wilson changed the play at the line. It called for Kearse to beat the cornerback, Williams, inside off the ball and keep him on his back shoulder during a deep post route.
“I knew if I could just beat my man he was going to give me an opportunity,” Kearse said. “I just had no doubt in my mind I was going to come down with that play.”
With Williams lacking safety help in the center of the field, Kearse’s first steps inside him off the line essentially won the NFC title for Seattle. Wilson’s perfect throw into Kearse’s galloping stride sealed it.
“All that trust, that’s what it leads to,” Wilson said. “We just kept believing. When we needed two touchdowns, there was no doubt. When I threw that ball to Doug Baldwin, when I threw that ball to Jermaine Kearse, there was no doubt.
“I even told Coach Bevell I was going to hit Jermaine Kearse for the touchdown.
“We are going BACK TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!!”
Wilson said that from a stage on the field. Moments earlier Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett had commandeered a bicycle from a Seattle Police Department officer and rode around the field’s perimeter slapping hands with roaring fans, even the Seahawks cheerleaders.
“I just took it,” Bennett said when asked what the cop said about getting his wheels swiped. “You go to a Super Bowl, you can do anything you want in this city.”
One of the best Seahawks rallies they’ve ever had overcame the worst half they could possibly play. Wilson had three interceptions before he completed his first pass with seven minutes left in the second quarter. That was for Seattle’s initial first down. Green Bay had 11 by then. The Packers gained 166 of the game’s first 177 yards.
Then came the unfathomable.
A fake field goal pass from holder and normal punter Jon Ryan to wide-open undrafted rookie backup tackle Garry Gilliam, who was a tight end his first three seasons at Penn State, made it 16-7 late in the third quarter.
Ryan said the Seahawks had first installed the play, his first touchdown pass since he was playing for the University of Regina more than a decade ago, on Thursday. Carroll had spent the three days since constantly telling Gilliam they were going to run the play and it was going to score.
Something about belief.
After Wilson ran it in from the 1 with 2:09 left to make it 19-14 Green Bay, Canadian Football League ex-pat Chris Matthews, waived out of training camp and last signed to the practice squad around Thanksgiving, leaped over Brandon Bostick and other Packers near midfield to recover Steven Hauschka’s perfectly bounding onside kick.
With one timeout remaining, Wilson scrambled 15 yards to the Packers 35. Then Marshawn Lynch, who plowed for 120 of his 157 yards after halftime, bounced an inside run outside to the left. He sprinted into the clear, covering the final yards with his back to the goal line and walking in from 24 yards to give Seattle a stupefying lead, 20-14.
Then, for ridiculous on top of ridiculous, Willson rolled right on a two-point conversion try. The play called for tight end Luke Willson to be a backside blocker on the left side. When no Packer rushed Wilson from that side, he wandered toward the goal line and waited. Wilson lofted a prayer of a pass that Willson answered with a leaping catch over a Packer inside the goal line. That two-point play with 1:33 left made it 22-19 Seahawks — and ultimately forced overtime.
“I bet if we ran that 100 times, one time I would get the ball. And that was today,” Willson said, grinning. “Russell just made that up.”
When asked if they ran that play 100 times how many times he’d throw it to Willson there, Russell Wilson said, “Never.”
The from-the-heavens play became huge when Aaron Rodgers (19 of 34, 178 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions and a Cliff Avril sack) led Green Bay 48 yards after the ensuing kickoff in 1:11 to Mason Crosby’s 48-yard yard field goal. That tied the game with 14 seconds left and sent this title game for the ages to the extra period — instead of ending Seattle’s season had Wilson and Willson not hooked up so improbably moments earlier.
The CenturyLink Field-record crowd of 68,538 was delirious by the start of the extra period.
To think: Some of them booed the home team off the field to begin halftime. That was when it was already the Seahawks’ first four-turnover game of the Carroll era.
The 16-0 hole at the break could have been 35-0. Five consecutive Packers drives in the half started at the Seattle 19, the Seattle 23 — after Doug Baldwin’s fumble on a kickoff he fielded six yards deep in the end zone — then the Green Bay 44, the Seattle 33 and the Green Bay 44.
As it was, it was the first time since Carroll’s first season of 2010 that Seattle had been shut out at home in the first half.
Yet even down 19-7 with three minutes left wasn’t too deep a hole for these trusting Seahawks.
“One for the ages,” Carroll said. “Almost humbling that it was such a classic challenge. And our guys found a way to get it done.”
Best believe that.
“We gathered them up going into OT and we talked to them about how powerful that belief is and what it can allow you to accomplish,” Carroll said.
“Heck yeah, we enjoy it. We enjoy it like crazy.”