Football

Packers’ Clay Matthews: “We had the opportunity (to win) right in front of us.”

Green Bay Packers players sat in the visitors’ locker room in shock and disbelief. How could a game with so much on the line and so firmly in their grasps so agonizingly slip away in the final minutes?

The few Green Bay Packers players who answered with more than one- or two-word responses still found it difficult to explain just how the Seattle Seahawks scored 15 points in 44 seconds in the fourth quarter and the eventual game-winning touchdown in overtime to hand the Packers a 28-22 loss in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

“I don’t think you can,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had six tackles, including a sack on Russell Wilson for a loss of 15 yards. “You’re that close to getting back to the Super Bowl, and you fall short in an overtime thriller.

“We had the opportunity right in front of us. That’s how you can really define it.”

Green Bay could feel Glendale, Arizona, within its grasp. Some Seahawks fans who headed for the exits as early as 7 minutes remaining in regulation with a 19-7 Packers lead must have felt so, too.

Green Bay’s defense picked off Wilson four times (the five total Seahawks turnovers were the most in the Pete Carroll era), its defense silenced the CenturyLink record-setting sellout crowd of 68,538 for most of the afternoon and the offense — while stagnant in the red zone — held 16-point leads twice.

“Our defense was great,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

And leading by two scores with 5:02 left in the fourth quarter, the victory seemed within reach, receiver Randall Cobb said.

“Just let the clock run out, find a way to hold onto that lead,” he said.

The Packers had dominated the game for 57 minutes.

But after Jon Ryan’s fake punt for a touchdown to backup offensive tackle Gary Gilliam in the third quarter, the Seahawks then scored their 15 points in 44 seconds.

It started with Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:09 remaining, then the ensuing onside kick recovery by Chris Matthews. Four players later, Marshawn Lynch busted through a hole on the left side for a 24-yard touchdown run. Wilson then hit tight end Luke Willson on the 2-point conversion for a 22-19 lead with 1:25 to go.

Even as Mason Crosby’s fifth field goal of the game sailed through the uprights with 14 seconds remaining in regulation, the Seahawks wouldn’t be denied. They went 87 yards in six plays after winning the overtime coin toss.

When asked if Sunday was the toughest loss of his career, Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga couldn’t think of another.

“I think so,” he said.

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