Critical defensive plays lift Seahawks over Packers

Earl Thomas sat at his locker, shirtless, a gigantic ice bag on his left shoulder. He was searching for words, appearing almost dazed, trying to answer a thousand questions from a thousand directions in a locker room that was pure pandemonium.


Everett Daily Herald

SEATTLE — Earl Thomas sat at his locker, shirtless, a gigantic ice bag on his left shoulder.

He was searching for words, appearing almost dazed, trying to answer a thousand questions from a thousand directions in a locker room that was pure pandemonium.

“It’s hard for me to describe what just happened, bro,” Seattle’s All-Pro safety said, softly. “We were down with three minutes left, and look what happened. I’m clueless right now.”

“I don’t know if I’m drained. I’m just … grateful, man. Just grateful. That’s it. Grateful.”

Seahawks players, coaches and fans will, in turn, be grateful for a defensive effort led by Thomas on Sunday that was truly heroic.

The highlight shows will feature clutch plays on offense and special teams, but if the NFL’s best defense didn’t play a game for the ages, none of that would have mattered.

It took an all-time performance by the Seattle defense to set the table for a comeback that was beyond miraculous, and the defense delivered as the Seahawks beat Green Bay 28-22 in overtime in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field.

“That’s what you trust in,” quarterback Russell Wilson said of the Seattle defense. “All the years I’ve been here, they just continue to find ways to make plays for us and vice versa.

“It’s a togetherness, it’s a relentless effort to find a way, no matter what it looks like, and so I’m so excited for our defense and all the crazy plays that they made,” Wilson said.

“They were lights out tonight for the most part, and it’s just pretty spectacular.”

Green Bay had a modest 306 yards of total offense, and All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a relatively quiet, for him, 19 of 34 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown.

But the most important statistic, by far, was that the Packers scored only one touchdown. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby kicked five field goals, two of them after the Seattle defense held the Packers at the 1-yard line.

The rest of the team appeared to be in self-destruct mode in the first half, perhaps the least productive half in Seahawks history.

At halftime, Seattle had three first downs, 59 yards, no points, four turnovers and seven penalties. Wilson was 2-for-9 for 12 yards and three interceptions, and he had been sacked twice.

The Packers started three drives from inside the Seattle 35 and two others at their own 44.

Against a lesser defense, the halftime score could very easily have been 35-0.

But it was only 16-0, and the Seahawks, somehow, were still in the game.

“Control what you can control,” Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said of the defensive mindset during the first half. “As a defense, we weren’t giving up touchdowns, which was big.

“It could have got out of hand quick, but we made it happen,” Avril said. “We didn’t give up touchdowns a few times on those goal line stands, which was huge, obviously. It was a big deal.”

There were critical defensive plays everywhere.

All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman picked off a pass in the end zone to end Green Bay’s first drive.

On the next series, after a turnover, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin stopped running back Eddie Lacy on third-and-goal from the 1.

On the next series, after, yes, another turnover, Thomas tackled wide receiver Randall Cobb at the 2 on third-and-goal.

The Packers led 13-0 after one quarter.

“That first quarter might have been the longest quarter of my life,” Seattle defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “It seemed like it was never going to end. But we kept fighting and kept fighting, and we finally got the tilt on our side.”

In the second quarter, cornerback Byron Maxwell had an interception at the Seattle 33 to end a threat.

Linebacker K.J. Wright broke up a pass on third down with five minutes left in the game.

Sherman, by then favoring an injured left arm, tackled Jordy Nelson short of a first down with 19 seconds left in the game, forcing the Packers to kick a tying field goal when a touchdown would have won the game.

“It was great for us to go out there and not hang our heads or blame the offense,” Thomas said. “Just try to hold them to three. Try to force a turnover while we’re trying to hold them to three.”

All the while, Seattle defenders swear they continued to have faith that the offense would get it together in time to pull out an unlikely victory.

“You’re not even thinking about doubt,” Thomas said. “You’re not thinking about anything. You’re just thinking about staying in the moment, holding your own. At any time it could be your number being called to make the play.”

“There was zero percent doubt,” All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “On our defensive sideline we just kept saying let’s get them the ball back and we’re going to win this game.”

Wagner said his confidence soared when the Seahawks won the coin toss for overtime.

“When we won the toss, I knew we won,” Wagner said. “We were going to score some points, because we had the momentum, and they were going to have to score on us, which was not likely.”

Not on this day.


Todd Fredrickson is a sportswriter for the Everett Daily Herald.