Clutch Encounters: NFC Championship

Clutch Encounters: NFC Championship
Clutch Encounters: NFC Championship
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Not until the recovery of an onside kick with 2:07 left did we get some one-score drama on Championship Sunday. Oh, and it was some of the best drama the playoffs have ever seen, with Seattle returning to the Super Bowl in unbelievable fashion.

The ending of the NFC Championship Game made it hard to settle down into the AFC Championship Game, which was a shame because that game barely had a pulse in the second half. New England's 38-point rout over the Colts tied the second-largest margin of victory in series history. As usual, the Colts shot themselves in the foot early and came up with no answer for the Patriots' running game. After leading a 93-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 14-7, Andrew Luck did not drop back again until the third quarter when Indianapolis trailed 24-7. That was deflating to say the least, and things only got worse from there.

That's enough about the bad game. The NFC game gave us plenty to look at with decisions on fourth downs, onside kicks, two-point conversions, and modified overtime from an instant classic.

Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers 22 at Seattle Seahawks 28

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 12 (19-7)

Win Probability (4QC starting with 3:52 left): 0.05

Win Probability (GWD starting with 14:51 left in overtime):0.52

Head Coach: Pete Carroll (18-37 at 4QC and 26-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Russell Wilson (10-12 at 4QC and 15-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Repeat after me: all Russell Wilson games end up close eventually.

Through two college programs and one NFL team, Russell Wilson has gone 82 consecutive games where his team was at least within one score in the fourth quarter. Most of the time the result is a win, but none of the losses can be characterized as blowouts. If Seattle's not coasting to victory, then even their bad performances usually find a way of coming down to one score in the fourth quarter. Sunday was the biggest challenge yet, with Wilson turning in a career-worst performance for the game's first 56 minutes. Then the dominos started to fall and the Seahawks pulled off the third-biggest comeback win in championship game history. That includes all Conference Championships, Super Bowls and pre-merger title games.

Biggest Comeback Wins in NFL Championship Game History
Rk Winner Loser Season Game Deficit Final
1 Colts Patriots 2006 AFC-C 18 (21-3) W 38-34
2 49ers Falcons 2012 NFC-C 17 (17-0) W 28-24
3 Seahawks Packers 2014 NFC-C 16 (16-0) W 28-22 OT
4 Falcons Vikings 1998 NFC-C 13 (20-7) W 30-27 OT
5 Colts Jets 2009 AFC-C 11 (17-6) W 30-17

By overcoming a late 12-point deficit, the Seahawks also have the largest fourth-quarter comeback win in NFL championship game history. For Wilson, his 10th fourth-quarter comeback win is a new record for a quarterback in his first three seasons. Thankfully, there is no officiating controversy attached to this game. If you're Green Bay, you are only left wondering how the lead was not bigger in the first place, and how this one slipped away at the end.

Wilson's Unusual Pick Parade

The fact is this game was played at a very sloppy level for much of the day, with both teams contributing their share of mistakes. The home team had a surprising amount of pre-snap penalties, and their ball security was never worse. Even the reliable Doug Baldwin fumbled on a kick return. Wilson threw four interceptions, all on targets to Jermaine Kearse, two of them bouncing right off the receiver's hands. The first one was still not a smart throw, because Tramon Williams timed his defense perfectly and Kearse was never going to get the first down anyway. That was an unworthy risk, but still some bad luck on the deflection. In Week 1, the Packers dropped a couple of Wilson interceptions and seemed to cash in a coupon to recover those and then some on Sunday. Also, a week after he was brilliant on third down against Carolina, Wilson did not look like himself on third downs against Green Bay, often throwing short passes that never had a chance to convert. Even in moments when his sometimes overwhelmed pass protection held up, Wilson still did not move around much to try making something out of nothing like he so often does.

McCarthyism, Take One

Despite the five turnovers and some incredible field position, Green Bay did no better than a 16-0 lead thanks to poor play and conservative play-calling in scoring range. Green Bay had three drives start inside the Seattle 33 and only came away with nine points on three field-goal drives that traveled a combined 51 yards. Seattle's defense was outstanding to compensate for the bad spots the offense and special teams put them in, and that doesn't even include the opening drive when Richard Sherman intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the end zone. None of the Packers' six scoring drives exceeded 57 yards on the day.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy had a rough day all around, but the decisions to kick field goals from the 1-yard line on back-to-back drives may stand out the most. Green Bay actually had two of this season's five attempts on fourth-and-1 plays from the 1-yard line in a tied first quarter. The Packers converted with a pass against Chicago and Eddie Lacy was stuffed against Detroit in Week 17. Did that recent failure creep into McCarthy's head? There are not many better times to go for it than in a scoreless first quarter, but the Packers were awfully conservative. After Rodgers threw a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter, Green Bay never reached the red zone for the remainder of the game. Rodgers never looked quite like himself after that touchdown as he too suffered a multiple-interception game, with both thefts in scoring range.

Seattle's Unique First Score

This really was an odd game to watch. Not even a 29-yard completion on third-and-19 (thank the three-man rush for not working again) got Wilson going, but it did at least lead to a scoring play. Pete Carroll rolled the dice with a fake field goal and punter Jon Ryan delivered with a 19-yard touchdown pass to offensive tackle Garry Gilliam to make it 16-7 with 4:44 left in the third quarter. Should the Seahawks have gone for two to try the almost never done "8+8" strategy? I think teams worry too much about the tie instead of what gives them the best chance to win. The conversion at this point is only an argument because the offense was struggling so much that expecting two more scoring drives may have been asking for a lot. They had just gotten their only score of the game on a risky fake field goal. Then again, asking for a pair of two-point conversions also seemed unrealistic, so they might as well have taken the sure point and targeted two more scores regardless.

McCarthyism, Take Two

Rodgers was gimpy and ineffective in the second half, but Green Bay's running game picked up the slack for the last time, leading to another field goal. Sherman injured his elbow on the first play of the fourth quarter after a 32-yard run by James Starks. With Sherman basically playing with one arm, you can question McCarthy for not trying to attack him more, but that was probably most egregious on the final drive. When the Packers got the ball back with 6:53 left, they were just trying to get by with third-down conversions. However, K.J. Wright had tight defense with an arm across Andrew Quarless on a third-and-4 to break up the pass.

With just over five minutes left in a 19-7 game, the Packers made another huge mistake after Kearse's second tipped ball led to an interception by Morgan Burnett. Instead of returning the ball into Seattle territory with only Wilson and offensive linemen in his way, Burnett basically did a quick victory slide at his own 43. I have certainly accused this team in the past of playing poor situational football, and maybe that was reflected here in a situation where you need to get great field position for your offense again. Burnett went down like he had just won the game. Is that an isolated incident of a single guy making a mistake, or is McCarthy not teaching the fundamentals of situational football? Was Burnett taking the safe route in light of what he saw happen to DeMarcus Lawrence in the wild-card round, when Lawrence fumbled a Matthew Stafford fumble? All I know is a lot of fans are angry that Burnett took a dive. There was still 5:04 on the clock.

McCarthy said he had a goal of 20 carries in the second half. That's a laughable statement from a coach with a quarterback that will likely take home the MVP award this season. Was Rodgers up to par on Sunday? No, but regardless, you never plan for 20 second-half carries. That just happens as a result of controlling the game, which might suggest that McCarthy thought he was in full control instead of being aggressive in putting the game away against a team that has made crazy comebacks before. Green Bay's four-minute offense has been effective this year, but this time they used nothing more than a run-run-pass strategy. The Packers, with 10 carries in the half at the time, went into shotgun and Seattle dared them to run. As good as Lacy was to start the game, he had just 19 yards on his last 11 carries (all came after the first quarter). After Lacy lost yardage twice, the Packers were in no man's land with a third-and-16. They were not likely to convert, though trying to draw a penalty that would bring up an automatic first down is a more realistic option than ever before in today's game. Instead they went with another run and a bad 30-yard punt set up the classic finish.

The Comeback

Seattle had 3:52 left, one timeout, 69 yards to go and a 12-point deficit to overcome. We have seen crazier things before, but this had yet to feel like Seattle's day, especially on offense. For a crazy coincidence, the Seahawks were riding a 68-game streak of being at least within one score in the fourth quarter. The record belongs to the 2008-2012 Packers at 69 games. It was just a year ago we watched New England's 63-game streak end in the AFC Championship Game in Denver. Was history going to repeat itself? The Seahawks also had yet to lead in the game, something they had done in a record 54 consecutive games.

But plays started happening. Marshawn Lynch picked up 14 yards on a read-option run and nearly had a 35-yard touchdown catch down the sideline, but he stepped out of bounds at the 9. With 2:57 left, Seattle really needed to score right away to make sure another possession was likely. Three running plays killed that idea, but Wilson scored on the 1-yard keeper with 2:09 left. Alright, the one-score streak had been extended to 69 games, but could they get one last drive? Those runs really made the onside kick a necessity with just one timeout remaining.

If there was a moment when you started to believe Green Bay was going to blow this, it probably came on the onside kick. Brandon Bostick was supposed to block, but the ball came his way and he tried to make the catch at the highest point with Jordy Nelson behind him.

That did not work out and Seattle recovered at the 50 with 2:07 left. Incredible. We noted the other day teams were just 9-of-59 (15.3 percent) on onside kicks this season, with the Colts recovering all three of their attempts.

Wilson took off for 15 more yards after the Seahawks realized the read-option was pretty effective this way. Lynch may have caused some more seismic activity with a 24-yard touchdown burst that put the Seahawks ahead with 1:25 left, but Seattle needed to temper their enthusiasm. The ensuing two-point conversion was extremely important, since a failure to convert would open up a game-winning field goal opportunity for Green Bay.

What a conversion that turned out to be. Wilson rolled out to his right, then dipped backwards to unload a -- dare I say it -- mini-Hail Mary from beyond the 17-yard line. The ball hung for a very long time and somehow Luke Willson caught it while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix never made a play on the ball. Seattle led 22-19.

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After that long series of gut-punches, Green Bay still stood with 1:19 and three timeouts left. The Packers looked fast until Rodgers looked so slow on a 12-yard scramble out of bounds at the Seattle 36 with 35 seconds left. In that situation, you'd really rather be down by four to six points so the game-tying field goal wouldn't be an option. Rodgers should have kept attacking the middle of the field and had an excellent opportunity on second down against the blitz, but he chose a sideline throw for which Richard Rodgers was not ready. It was already third down, and Rodgers threw short just to make the field goal a little easier. For some odd reason the Packers immediately called timeout with 19 seconds left. Why save Seattle time to do something?

Despite so many other Green Bay mistakes, Mason Crosby was perfect at his job on Sunday, especially in crunch time with a pair of 48-yard field goals in the fourth quarter, including the game-tying kick with 14 seconds left. Seattle would have killed for overtime most of the day, but it was almost a disappointment to the team now. For fans, it was a perfect way to end this one.

The Overtime

Seattle won the toss and chose to receive, of course. Baldwin returned the kickoff to the 13, which is the worst starting field position to start any modified overtime period. Seattle soon faced a third-and-7 and I was planning on adding yet another team that chose to receive in overtime to the loser list. In 51 modified overtime games, the team receiving first is 24-24-3. Only nine teams have won after an opening-drive touchdown, though it is worth noting Seattle has done this three times now, knocking off the 2012 Bears and 2014 Broncos without ever putting the defense on the field.

Wilson floated a perfect pass to Baldwin for 35 yards against Casey Hayward. One good pass deserves another. Green Bay sold out to stop the run, leaving the middle of the field open for Kearse against Williams, and Wilson dropped another 35-yard throw in the bucket for the game-winning touchdown. What a comeback. What a disaster. What a finish.

Conclusion: The Moment

What happened down the stretch of this game is a great case study for quarterback analysis. According to ESPN, Wilson's QBR was 0.2 through three quarters, but 92.2 in the fourth quarter/overtime. That sounds about right, but how much attention should we put on Wilson's horrible start versus his amazing finish? Do we just judge him on every play he made, or do we take something away from the last two drives because of the onside kick recovery? Shouldn't four touchdown drives outweigh four picks, even if we acknowledge half of each probably should not have happened? If certain other quarterbacks played the way Wilson did for 56 minutes, wouldn't they probably lose by at least 30 points and not even have the chance to come back?

I ask these questions, because I struggle myself to answer them with confidence. Wilson was having the worst game of his career … until he wasn't. Plenty of comebacks involve the recovery of an onside kick. Even Roger Staubach needed an onside kick to pull off a playoff comeback that started the "Captain Comeback" legend. Quarterbacks rarely get those chances, but in the rare case they do, there probably should be some credit for making them count. Not everyone can finish like that, and certainly not after starting the way Wilson did.

There are so many playoff games that have swung on one play breaking a certain way. This one had a few of those moments, though I am not sure there is any one play that stands above all. Maybe the onside kick because of how rare those are to recover. If Green Bay had recovered, they would have won with one first down. If they had gone three and out, Wilson probably would have needed to drive most of the field in about 70 seconds. That's a rare event too.

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For a Seattle team that has finished No. 1 in DVOA in each of the last three years, this was another January high-wire act that has the team teetering between potential dynasty and playoff disappointments. Only the 2012 Falcons have been able to knock this team out, and that was after blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. Last year Colin Kaepernick had a chance to throw the game-winning touchdown, but we know where that pass ended up.

No matter which play you choose to remember most from this game, the Seahawks escaped with the win and have a chance to become the first repeat champion since the 2003-04 Patriots. If the Seahawks continue to win these games, then their legacy will be cemented as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. There will be numbers to back that up, even if the performance is not always there. But if you can keep the game manageable every week, then there's always a chance for a win. Seattle has mastered that.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 67

Game-winning drives: 75

Games with 4QC opportunity: 144/266 (54.1 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 46

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced Football Analytics. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.


54 comments, Last at 22 Jan 2015, 6:05pm

#1 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 19, 2015 - 2:38pm

Any thoughts on Pete Carroll's decision to punt on 4th & 14 from midfield with his team down 19-7 and 7-mins remaining? Apparently Russell Wilson was "begging" to stay on.

Points: 0

#3 by RickD // Jan 19, 2015 - 2:51pm

14 yards is a lot to ask for. I wouldn't go for it on 4th and 14 unless it was absolutely necessary. When you have the best defense in the league, asking it for a 3 and out isn't bad, esp. when the opposing QB is limping and clearly less than at full strength.

Points: 0

#12 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 19, 2015 - 6:49pm

NFL play-by-play is even going with 4th-and-15, but either way I think punt was the right choice. Not a no-brainer decision, but those are really tough to convert and to that point Seattle's only gains that long were the 3rd-and-19 and the fake FG.

And of course they had a bunch of long gains later in the game in desperation mode and OT, but punting them deep in own end is fine there.

Points: 0

#16 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:19pm

My thinking at the time was that offense, at that time, could have gone for it on fourth-and-14 a thousand times and not converted. Nothing but punting ever occurred to me.

Points: 0

#2 by oaktoon // Jan 19, 2015 - 2:51pm

Re: Burnett-- The team's defensive captain and longest-serving veteran, Julius Peppers, yelled for him to lay down... And so Burnett did... I have a problem with both of their decisions.

Points: 0

#4 by RickD // Jan 19, 2015 - 2:53pm

A look at the photo makes it clear just how bad Bostick's decision was. His job was to block Matthews. Had he done that, Jordy Nelson had an easy play to make.

Points: 0

#5 by Otis Taylor89 // Jan 19, 2015 - 3:05pm

That was a classic game of one team playing not to lose...and losing.
Was there one play all game where GB didn't something with any risk involved? Even the 1st int was thrown because Rodgers thought Seattle was offsides (and they were), meaning he had a free play. No jet sweeps heading towards an injured Sherman, no runs when you should be passing, no passing when you should be running. And the worst call was rushing 2 guys on the 3rd and forever play.

Points: 0

#33 by beargoggles // Jan 20, 2015 - 2:03am

While I agree with your overall point, I'm not sure Green Bay has the personnel to run a "jet sweep" at Richard Sherman. Maybe some kind of screen, but I'm not sure they really do that, and they don't have the big, physical receivers, probably to make Sherman pay. Pass to the flat to Lacy, maybe, but even then, some non-Sherman will probably end up covering him.

Points: 0

#34 by duh // Jan 20, 2015 - 2:27am

Given he had one arm I really didn't understand why they just didn't fire the ball out to the WR at / behind the LOS and make Sherman tackle a couple of times. It is hard to think the plays would have been less successful than some of the runs that were going nowhere.

Points: 0

#38 by Perfundle // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:19am

I think the most likely reason is that Rodgers thought he was faking or exaggerating his injury. Rodgers has been accused of doing the same thing against Detroit and Dallas, so the thought probably entered his mind, and of course Sherman is well-known for trying to bait QBs.

Points: 0

#6 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 3:30pm

Regarding going for 2 after scoring on the fake field goal, it's interesting to see the various different ways the game would've gone. Usually you can't expect teams to play the same way with a different score, but not when it's a two-score lead for most of the game.

1. Seattle fails to convert: The score would've been 16-6, and then 19-6 after Green bay kicks a field goal. Seattle's next TD brings it to 19-13, and their next one gets them to 20-19, with no reason to go for two there. The is the same scenario as a successful defense of the 2-point conversion.

2. Seattle converts: The score would've been 16-9, and then 19-8 after Green bay kicks a field goal. Seattle's next TD brings it to 19-14 before the extra point, and obviously Seattle would go for it again here.

2a. Seattle converts: The score is 19-16, and and their next one gets them to 23-19, with no reason to go for two there. Green Bay now needs a TD instead of a FG, but a TD would win them the game.

2b. Seattle fails to convert: The score is 19-14, and and their next one gets them to 20-19 before the extra point, the same scenario as what actually happened.

Points: 0

#7 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 3:34pm

An even more realistic outcome is an incomplete pass, with Green Bay getting neither the benefits of ~40 seconds running of the clock or a first down completion.

Points: 0

#8 by Pen // Jan 19, 2015 - 4:28pm

Excellent article. Best write up of the game I've read.

Points: 0

#9 by ChrisS // Jan 19, 2015 - 6:29pm

On Lynch's last TD he looked to slow down/hesitate at the 1 yard line. I wondered if he thought about going down so they could milk the clock and score a few plays later. Risky if he would have done it, but maybe the right play????

Points: 0

#11 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 6:47pm

Any other player and that would probably be the reason, but:

I'm almost certain Lynch was just saying eff you to the Packers.

And no, it definitely would not have been the right play. It's one thing to take a knee at the 1 when you're tied or behind by less than 3 and a field goal wins you the game, but you never ever decline a chance to score a TD when you need to score one. I suppose he could've stood there for several seconds until a defender came close, but no more than that.

Points: 0

#10 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 19, 2015 - 6:46pm

Down 5, you definitely take the sure TD there, but just think of the Seahawks in the playoffs the last three years. If Lynch would have needed another run or two to score against Atlanta, then Matt Ryan doesn't make that GWD. And last year I complained about Lynch scoring against NO instead of going down at the 1.

I also noticed he grabbed his junk at the end of that play. What a character.

Points: 0

#13 by Will Allen // Jan 19, 2015 - 6:51pm

He's gonna get flagged one of these junk grabbing times, and if they are in need of a two point conversion when it happens, he's gonna be a meathead character. He was pretty fortunate yesterday, although the zebras might have feared for their safety if they called it.

Points: 0

#30 by Sixknots // Jan 19, 2015 - 11:49pm

Yeah, Lynch is a special type of character all right. I loved the inference over on the PK comments about the similarities between a Marshawn locker room interview and a Belichick post game press conference.

Points: 0

#14 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:01pm

Against New Orleans scoring was definitely the wrong move, but if Seattle doesn't score a TD at all then there is no need for a GWD for Atlanta.

But in hindsight, that TD by Lynch was even worse than Burnett giving himself up yesterday. Had New Orleans managed to score 8 points in less than a minute as Seattle did, it would be Lynch and whoever messed up the blocking on the onside kick that would be the goats, and the hero would've been Colston, who would have had at least 144 yards receiving and recovered the onsides kick.

Points: 0

#17 by BroncFan07 // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:33pm

Thought the taunting calls and non-calls were interesting. Sherman clearly puts his head down and yells at Adams after the opening drive INT: no taunting penalty. Lynch scores and reaches for his, uh, checkbook: no taunting penalty. GB intercepts the ball, and one of their DL runs downfield to get in the face of one of the SEA players: taunting penalty. Just interesting.

Points: 0

#28 by EricL // Jan 19, 2015 - 11:26pm

Sherman clearly puts his head down and yells at Adams after the opening drive INT: no taunting penalty. Lynch scores and reaches for his, uh, checkbook: no taunting penalty. GB intercepts the ball, and one of their DL runs downfield to get in the face of one of the SEA players: taunting penalty. Just interesting.

You sort of answered your own observation. Packer DL runs downfield to get in a guy's face. Gets flagged. Sherman yells something at Adams (of course he did, it's Sherman) while returning to the field of play by the most direct route, not flagged.

We don't know what was yelled, but given what I've heard of Sherman miked up, it's not something flag worthy. He didn't stop to yell, just continued on by. I don't think that's flag worthy, depending on what was said.

Lynch? Might not have been seen in real time. Third time he's done it now, and he hasn't been flagged yet.

Points: 0

#35 by Blykmyk44 // Jan 20, 2015 - 2:39am

Yep...Im sure the act of running to a guy randomly to talk smack when you did nothing to make the play happen is going to get you the penalty.

Points: 0

#44 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2015 - 8:36am


Remember week 17, when GB had 6 cracks at the 1 against DET, and didn't make it?

A TD is much more of a 50-50 proposition than a FG.

Points: 0

#15 by oaktoon // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:10pm

To explain but not defend McCarthy's first half decision-making (and also the Packers' futility and unimaginative approach close to the goal line) I give you the following:

Packer Plays from Opponents 1 yard line:

First 9 games: 3--- Results: 2 passing TDS and a holding penalty

Next 5 games: 5--- Results: 3 running TDs (all Lacy) and 2 passing TDs

Packers were 7-8 (87.5%) successful for the first 14 weeks.

And then:

TB game on:

13 plays: 2 TDs (pass to Nelson vs TB; Rodgers QB sneak vs Detroit-- he overrode McCarthy on this play)

11 failures. 5 passes and all 6 Lacy or Kuhn runs. 2-11 18.2% success rate.

We can talk small sample sizes all we want-- it is pretty evident that MM ran out of confidence and answers for scoring a TD from close in-- thus the two FG decisions in the first half. And it explains their first down failure from the same basic formation on the first play of the post Burnett INT series...

Points: 0

#18 by ClavisRa // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:37pm

"Is that an isolated incident of a single guy making a mistake, or is McCarthy not teaching the fundamentals of situational football?"

That is just one example from the game of McCarthy's poor coaching not preparing his team for 'situational football'. The failure of the hands team for the onside kick to understand who was responsible for blocking, and who was responsible for fielding the ball is another. When Seattle attempted the fake field goal, Green Bay had a man(#50) in perfect position 10 yards off the line to defend the receiver that ran right past him. The only reason I can imagine he would not cover the receiver is lack of preparation. Perhaps the most egregious example was by the coaching staff, calling a Cover 0 defense to lose the game (against a team that had been attempting bombs all game!)

Points: 0

#19 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:41pm

Perhaps the most egregious example was by the coaching staff, calling a Cover 0 defense to lose the game (against a team that had been attempting bombs all game!)

And if they had put safeties back and Lynch and Wilson ran all over them it would be that the coaching staff was idiotic for trying to preventing the long ball that had been unsuccessful all game. How about you give your ideal defense in that situation?

Points: 0

#21 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 19, 2015 - 7:46pm

Well on the first drive of OT you absolutely cannot give up the TD, so that's a case where the NFL's obsession with "don't get beat deep" would be fine, which is why it was so surprising to see Green Bay play the coverage it did there. I'd be content with possibly getting gashed by the run as long as I prevent the touchdown.

Points: 0

#23 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 9:12pm

Denver tried that against Seattle in overtime. The result was:

R.Wilson pass short right to P.Harvin pushed ob at SEA 31 for 11 yards.
R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to D.Baldwin.
M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 38 for 7 yards.
R.Wilson scrambles left end to SEA 43 for 5 yards.
R.Wilson pass short right to J.Kearse ran ob at DEN 45 for 12 yards.
R.Wilson right end to DEN 40 for 5 yards.
R.Wilson pass short left to P.Harvin to DEN 35 for 5 yards.
M.Lynch up the middle to DEN 29 for 6 yards.
R.Wilson pass incomplete short right.
R.Wilson scrambles right end ran ob at DEN 24 for 5 yards.
R.Wilson scrambles right end pushed ob at DEN 13 for 6 yards
R.Wilson pass short right to P.Harvin pushed ob at DEN 6 for 7 yards
M.Lynch 6 Yd run, TD.

So they got gashed by runs and short passes and gave up the touchdown anyway. Green Bay themselves just got finished getting torn apart by the read-option on Seattle's previous two drives, and chose from what they thought was the lesser of two evils. I don't think Green Bay really had a chance no matter what defense they played. Frankly, Seattle's last three drives were what people had been expecting out of them all day, and the apparent mismatch between their offense and the Packers defense was a big reason why they were such heavy favorites going into the game.

Points: 0

#36 by Blykmyk44 // Jan 20, 2015 - 2:41am

He didn't cover the reciever because if he did then Ryan runs for a first down. I assume he didn't think the punter was going to try and throw the ball.

Points: 0

#39 by Perfundle // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:39am

He wasn't the only one chasing Ryan; House was right behind him, and while Ryan is very fast for a punter, he was still 12 yards away from the first down when he threw it. Hawk's best strategy in hindsight should've been to cover Gilliam until Ryan crossed the line of scrimmage, then make a beeline towards Ryan.

Points: 0

#22 by blarneyforbreakfast // Jan 19, 2015 - 8:25pm

I don't think McCarthy's late game conservatism is really to blame for this one (although not going for it in the 1st looks foolish in hindsight). The GB passing game wasn't working, the running game was. It looked like the only way Seattle was going to score was through a turnover. And McCarthy would have looked foolish if he'd gone for ineffective passes and given the ball back to Seattle with 5 minutes and a full set of timeouts left.

As a Seattle fan, this is a game where Seattle did just about everything wrong against one of the best teams in the league...and still made it out alive. For every bad decision GB made there were several terrible ones made by Seattle. Seattle's offensive futility through three quarters was a team effort, although props to the Packers for good execution and tackling.

Points: 0

#25 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 19, 2015 - 9:46pm

I don't think McCarthy's late game conservatism is really to blame for this one (although not going for it in the 1st looks foolish in hindsight).

It was stupid at the time.

(If you don't want to click the Tweet, I wrote "This is a very, very stupid decision to kick this field goal." I honestly forget if that was the first one or second one, but it applies either way.)

Points: 0

#26 by Perfundle // Jan 19, 2015 - 10:34pm

"Very, very stupid" is a pretty strong declaration. Did you feel the same way when Carroll kicked a field goal on 4th-and-1 from Denver's 9 in the Super Bowl?

Points: 0

#41 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:53am

There's a big difference between the 9-yard line and the 1-yard line.

Inside the 1, a failed fourth-down play is almost better than a field goal, and of course a touchdown is much better.

Points: 0

#32 by Perfundle // Jan 20, 2015 - 12:30am

this is a game where Seattle did just about everything wrong against one of the best teams in the league

On offense, sure. After last week's blip they went back to their torrid pace on defense, with magnificent goal-line stands that had been lacking for most of the season. They did all that despite nearly getting no pressure on Rodgers at all. Special teams was basically a draw, with both units taking turns at being awful on one series and great the next. If they really did just about everything wrong against one of the best teams in the league they'd be down, oh I don't know, 45-7 or something. 36-0 is another possibility.

In other words, Seattle was nowhere close to doing everything wrong.

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#45 by oaktoon // Jan 20, 2015 - 9:05am

Yes, but all timeouts are not equal. Seattle (or any team on defense) saves 40 seconds every time they call time out on a GB running play. When they have the ball-- and are already in hurry-up mode, the TO can often save as little as 10-15 seconds. Letting them have all their timeouts isn't as bad a trade-off as people think. Bottom line, it was too early for MM to turn the lights out and deny Rodgers the ball....

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#24 by bubqr // Jan 19, 2015 - 9:12pm

Packers fans, what is your opinion about McCarthy? Would you like to see him replaced by a better in-game coach, or do you think that his value in the other coach responsibilities outweigh his terrible game management skills?

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#31 by Sixknots // Jan 20, 2015 - 12:13am

McCarthy, and many other NFL coaches, need to hire an in-game, game-management coordinator to stand next to them and make recommendations on timeout use (hello Andy Reid), defending the fake punt/field goal, what would the other coach do vs. what would YOU do in this situation, etc.

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#42 by Mountain Time … // Jan 20, 2015 - 6:08am

THIS!!! I've been saying this for years! How is this idea not widespread yet? Head coaches' egos? Would these grown men truly prefer losing while remaining stoic, than win while accepting help?

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#54 by Grendel13G // Jan 22, 2015 - 6:05pm

YES. First team to do this gets me as an adopted fan.

(Or they could just hire coaches who understand basic Madden tactics.)

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#37 by Jay Z // Jan 20, 2015 - 2:55am

I think in-game strategy is highly overrated in this sport and all sports, so no he doesn't need to be replaced on that basis. He has gotten the team ready to play for every game year after year. I respect that.

That picture shows that Bostick simply blew it. He has admitted as much. Don't think the coach, Slocum, or McCarthy are to blame there. He is there mainly for his blocking ability. With the new rules about where players can line up, the receiving team can match up their blockers. He's supposed to block his man and let Nelson get the ball. It's why Cobb or someone else is not there. Bostick blocks his man and the man is in poorer position and Nelson will get the ball. Nelson could still drop it or Bostick could miss the block, but the Packers have faced onside kicks this year.

I understand the reasoning in going for the FGs in this instance. First points are hardest to get, they'd already had a pick in FG range on drive #1. A stop would have given the Seahawks lots of momentum, Packers have not been good at goal line as of late. They had already tried running it twice, Rodgers isn't mobile. If I can come up with plenty of reasons, I'm not going to call it "stupid" or the nomenclature that sites like this always use.

Some examples from Packer playoff history. The Packers play the Eagles in 1960. Eagles fumble very early in the game. Packers go for it on fourth and one at the 11. The Packers run the ball well all day and give it to Taylor in this instance, but he doesn't make it and they come away with nothing. Then there's another turnover right away, and the Packers settle for three this time. Late in the first half they have a drive that's a late rush and another FG is missed at short range. FGs don't matter, you need TDs, right? Well, the Packers lost 17-13. So two more FG win the game. Even if they'd had a FG in one of the two cases their last drive, where Taylor is stopped by Bednarik? Could have had another FG there.

The in 2003, 4th and 26, but late in the first half Packers have fourth and goal at the 1 up 14-7. Great running game that year for the Packers, but the play gets blown up and they don't make it. So later, when they're trying to run out the clock, Sherman doesn't go for another 4th and 1 and they punt it away, eventually setting up 4th and 26. But the score would have been 20-14 instead of 17-14, and McNabb has to drive for a TD instead of a tying FG.

Then in 2010 the Packers are up against the Bears, 14-0 I believe. Down near the goal, but Rodgers is picked off by Urlacher, who nearly goes all the way. Packers wind up winning 21-14, but the only additional TD is a Raji pick and the Bears rally late, have the ball at the end an at least a bit of a chance. Again a case where a FG would have made things a lot easier. (That was a case where the Packers made some mistakes against a weak QB, Caleb Hanie, and didn't close it out well, but were the better team and did enough.)

So I think there are plausible arguments for the FGs in the 1st quarter. Packers wouldn't have done three straight runs had the first two not gotten blown up, but they were. They passed last week to close that game out, they would have done it here, but situation didn't roll out as they hoped, then the onside was botched and they didn't get a second chance.

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#40 by Perfundle // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:41am

For the 1960 example, the fact that they immediately got a turnover should be a reason why going for it was a good decision. Teams play worse backed up against their own end zone, and getting the ball back with good field position is a likely event even if you do fail.

In 2003, Philadelphia was forced into a 3rd-and-6 own their own 5 with 1:38 left in the first half. That's a great position for the defense to be, but they failed to prevent McNabb from converting. He very well might've failed and Philadelphia would've had to punt the ball back to Green Bay with great field position and another chance to punch it in, whereas kicking the field goal would've given Philadelphia better field position to possibly run a 2-minute offense and get at least a matching field goal.

Against Chicago, kicking a field goal to go up by 3 possessions is a lot more excusable, especially when it's in the second half. But Green Bay wouldn't have kicked the field goal anyway, because that was a 3rd-and-goal from the 6, which is completely different from a 4th-and-goal from the 1.

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#43 by Will Allen // Jan 20, 2015 - 7:45am

Packers fans have written since Bostick arrived that the guy is a consistent screw-up in practice, with regard to his assignment. The coaching staff deserves 100% of the blame for being so enthralled with raw athleticism that they were willing to put the entire fate of their team, in a crucial moment, in the hands of a guy who consistently demonstrated an inability to execute his assignment. If what these Packers fans have written is true, the guy should not have been on the roster, and that is 100% on the coaches.

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#47 by BJR // Jan 20, 2015 - 11:15am

Three isolated examples where the final outcome happened to be a loss is nowhere near enough to override the wealth of evidence that now exists suggesting going for it on 4th & 1 at the goal-line is almost always the correct decision.

Whilst I do agree that the football analytics 'community' often gets carried away with scrutinizing marginal strategic decisions, and that these decisions are only a small part of a head coaches responsibility, these mistakes by McCarthy were egregious and inexcusable.

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#48 by Eddo // Jan 20, 2015 - 11:53am

"I understand the reasoning in going for the FGs in this instance. First points are hardest to get, they'd already had a pick in FG range on drive #1."

"First points are hardest to get" sure seems like a totally unsubstantiated assertion. If this were true, wouldn't we see far more shutouts than we do now?

Also, I don't think a game from 1960 is relevant at all; it was a totally different game back then.


This game seems like the best argument for going for it on fourth down from the one. Even if the Packers had only gone one-for-two (which is lower than the league average), they'd have netted one more point, and the game would never had gone to OT(*).

(*) I know that subsequent events wouldn't have played out the same way, but it still serves as an example to the crowd that would always kick.

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#49 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2015 - 12:29pm

From the 1, odds are about 48%.
If you go long yard, and bump the yards to gain to the 2, the percentage drops to about 42%. Which is worth right about 3 pts.

The difference in expected points is in the resulting field position for the opposition. The expected points gained on the play is about even for TD try vs FG.

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#50 by Steve in WI // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:18pm

I recall reading somewhere (Deadspin?) that reportedly Bostick was indeed told to block for Nelson, but with a caveat like "unless you think you have the best chance at recovering the ball." If that's true, that's terrible coaching.

With Rodgers emerging as probably the best QB in the league right now, and possibly very near to being the top QB of all-time (and as a Bears fan, I *hate* to admit that), and with the impressive amount of talent that the front office has put around him, I think the fact that Rodgers has only been to a single Super Bowl at this point in his career is a pretty big indictment of McCarthy and the coaching staff. I realize that the playoffs are a tiny sample size and that when two good teams are matched up, luck plays a big role...but it sure seems like the Packers losing a winnable game in the playoffs is becoming an annual tradition.

I have to say that I absolutely loved seeing the Seahawks come out in overtime and clearly play for the touchdown, not just the field goal.

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#51 by Will Allen // Jan 20, 2015 - 3:55pm

We'll see what happens, but if the Packers end up getting 29 or 30 straight years (!) of a HOF qb starting for them, and end up with two titles and three or four trips to the last game of the year, I think ya' gotta say that the personnel guys that came after Wolf didn't do that great of a job.

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#53 by Perfundle // Jan 21, 2015 - 3:00pm

How is that terrible coaching? In this case Nelson was in the best position to catch the ball, but what if the ball ended up a little lower? What is Bostick supposed to do? Dive to the ground to let Nelson have a chance at it? Continue to block Matthews and let it bounce off his face mask? The only other alternative, "do your job and not pay any attention to what's happening around you," is a far worse idea no matter how you look at it. It's one thing to criticize McCarthy for putting Bostick out to block, but once he's made that decision I don't see what other instructions you give him other than what McCarthy reportedly said.

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#52 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 20, 2015 - 5:06pm

Seems like the Packers always find that team or two they can't figure out. It was Dallas back in Favre's prime. Never beat them either in a big game. Early 2000's, you could probably say Philadelphia. McCarthy era, the Giants have ended two real promising seasons at Lambeau. Now they've gone winless against the 49ers (0-4) and Seahawks (0-3) since 2012.

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