The Seattle Seahawks shouldn’t have won the NFC Championship Game for a second straight season.
They shouldn’t have beaten the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime after five turnovers and four interceptions by quarterback Russell Wilson. During the regular season, Wilson threw only seven interceptions, averaging one every 81.6 dropbacks. On Sunday, he threw one every 8.5 dropbacks.
They shouldn’t have won a game after a Wilson-led offense didn’t earn a first down until the 7:08 mark of the second quarter. In the first half, Seattle averaged only 2.7 yards per play.
But in this game, there was a short gap between what’s deserved and what could be earned—between sputtering and surging. Both were bridged by running back Marshawn Lynch. Chris B. Brown of Smart Football noted Lynch's significant contribution to the Seahawks' win:
Oh sure, there was some luck at play during a 16-point second-half comeback, the largest halftime deficit overcome in any championship game.
A whirling Wilson pass to his tight end Luke Willson on a two-point conversion attempt was sprinkled with the most pixie dust. And any successful onside kick recovery—like the one by Seahawks wide receiver Chris Matthews with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter—is always a product of horseshoe rubbing. Throughout the regular season, only nine onside kicks were successful.
But it was Lynch who capitalized on that good fortune and lifted the Seahawks offense from its deep quarterback-induced January snooze.
Wilson had completed only eight passes with a little less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score 19-7. The Seahawks needed two touchdowns during that time to both salvage a season and take their title-defense mission off life support. All game, they had managed only nine first downs to that point. Beyond gracious acts from a higher power (again, there were a few of those), believing became difficult.
Then on 2nd-and-10, Lynch sprang free from the backfield. He ran a wheel route, easily beating coverage.
Lynch didn’t quite beat the sideline, but that mattered little. CBSSports.com's Will Brinson noted Lynch stepped out of bounds as well as managed to include some gold on his cleats:
The damage was done after that 26-yard reception, and three plays later, Wilson finished the job with a one-yard touchdown plunge. Suddenly, believing was a whole lot easier.
But the Seahawks had only made the impossible a little more possible. Even after the onside kick, an offense that had done little more than gift Green Bay quality field position needed to suddenly stay competent and cover half the field in just over two minutes with one timeout.
Lynch had an answer for that, too.
Since doing his best Super Mario impersonation, Lynch has always been the Seahawks’ solution during dire times. He blasted through a wide-open hole on the left side, and 24 yards later, believing turned into celebrating.
The euphoria was temporary, of course, because 1:25 is a long time for even a hobbled Aaron Rodgers. A game-tying drive and field goal followed, and then the Wilson we all know and love/loathe returned for overtime.
He connected on two straight 35-yard heaves: first to wide receiver Doug Baldwin and then a second straight Super Bowl trip was clinched on a deep ball to wideout Jermaine Kearse, who was targeted on all four of Wilson’s interceptions.
Later, Wilson told ESPN.com's Terry Blount the comeback was a matter of trust.
"When we were 3-3, there was no doubt," he said. "When we were 6-4, there was no doubt. When we needed two touchdowns at the end [Sunday], there was no doubt. You just keep trusting the guys around you.”
Wilson’s throws will be dumped into his already-overflowing bucket of late-game heroics. He’s one game away from completing only his third season, and Wilson has already led 15 game-winning drives, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
But he was often wildly wayward Sunday, and the game needed to be wrestled from his death grip after he posted the second-lowest single-game passer rating of his career (44.3). Lynch was the man for that job, too.
|Marshawn Lynch's second-half surge|
|Second half and overtime||120||7.5|
Lynch's second-half push included seven runs for 10-plus yards, many of which were achieved through his standard pummeling style. Lynch repeatedly punished Packers defenders, an anticipated outcome after he led all running backs with 101 missed tackles forced throughout the regular season, per Pro Football Focus.
Lynch’s total of 183 yards from scrimmage (157 of which came on the ground) represented 46 percent of the Seahawks' offensive production. We now have concrete evidence that Lynch is oxygen for this Seahawks offense, and he shouldn’t go anywhere during the offseason. CNN Sports' Rachel Nichols shared a photo of Lynch's mother—clearly a happy and proud mother:
The running back position is now looked at as a recyclable one. Power backs like Lynch slam into human walls for several years and are then discarded for a newer model.
Lynch is due to account for a cap hit of $8.5 million next season, per Spotrac. That’s a hefty sum for a 29-year-old running back who’s averaged 380 touches per year over the past three seasons (including playoffs). And it’s especially painful for the Seahawks with the mountain of money they’re about to dump on Wilson.
But allocating those precious funds to your most valuable offensive asset is a worthy investment.
During a second half that started with the Seahawks trailing by 16 points, their running back touched the ball 18 times. Looked at from another angle: When the Seahawks trailed Green Bay by over two touchdowns and their season was slipping away, Lynch still received nearly 60 percent of the offensive touches.
The Seahawks don’t have an offense built to eat up chunks of yards quickly through the air. If Wilson’s two overtime throws are excluded, he averaged only 4.8 yards per pass attempt.
Lynch runs with a distinct fury and seems to get unmatched joy from making would-be tacklers bounce away in many different directions. He's the Seahawks’ offensive heartbeat and has now rushed for 504 yards over his last five playoff games.
Parting with that presence is already difficult after Lynch revived a title-defense bid. The decision will get even harder if the Seahawks repeat as champions.