One of the biggest postseason collapses in the history of the Green Bay Packers franchise was started by the special teams and completed by the defense but was also accelerated by an offense that failed time and again to put the final nail in the Seattle Seahawks.
Left standing, the defending champions stole a trip to Super Bowl XLIX with a 28-22 overtime win in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Blame in Green Bay falls at the feet of many. But the Packers' constant stream of missed opportunities and lack of a killer instinct on offense certainly helped create a defeat worthy of 4th-and-26 and the Terrell Owens catch among the club's most improbable playoff failures.
Down 16-0 at the half and 19-7 with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks scored two late touchdowns before walking off a winner on Russell Wilson's 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on Seattle's first possession of overtime. The Packers, who didn't trail until the 1:25 mark in the fourth quarter, never saw the football in the extra period.
The collapse was a collective failure. The Packers are Super Bowl-bound if a routine onside kick is recovered or a fake field goal is properly defended. The Packers are Super Bowl-bound if the defense doesn't allow three straight touchdowns to end the game.
But it was the offense's inability to take advantage of so many opportunities to put the Seahawks away that was the most shocking of the reasons Green Bay isn't headed for Glendale, Arizona.
The Packers defense provided five turnovers, including four interceptions of the typically ball-protective Wilson. Green Bay turned those takeaways into just nine points. The defense also made critical stops inside 11 minutes in the fourth quarter, giving the Packers offense chances to string together first downs and melt away the remaining clock. Both opportunities ended in three-and-outs.
The first half was a jumbled mess of missed scoring opportunities.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception to Richard Sherman on Green Bay's first possession, taking away a field-goal opportunity. The Packers then kicked back-to-back field goals from the 1-yard line, choosing to take the certain three points over the opportunity to get one yard and score seven points.
In the second quarter, Rodgers tossed a second interception after the Packers had taken over possession at the Green Bay 44-yard line.
The Packers led by a comfortable 16-0 score at halftime, but the game could have been all but over had Green Bay made more of playing nearly the entire first 30 minutes inside Seattle's territory. A 16-0 lead could have very easily been 28-0 or more.
The offense then came out of the locker room and accomplished next to nothing in the second half, punting four times on six possessions.
The Packers started their first drive on the Green Bay 39-yard line—great field position by any measure—but went just nine yards on three plays. Punt.
The offense eventually put together a scoring drive to start the fourth quarter, thanks to a 32-yard run from James Starks on the possession's first play. But those three points would be Green Bay's only scoring until the game was in Seattle's hands at 22-19.
The Packers' last two possessions before the late field-goal drive highlighted the missed opportunities.
Green Bay has prided itself on the effectiveness of its four-minute offense this season. Wins against the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings were sealed by the offense melting away the remaining clock late in the contest. A playoff win was put away last Sunday when the offense kept the football away from the Dallas Cowboys.
Seattle provided the Packers two chances to do the same Sunday, and Green Bay failed on both.
Back-to-back runs on the first attempt set up the Packers with a manageable 3rd-and-4 situation. Head coach Mike McCarthy put the conversion in Rodgers' hands. The play call was a familiar one: Green Bay split tight end Andrew Quarless out wide, providing the linebacker matchup in space. Rodgers attempted the back-shoulder throw to Quarless—identical to the one that beat Miami at the gun back in October—but the pass fell incomplete, and the Packers punted.
On the next drive, running back Eddie Lacy was stopped for losses of four and two yards before his third-down run gained just two yards. Another punt. If there's a play call in the fourth quarter to question, it's Green Bay's decision to run Lacy on 2nd-and-14—knowing the chances of picking up the first down were far higher with Rodgers throwing two passes than Lacy receiving two runs.
One or two first downs on either of the two possessions, and the Packers are NFC champions.
Given one final lifeline, the Seahawks scored a quick touchdown and then received a lucky break when Brandon Bostick botched the onside kick. The blunder robbed Green Bay's offense of one last chance to put the game on ice.
The league's top-scoring offense just didn't do enough.
Despite dealing with a calf injury, Rodgers played a poor game. He averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt and had two turnovers. Wilson threw four picks and was downright awful for the better part of 55 minutes, but he still made more big plays when it counted late in the fourth quarter.
As was the case back in Week 1, the Packers created just one passing play over 20 yards. Green Bay finished 1-for-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The offense converted just 3-of-14 third downs and averaged 4.7 yards per play.
This epic collapse will be remembered for Bostick's inability to catch the onside kick and Wilson's long touchdown in overtime to send Seattle to the Super Bowl. Rightfully so.
But any loss this catastrophic requires failure from every aspect of a team, and the Packers offense certainly provided its fair share Sunday. The lack of a killer instinct eventually killed Green Bay's shot at a Super Bowl trip.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.