Super Bowl XLIX  

 

Seattle Seahawks deserve credit, but that effort won't win a title

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After the Seahawks completed a comeback for the ages, after they secured a win that, for much of Championship Sunday, seemed truly impossible to obtain, Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin Jr. went on an emotional, expletive-filled rant to the media assembled outside of the locker room. He blasted the haters who didn't think the 'Hawks could do it. He ripped into the media elite who thought they wouldn't make the playoffs at 3-3 or 6-4. He crushed the critics who counted them out when they were down two scores to the Green Bay Packers with less than four minutes remaining in the NFC Championship Game.

Well, great news for you, Doug: I give the Seahawks a ton of credit for showing amazing heart, mettle, grit, talent, clutch play and tenacity to roar back and capture a 28-22 overtime win.

But this game -- and the second half of the Seahawks' season -- was a fantastic combination of great play and great fortune.

In sports, of course, you never apologize for capitalizing on good breaks. Don't confuse what happened, though: The Packers inexplicably and improbably collapsed. Yes, Seattle pounced, and the Seahawks deserve major praise for returning to the Super Bowl as defending champs. But this was a meltdown.

I think it is more than fair to say, Mr. Baldwin, that the Seahawks must play much better, much cleaner to beat Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

Let's be honest: The Seahawks were grossly outplayed for the vast majority of Sunday's game. The Packers dominated time of possession early. But the usually aggressive Mike McCarthy missed a golden opportunity in the first quarter, when he opted for a pair of chip-shot field goals from the 1-yard line instead of going for the jugular. Very uncharacteristic of McCarthy, the kind of decision-making you just knew would come back to bite Green Bay.

And that stretch wasn't even the most egregious example of over-conservatism.

With 6:53 remaining in the ballgame, the Packers' offense took the field with a 19-7 lead. McCarthy proceeded to hand the ball off twice to backup running back James Starks before finally letting Aaron Rodgers throw. Rodgers couldn't convert on third-and-4, and the Pack gave the ball right back to Seattle. On the first play of the ensuing Seahawks drive, Jermaine Kearse couldn't handle a Russell Wilson pass over the middle, and Morgan Burnett corralled Green Bay's fourth interception of the afternoon. Strangely, though, Burnett abruptly slid and gave himself up at midfield, as if the clock read 0:00, instead of taking advantage of running room. When the Packers' offense took over, Eddie Lacy ran three times for negative-4 yards, and Green Bay -- once again -- gave the ball right back to Seattle.

Rodgers, the presumptive NFL MVP, got the ball once in six crucial downs. That's unacceptable. That's not winning football. That's not Packers football. Rodgers himself lamented the un-Packer-like way these sequences were approached: "When you go back and think about it, at times we weren't playing as aggressive as we usually are."

Now, Seattle certainly deserves credit for showing the pluck and skill to score 15 points in 44 seconds. But of course, there was some luck involved there, too. Actually, a lot.

The second score was set up by Brandon Bostick dropping the onside kick. That cannot happen. It was a gut punch. It was a tragic play that will stay with Packers fans forever. Despite all the other issues, if Bostick just holds on to the ball, the Packers are in the Super Bowl. That's not hyperbolic to say.

Then, on the gigantic two-point conversion that gave Seattle a three-point lead, Wilson scrambled right and threw a fall-away pass across his body as he took a hit. The ball floated in the air -- seemingly forever -- before somehow landing right in the paws of tight end Luke Willson. Those extra two points came in pretty handy when Rodgers predictably drove Green Bay downfield in the final minute to set up a game-tying field goal.

The Seahawks' good fortune continued when they won the overtime coin flip. Wilson, who turned in a slopfest before eventually revealing his clutch gene, capped off the majestic comeback by hitting Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown.

And understand, I have no problem with the overtime rule. Aaron Rodgers doesn't have to touch the ball in OT. Heck, I'd go back to the old way, where you could win on a field goal. But it is another combination of being lucky and good. It's not a criticism. It's a fair observation.

Seattle was lucky and good down the stretch in the regular season, too.

The Seahawks entered the NFC title game having given up a grand total of 56 points in their last seven games. That's eight points a contest. That's amazing. The Seattle defense deserves to be recognized as clearly the NFL's best. It's not up for debate. But there were a lot of underwhelming QBs on that slate (see: Mark Sanchez, Ryan Lindley, etc.)

Alas, on Sunday, Seattle beat the best quarterback in the game. And now the Seahawks are heading back to the Super Bowl. It's going to be a sensational game against the Patriots. With "classic confrontation" written all over the matchup, it's a contest that can truly go either way.

Though I think it is more than fair to believe that if the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl -- not just compete, but prevail -- they must play far better than they did on Sunday.

The Patriots were the best team in the NFL for the final three-quarters of the regular season and looked dynamite in a 45-7 throttling of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.

You can't be sloppy against a Bill Belichick team. You can't give Tom Brady extra opportunities. You have to be ready for anything against this well-coached, highly talented bunch.

Making back-to-back Super Bowls is so incredibly impressive, a credit to everyone from Pete Carroll and John Schneider on down.

But being lucky and good won't cut it against the Patriots two Sundays from now.

I'm guessing Doug Baldwin knows that.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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