Should Packers safety Morgan Burnett have tried to return late-game interception?
Brian Bostick is receiving a fair share of the blame in the wake of how the Green Bay Packers unraveled and inexplicably blew a 12-point lead to the Seattle Seahawks in a stunning 28-22 overtime loss in the NFC Championship Game.
While it is true that had Green Bay’s tight end managed to hang on to the football instead of misplaying Seattle’s onside kick as the ball bounced off his hands — only to be ultimately recovered by the Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews — the Packers arguably would have iced the game.
With a shade more than two minutes remaining in the game following the decisive play, Bostick’s recovery of Steven Hauschka’s onside kick would have dramatically changed the narrative Monday to how the Packers managed to withstand a furious comeback attempt by the Seahawks instead of how the team blew it.
But there were several missteps and miscalculations by the Packers that had a few plays gone the other way — or if the team managed to execute down the stretch — Bostick’s blown attempt at icing the game wouldn’t have ever occurred.
One huge play in particular, while at the time appeared to be an intelligent and savvy play, is now in hindsight viewed as one of many miscues the Packers committed during crunch time.
With the team up by 12 points with a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, Packers safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson — the quarterback’s fourth interception of the game — after a pass ricocheted off the hands of Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse and fell right into his waiting hands.
Burnett returned the ball four yards to the 43-yard line and then slid to the ground, arguably a wise move given the circumstances. Green Bay had a stranglehold on the game at the time and more bad than good could have come from attempting to advance the ball further — coughing it up and returning possession back to the Seahawks, for instance.
But a look at what Burnett could have seen upon his interception indicates that a leisurely stroll to the end zone may have been a possibility.
There was nothing but open field ahead of Burnett.
The field when Morgan Burnett gave up on his interception return: pic.twitter.com/TlLtiu3Ujo
— haute takes (@KennethArthuRS) January 19, 2015
It appeared that teammate Julius Peppers was imploring Burnett to drop to the turf, something that made perfect sense given the circumstances.
Another view from a different angle (via Business Insider) shows that Burnett, given a bit of blocking by his fellow Packers defenders, could have returned the ball quite a way downfield, at least deep enough to Seahawks territory to get the team into field goal range.
Hindsight is of course 20-20 — there was no reason at the time, given how poorly the Seahawks were playing, to expect the comeback that was in the offing — but the Packers and Burnett have to be kicking themselves after the fact when thinking about that play.
Packers cornerback Tramon Williams chose to defend Burnett after the game, saying it was the right decision at that moment.
“They’re going to dissect every play,” Williams said, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “It was a good play. We can say we could have stayed up and ran for more yards at that point of time, but when you feel like the game is close to over and you want to get the ball in your offense’s hands, that’s what we’re taught to do.
“That’s what he felt he should do and we back him up 100%.”
The Packers went ultra-conservative on the ensuing series, understandably trying to run some time off the clock, rushing the ball three times before punting. Green Bay never saw the ball again until it was trailing. The Packers did ultimately tie the game and force overtime, but never saw the ball in the extra session courtesy of the better-late-than-never heroics of Wilson.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
(photo credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff / for the Journal Sentinel)