The Elephant in the Locker Room: Seahawk Playoff Opponents are Kearsed

Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

No lie. Until I heard a random remark from some analyst in the pre-game chatter of the NFC Championship game, it had never dawned on me that the Seahawks have a key player whose name is a homonym for “curse.” Just before the game started, I called out to my wife, “Hey, Jenn. I wonder if the Packers are Kearsed?”

I guess we all know how that played out.

Kearse cradled the redemptive ball and refused to let Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams wrestle it from him as they fell onto the “W” of “SEAHAWKS” painted in the blue, south end zone. That, and two improbable touchdowns in the final 2:09 of regulation, sent the defending-champion Seahawks back from five turnovers and into the Super Bowl with an unfathomable, 28-22 victory in overtime over some stunned Packers at a completely off-the-hook CenturyLink Field.

Yes, Jermaine Kearse got the W two Sundays ago. Boy, did he. Off the hook, indeed.

Of course, that was just the latest in a string of big plays for Kearse going back four playoff games. The string started in last year’s NFC Championship game against San Francisco. Trailing their nemeses at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson convinces the coaching staff to go for it on 4th and 7 with a “hard count” to get the Niners to jump offsides. They do, so Wilson and Kearse break off the called play for the “free shot” down the field. Touchdown, Kearse.


It was just the game-winning touchdown.

During the third quarter of the Super Bowl two weeks later, Kearse pulled off what has been described by some analysts as one of the best TD catches in the history of the Super Bowl. With the Hawks already up 29-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter, Wilson found Kearse for a 23-yard pinball-play of a TD in which 4 different Broncos bounced off Kearse on his way to the endzone.


Broncos busted, bro.

In the second quarter of this year’s playoff game against the Panthers, Wilson and Kearse connected for the longest scoring pass in Seahawk playoff history, a beauty of a one-handed 63-yard bomb.


And then, as we all well remember, Wilson and Kearse link up on a checkdown play for 35 yards, a miracle comeback, and a ticket-punching TD to the Super Bowl.


I’ve got a sneaky feeling that the Patriots are Kearsed, too. Do you?

It wouldn’t feel right to me to conclude my season of pre-game analyses without going over the details of one of the most mystifying events of the season: Clay Matthews’ disappearing act in the 4th quarter of one of the most legendary games in NFC Championship history.

When the going gets tough, they say, the tough get going. By the beginning of the 4th quarter, both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were playing hurt. With a Super Bowl on the line, they weren’t about to come out of the game–and I doubt they would have even if the Hawks had had a lead. They’d have way too much respect for the Packers, and for themselves.

But let’s go over the fourth quarter in detail.

14:35 – Sherman takes a shot from Kam Chancellor in the elbow; Matthews is of course on the sideline celebrating because he doesn’t play offense. But this is important. The Packers are driving, so Matthews is resting, aside from flexing his biceps and facial muscles.

CaptureCM beg 4th

10:46 – The Hawks’ O takes the field; the last fifteen minutes standing on the sideline must have been tiring for Matthews. After one play, and after missing a shot on Luke Willson on a dropped pass, Matthews jogs quickly off the field after clutching himself briefly while lying on the turf. Another important point here: Matthews didn’t break up this pass; it had bounced away from Willson well before Matthews attempted to launch himself through Willson’s ribcage and yet bounced harmlessly away.

On 3rd and 7 at 10:00, Matthews remains on the sidelines. First down, Seattle (Lockette).

At 9:30, CM is back on the field, and Lynch powers for a 12-yard first down, CM playing like a safety rather than a LB. On the ensuing 1st down, CM chases down RW after a gain of 4. CM again leaves the field.

3rd down at 8:22. After an incomplete pass to Baldwin on 2nd down, CM is back in and is caught flat-footed as Lynch powers right into him and through him for 12 more yards and a 1st. On first down, CM drops into coverage as RW is sacked.

On 2nd and long, CM is again mysteriously off the field. Back in on 3rd and 14 at 7:07 — CM rushes the QB, and fails to get by Okung; the pass is incomplete. On the ensuing punt, CM lazily jogs by the end of the line.

At 5:13, the Hawks have the ball back and the game is in the balance. Wilson is intercepted on the first play of the possession… but CM is on the sidelines, not on the field, and celebrating with Brandon Bostick. Huh? And how’s that for irony? This is one screen shot the Packers would probably like to forget.

CaptureCM 5 13
At 5:04, with the Packers trying to mount a game-clinching drive, the celebration continues.

CaptureCM 5 04

At 4:50, with the Packers attempting to get a 1st down, CM hasn’t a care in the world.

CaptureCM 4 50
3:52 – Clutch time… The Hawks have the ball back again, and have to score. CM has to sit. Lynch for 12.

3:32 – Baldwin for 20. CM sits.

3:02 – Incompletion to Kearse on 1st down. On 2nd down, Lynch for another 24. Where’s CM?

2:57 – 1st and Goal for the Hawks… CM settles in for a long winter’s nap.

CaptureCM 2 57

Lynch for 5. Wilson for 3. Wilson for 1 and a TD. 2:09 left.

CaptureCM 2 09
2:07, and an onside kick later… CM is still not on the field. Wilson runs a keeper for 14. At 2:01, CM still shows no sign of getting on the field. Lynch for 3. Get a helmet on, warrior!

CaptureCM 2 01
2:00 – Luke Willson for a 1st Down. Lynch for TD at 1:26. CM? Still sitting, even for goal-line D on the 2-point conversion.

1:25 left. Still no sign of stirring.

CM finally appears at 0:11 for a meaningless snap.

In OT, the Hawks have the ball at the 13… CM is finally back in, and Lynch runs for 3. On 2nd down, Baldwin goes for a first down after being pushed out of bounds by CM. At the 27, Lynch runs for three. On 2nd down, Wilson carries for no gain. On 3rd down, it’s Wilson to Baldwin for 35. CM gets no pressure on the play. On the TD to Kearse, CM is rushing against Okung. No contest. Game over.

I’ve included a screen shot above from every look in the broadcast of Matthews on the sideline, looking for some clue as to why he was not playing. Visually, there’s nothing. He’s not getting treatment, he’s not talking to staffers, he’s not stretching or taping or in any visible pain, disorientation, or distress. In all honesty, it looks like he’s saving himself for the Super Bowl.

Packers fans are naturally extremely put out by Matthews’ disappearing act. Even when he was on the field in the 4th quarter and OT, he was glaringly ineffective.

Following the game, a radio journalist referenced a locker-room quote from Matthews that he was “physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.” It’s unclear whether he was talking about his own condition in the fourth quarter, or the team’s condition following the game.

Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ head coach, however, was asked about Matthews’ condition after the game:

Q: Why wasn’t Clay in the game at that time and how was he able to come back for the overtime? Did he get hurt?

COACH MCCARTHY: Not that I’m aware of.

ESPN’s Green Bay blog remarked the following:

I remember looking across the field from the press box during the last drive and in my binoculars, I could see Matthews trying to get his legs loose. However, there was no injury announcement made, either in the press box or by the team after the game, and Matthews returned to play the only possession of overtime. After the game, Matthews was asked if his leg was bothering him, and he told reporters: “Yeah, it was a medley of things just catching up to me. Fortunately, I worked with the trainers a little bit during that last drive and was able to get back out there for overtime.”

Matthews, of course, played in the Pro Bowl the following week and had no trouble celebrating. And in the lead-up, he gave this mystifying interview in which the Big Question was completely avoided, and Matthews looked like he couldn’t have cared less about missing out on the Super Bowl.

Earlier this week, reporters finally got a chance for official comment from McCarthy about Matthews’ condition in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship:

McCarthy didn’t indicate Matthews’ absence was a coach’s decision.

“I talked to Clay. He said he needed a minute. Looking him in the eye, I didn’t see any reason for his concern. Unless it impacts a game, I’m not going to be notified,” McCarthy said.

While that may not make a lot of sense, the question was posed as one about whether Matthews had suffered a concussion. Because, for some reason, all the bozos who cover the Packers are unable to state the obvious question in a straight-forward manner.

Why wasn’t Clay Matthews on the field?

So McCarthy said Matthews didn’t have a concussion and then tried to cover for him a little bit by saying the training staff was looking at his knee. He also mentioned that Jordy Nelson waved him over, presumably to take a look at Matthews and see if he was injured.

But the statement is definitive. There is no evidence that Matthews was injured. Nor was there mention that someone decided to take Matthews out of the game.

“He said he needed a minute.”

Matthews took himself out.

The potential “injury” referenced above was that missed shot on Willson at the top of the fourth quarter.

The bottom line is this: If I were the Packers’ GM, I’d consider sending Matthews to the Jets to be with Percy Harvin. I can’t imagine Matthews surviving on the Seahawks. This is a team that never quits, that never gives in. That epitomizes a never-say-die, take-no-prisoners approach to every minute in every game. Go Hawks!

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