NFC Championship Game All-22: Examining Morgan Burnett’s slide

Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett (42) slides after intercepting a pass during the second half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Green Bay Packers’ Morgan Burnett (42) slides after intercepting a pass during the second half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Green Bay Packers epic collapse in Seattle on Sunday afternoon has been analyzed and discussed all over the country. There are a number of reasons they lost. Seattle made key plays down the stretch, while the Packers were seemingly glad to help. People have rightfully criticized Packers coach Mike McCarthy for being too conservative throughout the entire game, including settling for two field goals inside the two-yard line in the first quarter.

There are three specific fourth quarter plays that aided the Seahawks comeback, all within the final 5:13 with the Packers holding a 19-7 lead. 

  • The interception by Morgan Burnett, who then chose to slide instead of pushing the ball downfield
  • The onside kick recovery by Seattle after the ball hit third-string tight end Brandon Bostick in the face (he was supposed to block and let star receiver Jordy Nelson retrieve the kick)
  • Seattle’s two-point conversion, where safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix was in perfect position to knock away Russell Wilson’s floater, yet inexplicably failed to make a play on the ball

Let’s focus on the interception and subsequent slide by Burnett. Many have pinpointed that play with opening the door for Seattle, instead of putting the proverbial lid on the coffin with a deep return into Seahawks territory.

Here’s the situation: Green Bay held a 19-7 advantage with 5:13 remaining. Seattle had the ball first-and-10 at its own 46-yard line with all three timeouts.

Wilson’s pass clanked off the hands of receiver Jermaine Kearse and fell into the arms of Burnett, a pro-bowl caliber fifth-year safety who led the Packers with 130 total tackles this season.

After securing the interception, Burnett took a few steps upfield before sliding down at the Green Bay 43-yard line at the behest of Julius Peppers. On replay, you can clearly observe Peppers waving for Burnett to slide.

The question everyone is asking is why would Burnett slide and was it the right move? There was still five minutes to play and the Packers were only leading by 12. Two touchdowns could–and did–beat them, though Green Bay was able to force overtime on a last-second field goal.

Here’s a tweet from Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus, showing the overhead camera angle of the play. You can see Peppers has his hands up motioning at Burnett to slide.

Screen Caption off Twitter

Hindsight is 20-20 but there were plenty of folks watching the game at the time who wondered if Burnett sliding was the right move, especially with room in front of him. He only had to contend with five offensive lineman and Wilson on the left side of the field.

However, with Peppers unconcerned about blocking and waving at him to slide, it’s hard to say how many yards the safety would have gained.

It’s been suggested that Burnett could have scored but that’s highly unlikely. He surely could have moved the ball another 10-15 yards and put the Packers in position to tack on a field goal, which would have made it a two-touchdown game.

Here are two different views from the coaches tape.

GB-SEA NFCCG Burnett INT, slide

From the end zone camera angle below, you can clearly see Peppers (No. 56, bottom right) waiving fervently at Burnett to get down. Burnett looked at the field ahead, saw Peppers communicating him to slide, and listened.

NFCCG GB Burnett INT, slide end zone angle

Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Burnett said of the play: “I don’t take anything back that I did. It’s easy to sit here after and say ‘we should have did this, we should have did that.’ If the outcome was different, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

“I was just trying to secure the catch, I got the ball in my hand and the main thing was just gaining possession of the ball. And I got the ‘no mas’ signal, which means ‘no more, no return, get down’ and secure possession of the ball, give our offense the ball.”

I understand the logic behind sliding down with the game in hand and I’m all for that in the right situation. However, this game was far from over and the Packers were trying to hold off the defending Super Bowl champs. There were five minutes remaining, they weren’t even ahead by two touchdowns, and the Seahawks had all three of their timeouts. Burnett was in the open field with a handful of blockers to escort him. This was the exact opposite of knowing the situation and making the smart play. It was a mistake.

I think Peppers’ role in this play is being overlooked. Burnett is garnering all of the blame, but he listened to his future Hall-of-Fame teammate. If Peppers would have turned to block, I don’t think Burnett would have given himself up. Peppers could have cleared the edge as Burnett’s lead blocker and opened up the sideline.

Instead of a chance to ice the game, the Packers settled for possession of the ball and left the door open just a crack for the reigning champs. That is all the Seahawks needed.

With the ball and five minutes to play, McCarthy forced Seattle to use two timeouts by having Eddie Lacy run into the line three times for a total of minus-four yards. The Packers punted and the events that followed will go down as one of the most dramatic comebacks in NFL Playoff history.

Burnett had an excellent game with 10 tackles, two sacks, three tackles-for-loss, and this infamous interception. But his decision to slide instead of advance the football will be one of the plays people remember about this game. Yet after reviewing the tape, Peppers should share the blame with Burnett, McCarthy, Bostick, Clinton-Dix, and the rest of this Packers team that improbably squandered a rare chance to play for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Credit to NFL Game Rewind for the game film. All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.

You can follow Marlowe on Twitter and check out his film review articles for the Detroit Free Press.

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