SEATTLE -- Twenty players in the visitors locker room -- the losing team's locker room -- at CenturyLink Field on Sunday knew the kind of football that could keep them from another Super Bowl.
Ask any of those Green Bay Packers with a ring from Super Bowl XLV. You're not likely to find someone to make a convincing case the Packers could get a shot at another title with the kind of special-teams gaffes, late-game defensive breakdowns and milquetoast offensive attack coach Mike McCarthy's team showed in the late stages of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, the other 33 players on the roster know it, too.
How many of them will even get another chance like this?
Sunday's 28-22 overtime loss to the defending champs will go down as one of the Packers' most gut-wrenching playoff losses, especially if McCarthy and his MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers never get to another Super Bowl.
"It's going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career," Rodgers said. "We were the better team today, and we played well enough to win, and we can't blame anybody but ourselves."
A 16-0 halftime lead could have -- and probably should have -- been bigger had the Packers, among other things, not settled for two first-quarter field goals after a pair of drives stalled within three feet of the goal line. McCarthy played it safe and took the points. Even still, they led 19-7 and had two separate possessions (one with 6:53 left and another with 5:04 to play) to add to that lead.
But three-and-out possessions, with ultra-conservative play selections (five runs and one pass) on both, set up one Seattle touchdown. It was the first by the Seahawks' offense (more on their first score in a bit), and it came with just 2:09 to play.
When the Seahawks recovered an onside kick that went through the hands of Brandon Bostick, the Packers were in real trouble. A defense that had picked off Russell Wilson four times finally cracked. Marshawn Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run and an ensuing two-point conversion pass from Wilson to tight end Luke Willson that safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix badly misplayed gave the Seahawks a 22-19 lead with 1:25 to go.
"We had the opportunities right in front of us and unfortunately came up short," said linebacker Clay Matthews, who inexplicably was not on the field for that drive but came back for overtime. "It's really how you can define it."
An old Packers bugaboo, the read-option, burned them again. In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks piled up 85 yards on zone-read rushes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"They went pretty much exclusively to their option package, and that's difficult," McCarthy said. "It's difficult to defend. I thought we did a good job most of the day on it. Hey, they made the big plays when they needed to."
About the only thing the Packers did right on special teams was courtesy of Mason Crosby's right foot. He nailed all five of his field goals, including a 48-yarder with 14 seconds left that forced the overtime.
The Packers never got the ball back.
A defense that held up so well for three-plus quarters allowed a third touchdown on as many possessions when Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse, who beat Tramon Williams in single man coverage, for a 35-yard touchdown that ended things and sent those among the crowd of 68,538 who didn't leave early into a frenzied celebration just 3:19 into overtime.
"Every opportunity was there to win it, and it went totally the opposite way," Williams said. "It's not a surprise what happened, but we should have won the game, no doubt about it."
For most of the game, it looked like the Packers might get away with another head-scratching mistake on special teams. The same team that had seven kicks blocked during the regular season got burned by a fake field goal when holder Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to backup tackle Garry Gilliam, who slipped behind unsuspecting safety Sean Richardson.
"The awareness there -- and the execution by them -- that was obviously a big play," McCarthy said. "I mean, the big plays on special teams were definitely a factor."
This was the Packers' third NFC title game in McCarthy's nine seasons but their first since their Super Bowl win four years ago. Maybe there will be other chances. Even if there are, how many will come with a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead?
"It's the closest we've been to getting back to the Super Bowl," Matthews said. "In that regard, it's a tough loss. Obviously, we came up short, so it really hurts."