Packers dominated on both sides of the ball and trenches
From the great Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~Seattle — Throughout downtown Seattle, you’ll see huge blue banners and flags emblazoned with “12.”
On Thursday, it was a night to remember for the “12th Man” crazies at CenturyLink Field and a night to forget for No. 12, Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers was outplayed once again in a big game, this time by Russell Wilson, as the Seahawks thrashed the Packers, 36-16, in the 94th season opener for Green Bay.
Whereas Wilson was posting a passer rating of 110.9 and rushing for another 29 yards, Rodgers was ineffective, as evidenced by his rating of 81.5 and nothing on scrambles.
Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch basically owned the supposedly new-look Packers’ defense with 20 carries for 110 yards. The Seahawks rushed for 207 in all, having their way with a soft unit coordinated by Dom Capers that junked the 3-4 this summer for a base 4-3.
It was just the 18th time in games started by Rodgers since 2008 that the Packers were underdogs. In those 18 games they’re 7-11, even though their largest spread was just 6 points.
Green Bay was a 6-point underdog against the defending Super Bowl champions. In a 2010 game on the road against the New York Jets, the Packers won as the same 6-point underdog.
It was a high-stakes game for quarterbacks, especially with the NFL’s most dominating defense across the line. It’s the way that the NFL game is set up in 2014. The play of the quarterbacks decides games.
Only the poised Wilson responded.
“Russell really, really played well,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He controlled the game all night long.
“To keep Aaron down like that the whole night, I’m really excited about that. We took a lot out of that, to hold them down.”
The Packers now are 9-11-1 in their last 21 games.
Green Bay’s receiving corps didn’t appear to help Rodgers. He did have time in the first half, especially before right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a knee injury, but time and again either had no clear target or failed to pull the trigger.
His only interception was the responsibility of Jordy Nelson.
It was the third straight season-opening defeat for coach Mike McCarthy, including two against the other NFC West heavyweight, San Francisco. McCarthy couldn’t have been happier about the team’s progress coming to Seattle, where the Seahawks are now 18-1 since 2012.
“It’s always been loud here, especially now with so much success they’ve had,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “Generally, domes are regarded as the hardest, but I was here, and it was built with noise in mind, trying to emulate what used to happen at the Kingdome.”
The Packers trailed at halftime, 17-10, even though they had a 3-minute edge in time of possession. The problem was, they got off 32 plays making extensive use of the no-huddle, but their largest gain was merely 18 yards.
“Our pass protection was pretty good,” Thompson said. “We were running the ball and doing some things, too.
“It’s a pretty good defense. They slant into gaps. They put pressure on you.”
Seattle scored early on Steven Hauschka’s 35-yard field goal after the Packers forced the Seahawks to punt near midfield, but defensive end Mike Daniels ran into punter Jon Ryan, giving them a first down on fourth and 2.
“That’s the price you pay sometimes when you’ve got these big guys doing that,” Thompson said, referring to 300-pound players on the punt-return team.
The Packers created a turnover when Earl Thomas fumbled on catching a punt and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix recovered at the Seattle 34. Seattle’s Richard Sherman blocked Davon House into Thomas.
“He should have fair-caught that ball,” said Carroll.
The Packers converted in six plays on John Kuhn’s 2-yard touchdown run behind Daniels, who substituted as an up back.
Seattle struck back to regain the lead 3½ minutes later. The Packers were in great shape after tackle Justin Britt drew a holding penalty on the first play, but two runs for 17 yards by Lynch sandwiched around a 9-yard pass to Percy Harvin produced the first down.
Harvin then ran a deep over route for 33 with Morgan Burnett trailing badly. On the next play, Wilson faked a run and, in front of him, Sam Shields came on a blitz.
Wilson straightened up and found Ricardo Lockette wide open at the 21. Clinton-Dix dived at his legs at the 14, didn’t really slow him down, and it was a 33-yard touchdown.
“Sam saw that something was going on,” Thompson said. “Then we missed the tackle downfield.”
The Packers tied the score, 10-10, midway through the second quarter on a 12-play, 79-yard drive. Their longest gain, however, was 11 yards on a third-and-5 slant to Randall Cobb.
By far Green Bay’s longest pickup was a 44-yard penalty for pass interference against middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who couldn’t keep up with Cobb after Rodgers broke free and went deep.
“Looked like it was going to be a completion otherwise,” said Thompson. “Horse apiece.”
Said Carroll: “Their biggest play was the penalty. Other than that, the guys played great.”
But two passes and a run gained merely 2 yards, leaving Mason Crosby to kick a 23-yard field goal for the unsatisfying finish.
Tight end Zach Miller made a terrific extended catch against man coverage by Clay Matthews for 24 yards to start the Seahawks’ next possession.
“Good catch and pretty good coverage,” Thompson said. “That’s the way it goes.”
Then Lynch cut underneath Matthews on the left side for 21 before finishing off the six-play, 70-yard touchdown drive with a 9-yard run. He cut back to the left after starting right.
“He runs heavy,” said Thompson. “He’s quick. He’s explosive in the hole. He’s still in his prime.”
Although the Packers were in their traditional 3-4 defense on the Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage, they used a 4-3 most of the time as their base look. Nose tackle Letroy Guion departed from the 3-4, and Mike Neal came in to join Julius Peppers at defensive end, with Matthews playing outside linebacker.
“We’re trying to fit the personnel to where it needs to be,” said Thompson.
As the first half drew to a close, the Packers tried six plays in a two-minute situation, but the long gain was an 18-yard pass to Cobb and they had to punt.
Bulaga departed with a left knee injury with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter. He was replaced by Derek Sherrod, who finished the half without incident.
The Packers’ fortunes sagged on the first play of the second half. Nelson dropped a slant pass that bounced to cornerback Byron Maxwell, who returned the interception 21 yards to the Green Bay 8. When the defense held, Hauschka made it 20-10 with a 20-yard field goal.
At last showing signs of life offensively, Green Bay advanced from its 20 to the Seattle 41. Then defensive end Cliff Avril beat Sherrod off the edge on fourth and 5 for a sack.
“Cliff’s sack on fourth down kind of put us in command of the game,” Carroll said.
After a punt by Seattle, Sherrod tried to short-set Michael Bennett on the first play. Sherrod missed, and Bennett was all over Rodgers to force a fumble that Sherrod recovered in the end zone for a safety.
Green Bay’s defense, which at least had been semi-competitive, fell apart in the fourth quarter, yielding touchdown drives of 53 and 80 yards.
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