Seahawks come full circle with Packers returning to town
By Bob Condotta, Seattle Times
~The Seattle Seahawks opened the season on Sept. 4 by raising the Super Bowl XLVIII banner to the CenturyLink Field rafters and then hammering the Green Bay Packers.
To get another banner, they’ll again have to beat the Packers, who will return to CenturyLink Field on Sunday with the NFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl on the line.
Green Bay advanced with a 26-21 win over Dallas on Sunday in the NFC divisional playoffs. And afterward they pronounced that they are a different team than the one that was beaten 36-16 by the Seahawks four months ago.
“I don’t think we had a team identity the first time we played them,’’ rookie center Corey Linsley told reporters in Green Bay after the win over Dallas. “Now we do. All of us are better players. I think it’s going to be a great game.’’
The Las Vegas oddsmakers, though, quickly installed Seattle as a 7½-point favorite, which was later determined by Pro Football Talk to be the biggest spread against Green Bay in Aaron Rodgers’ previous 113 career regular season or playoff starts.
The home-field advantage — Seattle is 25-2 in the regular season and playoffs at CenturyLink Field since 2012 — contributes heavily to that line.
It’s an advantage Seattle got in this game with a heavy assist from the Buffalo Bills, who beat the Packers 21-13 in week 15, a defeat that ultimately meant Green Bay and Seattle each finished with 12-4 records and gave the Seahawks the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, however, sounded an optimistic tone Sunday, telling reporters that he was “looking forward to going back up to Seattle and looking forward to winning the NFC Championship.’’
Saturday, after beating Carolina 31-17 to advance to the NFC title game, Seattle players mostly said they didn’t care who they faced next. The few who did, such as defensive tackle Michael Bennett, said they hoped to play Dallas since the Cowboys handed the Seahawks their lone loss at home this season, 30-23 on Oct. 12. Bennett said he hoped Seattle could avenge that defeat.
Instead, the Seahawks will hope against Green Bay to replicate what was one of their most dominating efforts of the season, holding a Packers’ offense that ended up leading the NFL in points scored with 486 to just one touchdown through the first three quarters (that coming after Earl Thomas fumbled a punt away at the Seattle 34) in building a big lead. Green Bay’s 255 yards were its second-lowest total of the season.
Rodgers was 23 of 33 for just 189 yards in a game in which he famously never once threw in the direction of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Asked Sunday if the Packers need to throw at Sherman this time, Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson said: “We’re going to do what we need to do to win the game. We’re going to run our offense, we’re going to put ourselves in position to make plays, and then we have to make them.’’
The health of Rodgers will be a big story line this week as he is battling two injuries to his left calf suffered in the last two games of the regular season. Rodgers was noticeably hobbled throughout the win over Dallas on Sunday but still threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns and after the game told reporters that the injury won’t stop him from playing against the Seahawks.
“I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me so I’m going to do everything I can to play all of those minutes,” Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay. That, of course, is a reference to playing 60 minutes Sunday and 60 more in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.
Seattle, though, feels equally confident after advancing to the NFC title game for the second straight year.
“We keep going out there doing our best and playing our hardest and we’re untouchable,’’ said cornerback Tharold Simon.
It will be the third time the Seahawks and Packers have met in the playoffs but the first meeting in Seattle.
The others came during the 2003 season on Jan. 4, 2004, a 33-27 Green Bay win in overtime in an NFC wild-card game, and during the 2007 season on Jan. 12, 2008, a 42-20 Packers win in a divisional game that proved to be the final postseason game for Mike Holmgren as Seattle’s coach.
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