The Green Bay Packers are headed to CenturyLink Field this Sunday for the NFC Championship game.
Those words should be reassuring to Seattle Seahawks fans familiar with Green Bay’s recent history in Seattle, where the Packers’ 36-16 pummeling in the season opener was delivered almost two years after a 14-12 defeat remembered for its bizarre conclusion.
A case can be made — and it’s a logical one — that the Packers’ troubles at The Clink will enhance the Seahawks’ already imposing home-field advantage.
But you’ll hear little of such talk this week. Instead, you’ll hear about how the visitors will be motivated by revenge, as if playing for a Super Bowl berth isn’t enough of a motivation.
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You’ll also hear about how the Packers’ feeble performance on Sept. 4 means nothing, because four months ago might as well be 40 years ago in the NFL. Teams evolve, schemes change, so go ahead and throw any previous results out the window.
The narratives conflict, do they not? Either the Packers find motivation from the season opener, or the season opener, as ancient as a grandfather tortoise, has no bearing in the NFC Championship. Pick one or the other.
Meanwhile, I can’t fathom how Green Bay’s bad-moon mishaps at CenturyLink Field aren’t a benefit for the Seahawks. The stadium poses problems for every opponent, and it poses particular problems for the Packers, who since 2012 are 0-2 in high-profile games televised from Seattle.
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Some teams match up better against the Seahawks than others. The Carolina Panthers, for instance, were onto something this past Saturday. They nailed the formula — ball control, kill the clock, turn a 60-minute game into a 30-minute game, and then a pivotal-
play-down-the-stretch game — but the pivotal plays down the stretch all went the Seahawks’ way.
Carolina lacked the savvy-veteran personnel capable of pulling off an upset, but it’s the kind of team built to frustrate the Seahawks.
The Packers are not that kind of team.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, impeded by a partially torn left calf muscle, stole the show in the divisional playoff game victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Through two quarters, Rodgers looked like a man pained. After the half, he looked like a man possessed: 15 completions in 20 attempts, including 10-for-his-last 10.
The Dallas defense had overachieved throughout a remarkable turnaround season, but exemplary effort does not always translate into a satisfactory result. Unable to exert any pressure on Rodgers in the second half, the presumptive league MVP settled into the pocket and carved up the Cowboys.
He won’t enjoy such an opportunity against the Seahawks, who sacked him eight times in 2012 and three more times in September.
The Seahawks weren’t relying on blitzes to inflict havoc, by the way. Of the collective 11 sacks they’ve recorded in their past two games against the Packers, 10 were achieved with no more than four pass rushers.
Carolina was determined to corral running back Marshawn Lynch, and the mission, more or less, was accomplished. (He finished with 59 yards). Green Bay figures to have no such success against Lynch, who gained 110 yards on 20 carries in the season opener.
“I saw some of the best players in the league not want to tackle Marshawn Lynch,” Hawks defensive end Michael Bennett said that night. “Of course, nobody is going to say anything about that, but I seen a lot of guys whiff on tackles that should have been 2-yard gains, and they’re supposed to be the best.”
The teams scheduled to collide Sunday have moved on and made adjustments along the way, I’ll grant you that. Percy Harvin, who picked up 100 all-purpose yards against the Packers, is long gone from the Seattle playbook.
Speaking of playbooks, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy will be more comfortable installing rookie receiver Davante Adams as a target for Rodgers. Ignored in the opener because he usually lined up against Hawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Adams caught seven passes against the Cowboys for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Rodgers will look for receivers on both sides of the field Sunday, which won’t reflect any disrespect of Sherman’s All-Pro talent. But sustaining any degree of offensive cohesion is difficult when the quarterback is working only one half of the field in front of him.
I expect Green Bay will bring a more diversified offensive attack into Seattle, along with a defense committed to limiting Lynch with wrap-around tackles requiring sheer perseverance.
But recent history is recent history, and to ignore it is foolish. The Clink is the Packers’ version of a haunted house: That creepy place where Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in one half, where an apparent game-saving interception was ruled a game-winning reception, where the typical 2-yard Marshawn Lynch gain on a running play became a 9-yard gain because of whiff tackling.
If a visiting team’s subliminal suspicion that something will go wrong is not an advantage for the home team, I don’t know what is.