Green Bay enters Sunday’s contest with a three-game winning streak in season openers, including a 16-13 win over the Eagles in 2007 at Lambeau, but will be heading to Philadelphia to take on an Eagles squad that has won 13 of their last 17 games at Lincoln Financial Field. The Packers last played in Philadelphia in 2006, McCarthy’s first season, and lost 31-9.
“Starting on the road I would say is a bigger challenge because it is opening day,” McCarthy said. “Opening day brings a bigger sense of urgency and energy and it is a national TV game. It’s a lot like a Monday Night-type Football game in my opinion. There is a lot of excitement around opening day, and on top of that you are playing on the road. Playing on the road in the NFL is very difficult.
“I think they do a very good job with their gameday operations in Philadelphia, so we’ve been working the crowd noise all week and had a number of opportunities to work crowd noise in the training camp. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to play in Philadelphia anytime, and I think you could probably add a little extra to that being on opening day.”
Even though the Packers have become accustomed to opening at home, they have started seasons fast on the road under McCarthy. Green Bay is 4-0 in its first road contest of the season during his tenure, and 5-2 (.714) in September road contests under him. The Packers were 5-3 away from Lambeau in 2009, including three wins in the final four away contests, and have finished above .500 on the road three of four years under McCarthy. The Packers have an 18-14 (.563) road mark under him, and are one of only nine NFL teams with a winning road record since 2006.
While it is just one of 16 games, starting the season off with a win goes a long way for teams with postseason aspirations. Since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978, teams that won their season opener are more than twice as likely to go to the playoffs as teams that dropped their first game. Of the 458 teams that won season openers, 243 went to the playoffs, while of the 458 that lost their first game, 107 advanced to the postseason. In 2009, 10 of the 12 playoff teams, including the Packers, won their season opener.
“We’re at the starting line of our season,” McCarthy said. “We like the amount of work that we were able to get done and the quality of work, but we are at the starting line. It’s very important for us to go through a full week of preparation and make sure we are ready to go.
“We are going into a very hostile environment up there in Philadelphia. It’s opening day in the National Football League against a very good football team, a very well-coached football team, so that is really what we are focused on.”
Philadelphia’s fans have a reputation for providing their team with a home-field advantage, and that atmosphere they provide is well known to those that have had the opportunity to play there before.
“I think it is one of those places where they have their own little style and flair to them,” said linebacker Brady Poppinga, who played at Philadelphia in 2005 and 2006. “I think obviously they say things and do things that are maybe a little taboo in other parts of this country and stadiums. People interpret it as being harsh and a tough place to play.
“Most places you go into, it’s pretty ruthless. They want you to lose obviously, so this place will be no different. Just a little more colorful in terms of the selection of the vocabulary they choose and the names they like to call you.”
Minimizing the impact that crowd can have on Sunday will be a priority for the Packers, and a fast start would play a big part in doing that. Last season the Packers were tied for sixth in the league with 37 points scored on their opening possessions, a marked improvement from the 13 points scored in ’08 (31st in the league).
“Anytime you are away, obviously the home team is playing with a downhill mentality,” wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “They have the advantage because they have that 12th man. You have to come out and punch them in the mouth before they hit you, and that is our mindset.”
Rookie strong safety Morgan Burnett, who was drafted by the Packers in the third round this spring, is poised to join the safety next to him in some rare company on Sunday.
Burnett could become just the second safety since Chuck Cecil in 1988 to start a season opener for the Packers, with the other being veteran Nick Collins in 2005.
Add in second-year cornerback Brandon Underwood’s uncertain status because of a shoulder injury, and Green Bay could have two rookies in the secondary playing vital roles at Philadelphia. Sam Shields, an undrafted rookie out of Miami, is the leading candidate to handle the nickel role on Sunday if Underwood is out.
“It’s hard,” Collins said. “This is the National Football League and everybody plays well. They are going to come at them and they have just got to stay poised. Go out there and if something bad happens, let it go. If something good happens, just keep playing.
“We’ve just got to trust them to go out there and play. We’re a veteran group and we’ve got a lot of veteran guys out there with them. They will be ready.”
Linebacker Clay Matthews, who missed all four preseason games after injuring his hamstring in the annual Family Night Scrimmage, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.
“Clay Matthews demonstrated fresh legs out there today,” McCarthy said. “I thought he looked very good, particularly in the third-down pressure periods, just bouncing around.
“So I think Clay is back 100 percent and we’ve just got to the reps in the base defense. He had a lot of work there Monday and early today. He looks good.”
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring), who were both limited to just the jog-through portion of practice on Monday, also participated fully on Wednesday.
“Obviously it’s a mental thing,” Jenkins said. “You’ve still got to get used to it, being back out there and trying to go full speed, but at the same point you want to be smart and make sure you make it to the game. There is a little feeling out going (on), but it feels pretty good.”
Tackle/guard Bryan Bulaga (hip) and linebacker Brad Jones (shoulder) participated fully in practice.
Underwood, who is wearing a harness to protect his injured shoulder, was a limited participant. McCarthy said he has not been ruled out yet for Sunday.
Poppinga did not participate because of swelling in his knee that flared up on Wednesday morning, but McCarthy said he was hopeful the veteran would be able to practice on Thursday.
"It’s not an internal thing; it’s purely surface deep,” Poppinga said. “It’s just a skin kind of swelling. It will be here and gone in no time and not a big deal.”
The Eagles did not report any injuries on Wednesday.
Additional coverage – Sept. 8