GREEN BAY—The Packers’ first trip to Seattle this season seems like ages ago, but they should be better for it the second time around in Sunday’s NFC Championship.
Back in Week 1, the Packers played in a highly charged CenturyLink Field as the Seahawks unveiled their Super Bowl banner and dispatched Green Bay by 20 points.
It was a baptism by fire for a handful of Packers rookies who now have a full season under their belts, and for other young players who hadn’t played in a road venue quite like that before.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy also recalled on Monday some problems with sideline communication that forced the Packers to burn all three timeouts in the first half before the two-minute warning.
“I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened in my time here,” McCarthy said.
“There’s value in the experience. Experience comes from every opportunity, regardless of results. That’s the way we go about it.”
Three of those rookies playing in their first NFL game on Sept. 4 have developed into pivotal pieces on the Packers offense. Corey Linsley has started at center all season, and back in the first meeting, he had worked with the No. 1 offensive line for little more than a week.
Tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams have more gradually come on the scene, with Adams taking over the No. 3 receiver job from Jarrett Boykin. Rodgers and Adams caught QB Aaron Rodgers’ two TD passes in the second half of Sunday’s playoff win over Dallas.
“Watching Richard Rodgers Week 1 and against the Dallas Cowboys, you’re looking at a different player,” McCarthy said. “No different than Davante Adams. Our younger players have really improved since then.
“We’ve improved as a whole offense. We’ve scored a few points this year. They have a great defense. We recognize that and look forward to the challenge.”
The challenge promises to be different with Adams now in Boykin’s spot. In Week 1, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman lined up across from Boykin the entire game and the Packers never threw in his direction.
In their no-huddle, three-receiver set, the Packers lined up the same way, with Boykin split to the right, Jordy Nelson on the left, and Randall Cobb in one slot or the other. Sherman stayed wide on Boykin’s side the whole game.
How much alignments and assignments change in the rematch is anyone’s guess, but McCarthy reiterated on Monday the lack of throws in Sherman’s direction was not pre-planned.
“We told Jordy to line up on the left side, and we thought Richard would come over and play him on the left side. It didn’t happen,” McCarthy said. “It’s just how the game was played. There was never ‘don’t throw right’ in the game plan.”
More damaging to the Packers were the momentum-changing plays the Seahawks made on defense.
McCarthy pointed to a crucial third-quarter sequence with the Packers trailing, 20-10. Green Bay had fourth-and-5 on the Seattle 41-yard line and decided to go for it, but Seattle’s Cliff Avril beat backup right tackle Derek Sherrod – filling in for injured starter Bryan Bulaga – around the edge for a sack.
Then, the next time the Packers got the ball, on their own 10, Michael Bennett’s sack forced a fumble for a safety.
“That’s when the game got away from us,” McCarthy said. “They make big plays. They made huge plays in the Carolina game (Saturday night). It’s something that’s very evident with their defense and that’s what you have to prepare for.”
The experience in Week 1 for the team and its youngest players should have the Packers better prepared.
Nelson said there “wouldn’t be a better way to go” than to have to earn a Super Bowl berth in Seattle, while veteran tight end Andrew Quarless concurred the opportunity is as good as it gets.
“A lot of times you don’t get that second chance,” Quarless said.
“There’s been a lot of games, a lot of weeks that have passed. This team from Week 1 has grown a lot. I don’t think it’s the same team. Probably them, too. I’m sure they’ve gotten better, but to see the growth and resilience of this team throughout the whole season has been positive.”
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