GREEN BAY – It’s about revenge. It’s about atoning for the missed opportunity. It’s about exorcising demons that date back to the “Fail Mary.”
Sunday’s visit from the Seattle Seahawks is supposed to be about all of those things, except it isn’t within the Green Bay Packers’ locker room.
“I can assure you, it’s not something that’s talked about much,” linebacker Clay Matthews said on Wednesday of last January’s NFC title game, and he wasn’t alone.
“Last year is last year,” offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “There’s nothing we can do to go back for that one. That’s done. That’s over.”
“I’m not talking about last year,” linebacker Julius Peppers said.
“This is 2015,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s a different season.”
With all of those past storylines non-starters, there’s still a present one worth considering. What about the chances of Sunday’s result impacting the playoff picture come January?
Last year, both the Packers and Seahawks finished 12-4, and Seattle’s victory in Week 1 served as the tiebreaker that sent Green Bay west for the conference championship.
There are multiple ways to view that, of course.
“This game is important. Every game is important, though,” Rodgers said. “You can look back at all four of our losses, and if one of those goes a different way, we’re hosting the NFC Championship Game.
“You never know when it’s going to be. Your best has to show up every week.”
That’s what the Packers are making this game about – bringing their best against one of the league’s best teams in prime time for the home opener. The Packers are trying to get to 2-0, while the Seahawks are trying to avoid going 0-2.
There’s only one game to go on for this season, and Green Bay’s offense was pretty close to its best, scoring 31 points in 53 offensive snaps against Chicago.
The defense was more uneven, though, allowing 189 rushing yards and now having to adjust without inside linebacker Sam Barrington for the rest of the season. Safety Morgan Burnett could be back, though, having returned to the practice field on Wednesday.
Nate Palmer and rookie Jake Ryan are suddenly much more prominent players as Barrington’s top replacement candidates. They face tough duty, overcoming their own inexperience to try to shore up the run defense with arguably the league’s toughest runner in Marshawn Lynch on his way.
“That’s what OTAs and that summer camp is about, preparing if something like this happens,” said Ryan, a fourth-round draft pick from Michigan. “I feel prepared.
“This happened, and it’s a time to step up.”
Matthews said one thing he likes about Ryan is he simply “looks like a middle linebacker when he’s out there.” He also felt with Palmer replacing Barrington against the Bears there wasn’t “much of a dropoff,” adding that was no knock against Barrington.
“They need to be ready,” Matthews said of his two potential sidekicks in the middle of the defense.
For Palmer, the recent turn of events has only continued a highly eventful start to his career. Drafted as an outside linebacker in the sixth round in 2013, he was in and out of the lineup as a rookie and then switched to inside linebacker in 2014, only to injure his knee in training camp and miss the season.
Fast forward to this summer and he’s practicing with a club cast on an injured hand, making the team, and then filling in for Barrington in the opener with a splint in place of the club, which he said he’ll have to deal with for quite a while yet. He’s also wearing the helmet speaker as the defensive signal caller.
“It’s just a whirlwind, roller-coaster ride, and I’m just trying to ride the highs and stay positive with the lows,” Palmer said.
Added to the dynamic is Palmer is taking over for one of his closest friends. Barrington was drafted in 2013 one round after Palmer, and the two have been camp and road-trip roommates since arriving in Green Bay.
Palmer called Barrington right away as soon as he heard his injury was season-ending, making sure he was OK.
“He was all positive,” Palmer said. “He was just all about, ‘Hey look, Nate, don’t worry about me. Go seize the opportunity. Go play your game. Be who you are.’”
He’ll have to help the Packers’ run defense be what it wants to be on Sunday.
Click here for all Packers-Seahawks news