Preview: Packers eye Super Bowl berth in Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks opened the season with a home rout of Green Bay.
A little more than four months later, it’s the visiting Packers who stand in the way of the Seahawks becoming the first team in 10 seasons to reach the Super Bowl in back-to-back years.
Riding an eight-game home playoff winning streak, the Seahawks go up against an ailing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Sunday’s NFC championship game.
With the "12th Man" in full force and its first Super Bowl winning banner hanging from the top of CenturyLink Field, Seattle rolled to a 36-16 win over Green Bay on Sept. 4. That highly anticipated showdown proved to be one-sided, but also an appetizer for perhaps a more competitive rematch with higher stakes.
"It’s going to be one of those for the ages," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "You look forward to that."
Looking to become the first team since New England from the 2003 and ’04 seasons to reach consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks (13-4) enjoyed another impressive playoff performance in Saturday’s 31-17 divisional-round win over Carolina. A winner in seven straight and 10 of 11, Seattle has reason to feel cautiously optimistic about the next step.
"It’s exciting but the job is not done. There is still a lot more to do," said Wilson, who improved to 5-1 in the postseason after throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
The Seahawks won’t get too far ahead of themselves considering the Packers have won 12 of 14 to reach their first NFC title game since winning the Super Bowl during the 2010 season. They also have Rodgers, who playing with an injured calf still appears to be better than most healthy NFL quarterbacks.
Rodgers, whose 105.3 career playoff passer rating is second only to Wilson’s 109.6, admirably played through the discomfort last Sunday to throw for 316 yards and three TDs in a 26-21 win over Dallas.
Aided by a bevy of receiving options, a stronger runner in Eddie Lacy and a stout defense that’s allowed more than 21 points once in nine games, the Packers are a more complete and confident team than the one that visited Seattle in September.
"This team from Week 1 has grown a lot, so we’re definitely looking forward to it," said tight end Andrew Quarless, who had four catches for 31 yards and a TD versus Dallas.
Though the Packers (13-4) have improved, Sunday’s task is still quite daunting.
Prior to facing Carolina, the Seahawks, winners of 25 of 27 at home, owned a 134-39 scoring advantage over the final six regular season games. They outscored those opponents 45-0 in the fourth quarter and added 17 more points Saturday before Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin caught a 15-yard TD pass with 2:34 left to play.
The 362 yards the Panthers totaled marked the first time in eight games Seattle yielded more than 298.
"Guys are playing selfless. There aren’t any egos, there aren’t any agendas, and guys just want to do whatever it takes to win," said brash Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whom the Packers didn’t throw toward in the opener.
In the September meeting, Rodgers was 23 of 33 for 189 yards with a TD, an INT and was sacked three times, including one that resulted in a fumble and a safety for the Seahawks. Green Bay’s 255 total yards were its second-lowest of the season and the same for Rodgers’ 81.5 passer rating.
Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 83 yards, but hardly drew Sherman in coverage.
The Packers said they won’t necessarily avoid Sherman this weekend.
"I don’t think anybody’s intimidated. I mean he’s a great player," Quarless said. "Their secondary is definitely a great secondary. You’ve got to give them their respect. But you know the whole ‘Legion of Boom’ – we’ll see."
Quarless can think that because Rodgers has grown confident with receivers other than Nelson and Randall Cobb, who combined for 189 receptions, 2,806 yards and 25 TDs during the regular season. Rookie receiver Davante Adams caught 38 passes during the season and seven for 117 yards and a TD against Dallas. Fellow first-year tight end Richard Rodgers caught a 13-yard pass for the go-ahead fourth-quarter score Sunday thanks in part to an overturned call of a Dez Bryant fourth-down reception on the next series.
"I don’t think it’s that much different except their guys are coming through," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "They’ve grown with their season and they’re at the top of their game."
Lacy was held to a season-low 34 yards against the Seahawks, but went on to gain 1,139, and 101 on 19 attempts versus Dallas.
Seattle allowed 132 rushing yards to the Panthers, but hasn’t yielded a 100 to a single rusher since Jamaal Charles’ 159 in a 24-20 loss at Kansas City on Nov. 16, its last defeat.
Wilson has thrown 12 TDs with two INTs in eight games, including last week, while completing 64.2 percent of his passes and a 107.2 rating. Five of his 15 completions against the Panthers went for more than 25 yards and 199 came on third down where he went 8 of 8.
Wilson’s 73.9 postseason completion percentage on third down is the best in the NFL since 1991, when STATS began recording the data.
"Sometimes I think I’m made for these situations," said Wilson, who was 19 of 28 for 191 yards with two TDs against the Packers in September. "I just try to be prepared for us. When you’re prepared, you’re never scared."
With three catches for a career-high 129 yards and a TD last week, teammate Jermaine Kearse has nine receptions for 238 and three touchdowns in his last three playoff contests.
Marshawn Lynch was held to 59 yards on 14 carries by Carolina, but ran for 110 and two TDs against the Packers in the opener.
Green Bay allowed an average of 86.4 rushing yards and 3.6 per carry over the final eight regular season games but yielded 123 and a TD on 25 attempts to NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray last Sunday.
"It’s going to be a good matchup and we’re excited about it," Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang said. "It’s going to be a tough one, we understand that, but we’ll be ready for the challenge."