SEATTLE – At some point they will take a moment to acknowledge the celebration taking place around them. Pete Carroll and his team will step back from an offseason focused on forgetting what happened in 2013 and for a brief second appreciate the festivities commemorating Seattle’s first Super Bowl title.
Once the Super Bowl banner is unveiled, it will be time to embark on the quest to become the first team in a decade to repeat.
“There’s a challenge every game, particularly opening game. After coming off the offseason and all that, there’s always a big challenge,” Carroll said.
Seattle will raise the curtain on the 2014 NFL season Thursday night hosting fellow NFC contender Green Bay. It’s the first regular- season meeting between the teams since the “Fail Mary” two years ago when Seattle won on a disputed touchdown on the final play of a game that also helped bring an end to the use of replacement officials.
But history was not the focus for Seattle this entire offseason, whether it was a controversial win two seasons ago, or its 43-8 romp over Denver in the Super Bowl.
“I think the thing that really separates us is we always stay true to who we are,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “We’re going to recapture what we did last year and add a few more things to it.”
Green Bay knows about winning a title and the pitfalls of trying to repeat. Aaron Rodgers got his championship four seasons ago and followed up by going 15-1 in the 2011 regular season before being bounced in the divisional round of the playoffs by the New York Giants.
With the addition of Julius Peppers to the defense, a revamped secondary and Year 2 of Eddie Lacy creating a balanced offense, many pundits believe the Packers can dethrone Seattle in the NFC.
That test begins Thursday.
“This is a game that we’ve been in before after we won the Super Bowl. We know the excitement that surrounds it,” Rodgers said. “It’s a highly rated game. We’re playing at a tough environment with the Super Bowl champions, so it’s going to be a tough test for us.”
Here are things to watch for as the season begins:
QUALITY QBs: Not a bad matchup of quarterbacks to begin the season with Rodgers and Seattle QB Russell Wilson taking center stage. Both led their respective offenses with precision during the preseason. Wilson led the Seahawks to scores on 11 of 13 preseason possessions, including nine touchdowns. Rodgers, who missed seven games last season with a collarbone injury, wasn’t quite as dynamic in the preseason but the Packers’ offense looked potent in his limited playing time.
WELCOME AND GOOD LUCK: Green Bay rookie center Corey Linsley and Seattle rookie right tackle Justin Britt get difficult introductions to the NFL. Linsley was thrown into a starting role when J.C. Tretter went down with a knee injury during training camp. His challenge will be trying to communicate with the rest of the offensive line and hear Rodgers’ adjustments in the loudest stadium in the NFL.
“If I’m a rookie and I’ve got Brandon Mebane my first game — he’s one of the best nose tackles in the league,” Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “So it’s going to be big for him. I’m going to pray for him. It’s going to be a long night, man.”
Britt won the starting job during training camp. And his NFL debut means having to slow down the pass rush of Clay Matthews and Peppers trying to create havoc off the edges.
SPEED AND MORE SPEED: The Packers and Seahawks want their offenses to use speed, but in different ways. The Packers want to push the tempo, going no-huddle and trying to keep opponents from getting their defenses set. Seattle will rely more on speed from the skill positions this season, taking advantage of a healthy Percy Harvin and rookie Paul Richardson.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH: Lost in the chaos of the final play two years ago was a miserable first half for Rodgers during which he was sacked eight times. Green Bay could not slow the pass rush of Irvin and Chris Clemons. The Packers went to a jumbo blocking unit in the second half and were finally able to slow Seattle’s rush.
The personnel is different, but protecting Rodgers will be critical.
FORGET THE FAIL MARY: The final play from the last meeting of these two teams will never be forgotten. The “Fail Mary” has been a talking point leading into the opener, but the Packers say there is no extra motivation because of the outcome the last time they visited Seattle.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve all moved on. I haven’t talked about it probably since it happened,” Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson said.