NFL Sun­day show­downs

Pack­ers, Rodgers get another shot in Seat­tle Luck can take ca­reer to next level

SundayXtra - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Booth

SEAT­TLE — Even­tu­ally, the paths of Green Bay and Seat­tle were go­ing to cross again.

After they opened the 2014 NFL sea­son in early Septem­ber, it seemed in­evitable Aaron Rodgers would get a sec­ond chance to throw at Richard Sher­man — if he wanted to. That Rus­sell Wilson would have to avoid Clay Matthews try­ing to chase him down. And that the Pack­ers would get another op­por­tu­nity to top­ple Seat­tle and be the elite of the NFC.

They were the two best teams in the con­fer­ence in the sec­ond half of the reg­u­lar sea­son. So it’s only fit­ting the Pack­ers and Sea­hawks meet to­day for the NFC cham­pi­onship and a trip to the Su­per Bowl.

“It’s just the way it should be. It should be just like that right now,” Seat­tle coach Pete Car­roll said.

Don’t be mis­taken by their re­cent prow­ess, this wasn’t a smooth ride for ei­ther fran­chise. Whether it was Rodgers telling Pack­ers’ fans to “R-EL-A-X” early in the sea­son, or Seat­tle deal­ing with the ex­pec­ta­tions of be­ing a Su­per Bowl cham­pion, along with the stun­ning mid-sea­son trade of Percy Harvin, this was no cruise.

“It was a process through­out the year,” Green Bay line­backer Julius Pep­pers said. “You get bet­ter and bet­ter each week. That is the main thing you want to do each week, get bet­ter than you were be­fore, and I think we ac­com­plished that over the sea­son.”

Green Bay has added one more ob­sta­cle in the post-sea­son: Rodgers’ left calf in­jury that has limited his mo­bil­ity. But Rodgers showed in last week’s di­vi­sional-round win over Dal­las he can man­age just fine, throw­ing for 316 yards and three touch­downs in the 26-21 vic­tory.

Now all-pro Rodgers gets his first shot at an NFC ti­tle since win­ning at Chicago in Jan­uary 2011. A Su­per Bowl vic­tory over Pitts­burgh fol­lowed.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent team,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s less than 20 guys still here from that team. It’s only four years ago. But we have con­fi­dence that we can win on the road.”

Here’s what else to watch for as Seat­tle tries to be­come the first de­fend­ing cham­pion in a decade to reach con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowls: CALF WATCH: Rodgers’ in­jury is slow­ing him from scram­bling be­fore throw­ing, one of his strengths. His right arm is just fine. Rodgers got hurt dur­ing the Dec. 21 game against Tampa Bay. He still com­pleted 74 per cent of his passes in his last three games, in­clud­ing the win over Dal­las. Coach Mike McCarthy has had Rodgers op­er­at­ing out of shot­gun for­ma­tions to help limit his move­ment.

Per­haps just as im­por­tantly for the Pack­ers has been the solid work of the of­fen­sive line much of the year. All­pro full­back John Kuhn, an ex­cel­lent blocker, has also seen more time of late. Rodgers will need top-notch pro­tec­tion against Seat­tle’s tough de­fence. SILENT SHERM: Sher­man, another all­pro, was bored when Green Bay vis­ited in the sea­son opener. Through the en­tire game, Rodgers re­fused to throw at the cor­ner­back, in­stead turn­ing to the other side of the field. Sher­man took Rodgers’ ap­proach as a sign of re­spect. It also left him frus­trated. He de­scribed it as be­ing a “12” on a 1-10 scale.

“Every­body’s like, ‘Man, that’s cool, no­body threw to your side,’ ” Sher­man said. “But if you’re a player, you want to make plays in the game, you feel you can help your team, you want the ball com­ing your way more.” AT­TI­TUDE: Lineback­ers Matthews and Pep­pers draw the head­lines and make big plays on the Pack­ers’ de­fence. Line­man Mike Daniels sup­plies the at­ti­tude. A main­stay up front, Daniels’ de­meanour sets a stern tone on game day.

They’ll need Daniels and fel­low line­man Letroy Guion to slow down bullish run­ning back Mar­shawn Lynch just enough to al­low lineback­ers Matthews and Sam Bar­ring­ton, and safety Mor­gan Bur­nett to try to fin­ish off tack­les up the mid­dle. Daniels has 14 tack­les and two sacks over his last four games. COM­ING OF AGE: When Green Bay vis­ited in Week 1, cen­tre Corey Lins­ley, wide re­ceiver Da­vante Adams and tight end Richard Rodgers were all mak­ing their NFL de­buts. Now they’re in­te­gral parts of the of­fence. Adams was the star of Green Bay’s win over Dal­las last week with seven catches for 117 yards and a touch­down.

“You ex­pect those guys to hit some sort of lull dur­ing the year, as the col­lege sea­son is usu­ally 12 or 13 games,” Aaron Rodgers said. “After the pre­sea­son, you’re look­ing at mid­way through the sea­son, that’s a nor­mal col­lege sea­son for th­ese guys, and you haven’t seen it.” THANKS BUF­FALO: Seat­tle ul­ti­mately owes thanks to Buf­falo for to­day’s ti­tle game be­ing played at Cen­tu­ryLink Field. The Bills’ vic­tory over Green Bay in Week 15 was the dif­fer­ence in Seat­tle win­ning the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. In­stead of Seat­tle be­ing forced to deal with the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures of Wis­con­sin, the Pack­ers are about to en­ter the Sea­hawks’ caul­dron of noise.

“Any time we get the home games, es­pe­cially the NFC cham­pi­onship at home, and we get to play in front of the 12s, it’s ex­cit­ing,” Seat­tle safety Kam Chan­cel­lor said of the team’s fan base. “It’s ex­cit­ing for us, ex­cit­ing for them.”

MIKE ROE­MER / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Green Bay quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers will be laugh­ing it up if the Pack can some­how es­tab­lish a run­ning game and take some pres­sure off him.

MORRY GASH / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Pack line­backer Clay Matthews will be try­ing to get in the face of QB Rus­sell Wilson.

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