Seattle visits Lambeau Field for both teams' preseason openers at 7 p.m. (CDT) Monday. It will be billed as a rematch of last season's overtime playoff thriller, and another return to Green Bay for Seattle coach Mike Holmgren. It, of course, is nothing more than an opening preseason game. A Seattle victory will not be a measure of revenge for the playoff loss, and a Green Bay victory will not be a statement of continued supremacy over a key conference rival.
Seattle was routed by the Packers 35-13 on Oct. 5, 2003, at Lambeau Field. The telling stat was a 2-0 Green Bay victory in turnover margin. Brett Favre threw for two touchdowns and Ahman Green rushed for 118 yards and a pair of scores. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was 23-of-39 for 225 yards but had one interception. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown but also lost a fumble.
On Jan. 4 in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau, the Packers beat Seattle again, this time 33-27. The game will be remembered for Hasselbeck winning the overtime coin toss and proclaiming for all 72,000 in attendance that, "We want the ball, and we're going to score."
The Seahawks took the ball but punted, but got the ball back. Hasselbeck saw a Packers blitz and audibled. Harris knew what was coming, however, and stepped in front of the receiver and ran untouched 52 yards for the winning touchdown.
Most of the main characters involved in that January showdown will be in the lineups Monday night. The Packers return Favre, Green and perhaps the league's most underrated receiving trio in Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker. All five of last season's starting offensive linemen return as well, though center Mike Flanagan and guard Mike Wahle haven't practiced at all during training camp due to knee injuries and won't be in action on Monday.
Hasselbeck threw for 3,841 yards last season with 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Alexander rushed for 1,435 yards and 14 touchdowns. Receivers Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram are acknowledged as one of the best trios in the league. They combined for 185 catches, 2,670 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Defense is the question mark on both teams, though little will be settled on Monday with the starters not expected to play too much. While Seattle ranked sixth in the league in offense, it checked in at 19th in defense, including a horrible 27th against the pass.
Gone is longtime cornerback star Shawn Springs but in is former Eagles standout Bobby Taylor. The addition of former St. Louis Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom should beef up a mediocre pass rush and help the young secondary. Also helping the secondary is second-round pick Michael Boulware, who starred at linebacker at Florida State but is playing safety for Seattle.
The team's top three defensive tackles, John Randle (retired), Chad Eaton and Norman Hand (both released) are gone, which certainly won't help a middle-of-the-road run defense. First-round pick Marcus Tubbs will have to fill a void in the middle early. Tubbs just signed his contract and practiced for the first time Tuesday. He expects to get some playing time against the Packers.
OUT OF ACTION
Neither Wistrom, who hasn't passed his physical, nor All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson (calf) will make the trip to Green Bay. Same goes for backup quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Brock Huard, wide receivers Robinson and Taco Wallace, running back Clarence Farmer, defensive end Anton Palepoi and defensive backs Kris Richard and Arnold Parker.
With two quarterbacks out, Hasselbeck may get more playing time than most starters this time of the year. The team's other quarterbacks are athletic second-year player Seneca Wallace, who will see most of the action, and the just-signed Bryson Spinner, who may get some mop-up duty late.
For Green Bay, the key players out of the lineup will be Flanagan, Wahle, No. 3 quarterback hopeful Craig Nall, backup defensive end Chukie Nwokorie and rookie third-round defensive tackle Donnell Washington.
With Nall out, Favre unlikely to play beyond the first quarter and Tim Couch battling a sore and tired throwing arm, veteran Doug Pederson will see the majority of the snaps. With a solid outing, Pederson could solidify his spot on the roster, which could mean the end of the line for the capable Nall.
COUCH IS HOPEFUL
Couch has been held out of most of the practices for the last few days. He lobbed a few passes Saturday but was limited to handoffs after that.
"We want him to play. But we may have to call it off at the last minute," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said on Saturday.
With Couch signed so late in the off-season, the Packers threw a steady diet of the offense at him on a daily basis. He arrived in camp with the rookies and newcomers, getting an extra three practices. Then he took the plurality of the snaps during training camp, sometimes throwing 75 passes per day. The heavy workload, due to his crash course in the offense, the frequent rest given to Favre and Nall's hamstring injury, led to a sore and dead arm. He was pulled from Tuesday's practice, was given Wednesday and Friday off and threw only a little on Thursday and Saturday.
"After the first couple practices I felt it starting to get sore and it kind of grew from there," Couch said. "I didn't want to miss anything because I was new and I was playing catchup already."
Monday's game airs on ESPN, with the legendary Pat Summerall handling play-by-play duties due to ESPN's Mike Patrick undergoing open-heart surgery. Joe Theisman and Paul Maguire will handle the analysis, with Suzy Kolber on the sideline.
A GOOD CAUSE
Monday's game will be the 44th Bishop's Charities Game. The game started in 1961 when the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay approached Vince Lombardi about playing a charitable contest similar to the entrenched Shrine game. Lombardi agreed, with one-third of the gate receipts going to the church. Since the 1970s, the church has received a flat donation from the team. The series has raised more than $2.8 million.