Seahawks counting on experience
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was the kind of question Al Harris probably was supposed to answer no to, even if he didn't really believe it.
Instead, the Green Bay Packers cornerback chose to acknowledge the obvious: Yes, the Seattle Seahawks' postseason experience gives them an advantage in today's divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
"There is a big difference and I think it will play a factor," Harris said. "The teams who constantly go to the playoffs and have been to the playoffs, and the players who've been in these situations, you see come up big and play well. So I think it will be a big difference."
Seattle's 53-man roster has a combined 240 games of postseason experience. Green Bay, the NFL's youngest team, has a total of 94.
Today, the Seahawks will start 10 players — including kicker Josh Brown and his battery powered heating pants — who started the Super Bowl 23 months ago. Bobby Engram will make it 11 if receiver D.J. Hackett isn't able to start after aggravating a sprained ankle late in the week.
A total of 12 Packers starters, including kicker Mason Crosby and punter Jon Ryan, will be playing in their first playoff game.
But the Seahawks aren't sure their top-to-bottom experience advantage outweighs the fact the Packers have wily old Brett Favre. And they're playing at Lambeau after a bye week.
"Even though they don't have a lot of guys who have been in the playoffs, we're still playing at Lambeau Field. Against Brett Favre," running back Shaun Alexander said, chuckling at the absurdity of Favre's experience alone.
And Favre, who will make his 21st postseason start, said some of the Packers' unexpected success this season can be attributed to the fact their young players don't get caught up in what they're not supposed to be able to do.
"Not knowing any better sometimes worked in our favor — not realizing the odds that you're up against," Favre said. "Sometimes you get a veteran team that's been around a while. They kind of go, 'I don't know, we don't stand a chance.' A younger team's like, 'Bring them on.' We've made mistakes at times that I think show our inexperience, but we've been resilient, too."
Among Packers starters making their first postseason starts today will be wide receiver Greg Jennings, running back Ryan Grant, linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga and safeties Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has coached in 33 postseason games. He won a Super Bowl for Green Bay to end the 1996 season, and has reached two others.
He has seen what the playoffs can do to first-timers.
"I've seen guys with their eyes pretty wide open for a while, then they settle in and it's a football game," Holmgren said. "The intensity level in playoff games — and the farther you go along in the playoffs, and of course in the Super Bowl — it can affect you. But then it's the coaches' jobs to settle people down, and make them realize that it is a football game, an important one, but another football game."
Packers coaches have spent this week prodding young players to make the most of this opportunity because there's no way to know when it might come again. They brought up quarterback Dan Marino, who went to the Super Bowl in his second season but never got back there.
"I'm not one to try to live in the past," Jennings said. "I'm here, I'm not worried about what happened in the past. I don't care about the regular season anymore. That's all null and void now. We're all starting from scratch, so I just feel like if we can go out there and continue to do the things that we've been doing to get to this point and try to continue to be successful and continue to jell as a team, then who knows where the future lies for this ballclub?"
Aside from their graying quarterback, the Packers are a young team on the rise. But the window to win a championship might be closing for the Seahawks, who are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
"If you had the choice between an experienced playoff group, and an inexperienced group, you'd pick the experience," Holmgren said. "I think all that stuff helps you a little bit."
Former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard is the Seahawks' most experienced playoff player with 12 appearances. Deion Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP with the Patriots has 10, tied with longtime Seahawks right guard Chris Gray and recently signed long snapper Jeff Robinson.
But Pollard doesn't think any of this experience business will matter once the game begins Saturday.
"I don't know about experience, really," Pollard said. "To me, right now, it's the team that executes the best, doesn't turn the ball over, doesn't make any mistakes, is the team that's going to win."
Especially with the Packers playing at home.
"The fact that they're playing at home, I think the experience thing might be overstated then," Holmgren said.
Holmgren discussed the Lambeau Field mystique with his players this week. It was news to Seahawks safety Deon Grant, who grew up in Georgia and attended the University of Tennessee.
"I didn't know anything about Green Bay growing up. I'm from the south. I just know it's a cheese town and everything," Grant said.
When asked about the Packers' "cheeseheads," Grant said, "There are going to be a lot of them. I might eat some of them."