SEATTLE – So much has happened since the Seahawks won their only Super Bowl following the 2013 season, but one thing has stayed the same – the goal to win it again.
And not, they say, because they think this might be their last chance but because that’s what the aim has consistently been since the rise to the top began with the maturation of Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom in 2012.
“I know a lot of you guys are saying that the window is closing,” said defensive end Cliff Avril one day during training camp. “But I don’t think that’s the case. I think guys are still playing lights out.”
The Seahawks won’t have to wait long to prove if that’s true, opening the 2017 regular season Sunday in a place that has been something of a House of Horrors in recent years – Lambeau Field, where Seattle is 0-7 including playoffs since 1999 – against a team that is also considered a Super Bowl contender, the Green Bay Packers.
The game will serve as something of an early test of NFC supremacy, and it also offers plenty of opportunity for redemption.
Seattle suffered its worst loss (38-10) of the Wilson era at Lambeau last December, a game that also snapped an NFL-record streak of 95 straight games without losing by more than 10 points.
That defeat came just 15 months after a 27-17 loss at Lambeau in September 2015, a game that marked the first time Seattle had lost by at least 10 points since 2011.
The Seahawks spent the past week saying that sordid history won’t mean anything come Sunday.
“I don’t think they start with a 38-point lead in the next game, so I don’t think it is worth much,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
But it won’t be a surprise if those games are mentioned by somebody in the Seattle locker room at some point as kickoff approaches.
The Seahawks also know that this time, there are no ready excuses if Green Bay pulls away for another comfortable win.
In 2015, the Seahawks were without All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor, playing the second of two games he missed during his ill-fated holdout.
Last season’s rout came in the first game the Seahawks played after perennial All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas was lost for the rest of the year with a broken leg.
But as Sherman said of the prospect of Sunday’s matchup: “A different game, a different team.”
The Seahawks have all their parts this time, with Thomas healed and every other key member of the team appearing at full health – or close enough to it – as the season begins.
Asked how different a game it could be Sunday with the Legion of Boom at full strength, Sherman smiled.
“I guess we will see,” he said. “We will see. We’ve usually done well when we’ve had everybody. We’ve never won in Lambeau with our group because we are always missing somebody. I think we have all the pieces in place to go out there and give them a great fight, and I look forward to it.”
As coach Pete Carroll noted this week, the loss of Thomas wasn’t the only reason for the rout. Wilson threw a career-high five interceptions, two of which were tipped, while the Seahawks also lost a fumble.
But it was the ease with which the Packers moved the ball through the air against a Thomas-less secondary that stood out and began a stretch in which Seattle would allow 34 or more points in three of its final six games (including playoffs) after having not allowed more than 25 in any game to that point.
Carroll is expecting that Thomas will pick up where he left off before he was injured against Carolina.
“He’s looked as good as he has ever looked,” Carroll said this week. “He really seems to be in the best condition that I can remember him in the last four or five years anyway. His quickness, his stamina, his strength and his focus has been great.”
Thomas seems to think similarly. On Friday night, as the team traveled to Green Bay, Thomas Tweeted “The BOOM about to be BACK!” accompanied by a clip of one of the LOB’s most famous plays, the hit Thomas laid along with Chancellor on New England tight end Rob Gronkowksi last season that ended Gronkowski’s season and clinched a 31-24 win over Seattle over the Patriots on the road that had many thinking the Seahawks were headed for another Super Bowl.
A week later, Thomas hurt his hamstring in a win over Philadelphia and three weeks later broke his leg, and things were never really the same.
“It certainly makes a difference,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said of having a full secondary for Sunday. “The past couple of times, we haven’t been whole, but this time we should be.”
Will it be just as simple as having Thomas again patrolling the middle of the field?
“Everything lines up well,” Carroll said. “But we all know, we are going to need it all to play against a fine club.”
And, maybe, prove that they are still one themselves.