Seahawks face mental hurdle early

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks expect a rude wakeup call in Buffalo on Sunday.

Is there any other kind at 5 a.m.?

Getting up for an NFL regular-season opener should be easy, but the Seahawks know better.
By its own admission, the team with one of the NFL's great home-field advantages hasn't always played with the necessary fire on the road. The Eastern time zone, with its 10 a.m. PT kickoffs and 5 a.m. PT wakeup calls, looms ominously in their minds.

After all, early starts facilitated lackluster defeats to NFC also-rans Carolina and Atlanta late last season.

Or did they?

As much as the Seahawks despise football for breakfast -- for the record, they hate early kickoffs -- recent evidence fails to show a significant disadvantage. Seattle has a 5-4 record in early games over the last two seasons. The team's record was 2-5 in road games that kicked off later than 10 a.m. PT.

And yet the team continues to think -- and rethink -- its time-zone strategy.

  • "I've heard it's all about your two nights before [the game] rest," Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant said. "Two nights before we take off, I make sure I get good rest. I go to bed early, wake up, I eat good."

  • "I try to come in here as early as possible throughout the week and lift," defensive tackle Craig Terrill said. "I usually try to get in here by 6:30 in the morning, 6:15, so I'm lifting by 7, before meetings, so getting up and being physical isn't a problem. Especially for an East Coast game, I make sure I'm here early."

  • "It's hard because you'll hear somebody say, 'It's 5 o'clock in the morning,' " Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones said. "Sometimes I think we should practice here at 10 o'clock and it might prepare us better, get us used to moving that early in the morning."

  • "I take like a No-Doz or a Vivarin or something like that," Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson said. "Being in Seattle, you know you are going to travel the farthest of any team, and that's one of the realities. You have to get up at 5 in the morning sometimes."

Coach Mike Holmgren cringes each spring when the new NFL schedule inevitably reveals a handful of early games. These are deep-seated fears, but possibly outdated ones. The Seahawks lost all six early games in 2003 by a combined 67 points. They went 10-0 in games that kicked off later than 10 a.m. PT.

The memory became ingrained.

Holmgren has even altered the team's curfew for games played in the Eastern time zone this season. The team will still leave Seattle two days before kickoff, but the coach pushed back Friday night bed checks past 11 p.m. ET.

"That's 8 o'clock [PT]," Holmgren acknowledged. "To say, 'Lights out, go to bed,' ... it's 8 o'clock! So, the compromise is, I'm letting them stay up."

That's not all.

"We've created a game room of sorts, maybe a movie, some food, some things like that (on Friday nights)," Holmgren said. "Extend the curfew on Friday night so it's a little more realistic to Seattle time. Let them get a good night's sleep, hopefully, and kind of get them acclimated that way. Other than that, it's business as usual."

Not all morning games require East Coast trips. In addition to early road games against the Bills, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, the Seahawks play an early game at St. Louis, on Central time.

The league handed the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders six early games apiece this season, most for teams based in the Pacific time zone. The Arizona Cardinals face five early starts. San Diego drew four.

"It ain't just the East Coast," Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill said. "It's the road, period. We're used to a great home-field advantage here in Seattle. Maybe when we don't have it, it affects us.

"We do need to rethink our approach, maybe, and find our own enthusiasm. Maybe that's what it is. It's another season and hopefully we can do the job, but it has been a problem in the past."