Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lifts the Lombardi Trophy at...

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lifts the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Pete Carroll didn't even need 24 hours to predict a Super Bowl repeat.

The morning after the Seahawks' 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII last February at MetLife Stadium, Carroll boasted they'd do it again in 2014. But as he now is experiencing firsthand, defending a Super Bowl championship is harder than it looks.

Even if Carroll insists he's not looking too far ahead just yet.

"I will let you know a little later from now," he said when asked about the difference between playing for a Super Bowl and playing for another one. "We're still in the middle of everything. This has been a bit of a different start for us now that we have a few losses that we didn't have last year, but the games have been tough, as they were last year, and they have been challenging, and we have had to win them at the end."

You don't have to tell that to a handful of Giants players and coaches. They know exactly what the Seahawks are going through. The Giants have defended Super Bowl titles twice in recent years but failed to repeat both times.

They won the NFC East title with a 12-4 record in 2008 but lost to the Eagles at home in the divisional round. The fallout from Plaxico Burress' self-shooting late in the season proved too much to overcome.

The Giants missed the playoffs altogether in 2012, the season after they became the first team in NFL history to finish 9-7 and go on to win the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks are trying to become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champion. But the biggest factor that any defending champion has to deal with is this: Opponents are especially anxious to knock off the Super Bowl winner.

"You certainly are aware of the fact that, no matter what stature an opponent might be, that when they play the team that is the reigning Super Bowl champion, they're going to give their best shot," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "So it's one thing to say it that you'll be ready for it, but it's another to live it. But there's no question what you're gonna get each and every week, and you have to prepare yourself for it."

Carroll knows that now. His team already has lost as many games halfway through the season as it did during last year's 13-3 first-place finish in the NFC West.

"I think it is an opportunity for the other team and that is something you should expect," he said. "We were out in front of it last year, so we felt it last year, too, in a sense. I am sure we are getting everybody's best shot, and we wouldn't really expect it any other way."

It's not that the Seahawks are having a bad year. They're a respectable 5-3, but it's not the dominant record that many experts expected. Especially after they beat Peyton Manning's Broncos so convincingly in the Super Bowl and followed that up with another brilliant performance in the regular-season opener against the Packers.

But the Seahawks have not played up to their standards, perhaps in part because of a Super Bowl hangover but also because of several injuries to key players, including linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Kam Chancellor, tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks also have been beset by internal issues that prompted them to trade Percy Harvin to the Jets.

"I think about last year, we were 13-3, but we won some tough games," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We battled, and we fought through a bunch of injuries, and we hung together. That is what we are trying to do right now. We are going through a lot of injury battles, and we are trying to keep guys healthy, keep guys going and keep winning football games, and play one game at a time. It is not easy. It is a new year for us in terms of different challenges. Every year is different, no matter if you have won a Super Bowl or haven't won a Super Bowl. You just got to get prepared the right way, have championship preparation every week, and that is all you can handle."

Eli Manning can relate to Wilson's challenges, although the sympathy goes only so far this week. The Giants, 3-5 and reeling after three straight losses entering Sunday's game against the Seahawks, are trying to get back in the NFC East race.

"Every season is a new year, so just because you win a championship the year before doesn't mean it comes easy the next year," Manning said. "Everything's always a struggle in football, and that's the great thing about it. Whether you had a great year, the next year can be tough, or if you had a bad year, you can get better the next year. I think the way you handle a championship the year after is how the team handles it, whether the breaks go your way and just how the ball bounces sometimes."

Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who also has been on two teams that fell short the season after winning the Super Bowl, said time and rest are the biggest factors in what happens the year after winning it all.

"It's physically and mentally draining to have a season go as long as it takes to get to a Super Bowl and then come out winning," he said. "Then there's the partying and celebrating after that. It's a long year, and the teams that didn't make that run had a significant amount of rest. I think that's probably the biggest thing, not having that extra rest time and then starting another offseason back up within a month of your last game. That's pretty tough."

The Seahawks are finding out just how tough.

"This has been another challenging year and we are trying to get it done," Carroll said. "I don't feel like I can compare it or make any kind of evaluation until I look back after [the season] is over."

He's hoping he looks back with another Vince Lombardi Trophy in his hands -- even if history suggests someone else will have that honor.


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