The Morning After: Bizarro Seahawks Win With Passing, Down Panthers 31-17

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

The great Brandon Roy played most of his sadly short basketball career below the rim. He was adept at finishing with both hands, owned a potent mid-range shot, and was able to extend to the three-point line before he hung up his sneakers. He was smooth. He was predictable. Every once-in-a-while, though, Roy would rise far above the rim and throw down a vicious dunk that made you reconsider exactly what kind of threat he was. In a game where the Seahawks had trouble running the ball and trouble getting off the field on defense, they served notice to everyone in football that there is not one to beat this team, and there are plenty of ways to lose.

Hat tip to Carolina

The final deficit of two touchdowns matched my expectations, but the path to getting there was nowhere near what I predicted. Much of the credit for that goes to a Carolina team who played an excellent football game. Many teams come to Seattle with a plan to stop the Seahawks running game, run the ball effectively against this defense, and handle the crowd noise without error. Very few accomplish any one of those things. The Panthers did all three.
Carolina, minus their best interior lineman, made rushing yards difficult to come by all night long. Marshawn Lynch had one 25-yard run, and had 34 yards on his other 13 carries (2.6 YPC). Only two other teams managed to hold the Seahawks below 119 yards rushing this season. Both of those teams, Dallas and San Diego, beat Seattle.
Those teams also managed to move the ball effectively against the Seahawks defense. Dallas finished with 401 yards of offense, while the Chargers had 377 total yards. Carolina became just the third team to pile up over 350 yards of offense against the Seahawks this season. That was easily the biggest surprise of this game.
This Seahawks defense has held seven of their last nine opponents under 70 yards rushing. They held this Panthers team to 114 yards in the first matchup in Carolina with a hobbled Kam Chancellor and without Bobby Wagner.  The Panthers piled up 87 yards rushing in the first half alone, and 132 for the game.

Cam Newton impresses

One sure thing coming into this game was that Cam Newton was not going to be able to handle the crowd noise and the ferocity of this defense. We have seen greats like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and others thrown off their game. Newton looked like a player who could have led his team to victory. He made poised throws on third down. He made tight throws in the red zone. He even completed a seam route to Greg Olsen, a route that Earl Thomas all but eliminates with his speed. This Seahawks defense had allowed only two scoring drives of longer than 60 yards in their previous six games. Newton led three in this game alone.

Kam > Cam

Superman was done in, though, by The Dark Knight patrolling Seattle’s secondary. Chancellor was once again the baddest man on the field. His 90-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the Seahawks win, but it was just one of many heroic plays he made on the night.

Chancellor has 3 INT in his last 4 playoff games. He also has 7 passes defensed and has registered at least 10 tackles in each of those games.

Pounding fullback was turned sideways earlier in the game by a crushing hit from Chancellor. Kelvin Benjamin was tackled in the open field later. He also leaped tall buildings in a single bound, as he attempted to block a field goal before the half.

Anyone who loves football loves watching Chancellor play the game. He was one of the two best players on the field that included last year’s defensive player of the year in Luke Kuechly. He was not, however, the best player last night.

Russell >>> Cam

Old football guys will often tell you the team with the best quarterback wins. That might be the best way to summarize how Seattle won last night. Russell Wilson was so good last night that he rose to the top of a very prestigious list.

Russell Wilson 109.7
Bart Starr 104.8
Aaron Rodgers 103.1
Kurt Warner 102.8
Drew Brees 100.7

Those are some of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Every one of them is a Hall of Famer. Wilson stands far above them after six playoff games in his young career. He was close to perfect against the Panthers.

A slow start with three straight punts was followed by scoring drives in four of their next five possessions, including three touchdowns on third down passes. Carolina did what so many pundits have said is the key to beating Seattle; they forced Wilson to beat them with his arm. He did it with exacting precision.

Newton showed all the talent of a #1 overall pick. Wilson made just as many impressive throws, but it is his ability to couple those explosive moments without the crippling mistakes that separates him from a player like Newton.

The whole offense stepped up

Wilson will get the lion’s share of attention nationally. The truth is he could not have performed the way he did without terrific contributions all over the offense. Start with the offensive line that is so often criticized, especially in pass protection.

Both teams gave up two sacks, but the Panthers were held to just six QB hurries and zero QB hits compared to nineteen hurries and six hits for the Seahawks

Max Unger is such a key to how that offensive line operates. His presence solidifies the middle and results in far fewer communication breakdowns. The Panthers brought pressure, but the Seahawks handled it and allowed Wilson to find receivers and tight ends for explosive plays.

Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Luke Willson all took turns making big catches. Kearse earned a career-high with 129 yards receiving and the longest catch of his career with the 63-yard score in the second quarter. Willson may have been the most impressive of the bunch based on what appears to be a growth trajectory pointing decidedly up.

His fourth quarter touchdown pretty much ended the game, but it was his catch and run on the third down prior to that score that will be burned into our memories. Not only did he make a difficult catch in traffic, but he broke two tackles and rumbled another 20 yards to set up his touchdown a few plays later.

It was the first time Willson has showed that kind of toughness after the catch. His development as an additional weapon that Wilson trusts is incredibly valuable. The next step is to see him show up consistently.

Injury concerns

Paul Richardson had just made a very tough catch before he hurt himself on an attempted deep pass. He had become a more reliable part of the passing game in previous weeks, and losing him would be significant. Seattle used Ricardo Lockette and Chris Mathews in his place, and have shown they will use Bryan Walters when needed in the past. None of those players have shown the ability to impact the passing game with any regularity.
Kevin Norwood was not even on the active roster for this game, which would likely change if Richardson is out next week. It remains to be seen if the team would use him much. 
Of greater concern is the illness that kept Byron Maxwell out of the game. He played on special teams, but he was battling shortness of breath that kept him out of the lineup on defense. That forced Tharold Simon into starting duties on the outside and Jeremy Lane in the nickel. Seattle can win with that duo, but the pass defense is significantly stronger with Maxwell in there.
Carroll would not commit to Maxwell’s availability next week, so this one bears watching.

One more home game

Nine home games down. One to go. No matter who wins today, we know that next Sunday at Noon will be the last time we get to cheer for our Seahawks in CenturyLink Field this season. It is a privilege that no fanbase has had since 1998. That is the last time a sitting Super Bowl champion hosted their conference championship the next season.
Only seven Super Bowl winners have earned the top seed the next season and won in the divisional round. Of those seven teams, six went on to the Super Bowl and five repeated as champions.
The march toward history continues in seven days.

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