The Morning After: Panthers Overwhelm Seahawks, Hang On For 31-24 Win

Forget waterboarding or threatening to cut off body parts. Force any Seahawks fan to watch the first half of that football game, and they will tell you anything you want to hear to make it stop. It was that bad. A team that gave up 43 points combined in their last six road games, found themselves down 31 points after two quarters. There was some symmetry seeing their middle linebacker get an early interception against a rattled visiting quarterback in a raucous environment. Only this time it was not Lofa Tatupu picking off Jake Delhomme. That 2005 NFC Championship game felt like a blowout, but going ahead 17-0, as Seattle did that day, feels like a close game in comparison. Rocket science is held up as a job for geniuses, in part, because of the myriad of challenges associated with creating a massive explosion that propels instead of destroys. A loose bolt here or a bent rod there can result in disaster. The Panthers managed to channel all their emotion and talent into a nearly perfect half of football before popping their chute and falling gently back to Earth. Seattle was thoroughly outplayed. It rarely happens. Hats off to the Panthers.

Pointing fingers

The game started with the longest run this Seahawks defense has given up all season. In fact, Jonathan Stewart’s 59-yard run was the longest against the Seahawks since Adrian Peterson escaped for 74 yards on the second play from scrimmage in 2012. 
Seattle forced a fumble on the play immediately following Stewart’s run, but the ball bounced the Panthers direction. The Panthers would easily score, as they did on each of their three red zone possessions. Russell Wilson followed it up with a poor decision, but that play was caused by the offensive line getting their butts kicked for the second straight play. 
The offensive line was unable to hold up against the Panthers front seven. Wilson did not have a great half of football, but the line looked like they were playing on skates. It was a butt whooping. The defensive line was not much better.
Cam Newton operated with a four-yard halo around him most of the game. There was no pressure, and there was little resistance in the running game. Newton never had the chance to make his customary boneheaded throws because everything came so easy.
A game like that in the regular season is one you just flush and move on. There is no next week, only next season.

Always compete

Pete Carroll extols the virtue of looking for every possible angle to maximize his team’s level of play. His cherished statement of, “It’s not how your start, it’s how you finish,” seems antithetical to his core philosophy. Being a great finishing team is terrific. Why not be a great starting team as well?
This may feel like an obvious point to make, but look a little deeper. Carroll’s obsession with finishing and tendency to dismiss the importance of starts has impact beyond the game itself. 
The Seahawks have gotten off to slow starts in three of the past four seasons. They have trailed by nine points or more in eight playoff games over that time. Despite coming back to take the lead in every one but the game yesterday, it would seem like an adjustment is warranted.
Apply that unique Carroll obsession with perfection to the start and marry that with already proven ability of this Seahawks core to finish, and life will be a lot easier. Carroll has said he wants to do it better than it has ever been done before. Diminishing the importance of a strong start is making that task tougher than it has to be. Here’s the first simple adjustment: “It’s how you start and how you finish.”

Rare grit

That game was not as close as the final score indicated, but the final score indicated much about the Seahawks character and grit. There have been 141 times in NFL history that a team has trailed by 30 points or more at halftime. Only one team besides the Seahawks (the 1989 Green Bay Packers @ the LA Rams) was able to end the game within one score. 
Think about that. In the 20,000+ games played dating back to 1940, there has only been one other team to do what Seattle did yesterday. Even when this team loses, they do something special.

This was just the second time in NFL history that a team that trailed by 30+ points at halftime, finished within one score of their opponent

The Seahawks did it the hard way, without any turnovers. Seeing two teams who are so closely matched in talent blow each other out in each half was odd. Knowing the Seahawks can face just about any deficit and still make a game of it should make fans proud.

Looking ahead

The Seahawks core is young and will be competitive for years. That doesn’t mean this was an excusable outcome. There are no great teams in the NFL this season. Even the powerhouse Patriots are flawed. There is no way to prove it now, but Seattle would have had a good shot to win it all had they made it through the game yesterday.
Those chances are rare. The team was mostly healthy this year, with a few high profile exceptions. They had their strongest offense and a good defense. Last years team overachieved. They were thin. This team had more depth and more balance. 
This will be a crucial offseason, not only to reload on talent, but to secure the future of Carroll and John Schneider. Their contracts are up at the end of next season. This franchise is in good hands as long as those two are around. It should be Paul Allen’s top priority to get them both signed to extensions.
Then we can get into the laundry list of places to upgrade on the roster. I hate losing, but I love the offseason. Seattle has a bushel of draft picks. They have players who are injured now who should come back ready to bolster the roster by next season. There will be free agents to bring aboard. Offseason coverage will begin here right away. 
This team is too good to win only one Super Bowl. Look at the franchises with an elite quarterback. They are in the playoffs every year, and usually among the top seeds. Wilson probably has another decade ahead of him in Seattle, and just now is beginning to reach his potential as a passer. Schneider will have more time to prepare for free agency and the draft than he has in two seasons. 
We will look back at 2015 and realize it was evolutionary. It was not clear when it began that Wilson was capable of shouldering the larger burden required of quarterbacks gobbling up large chunks of cap space. He has proven he is. The makeup of this team will change, but the core will remain true. 
On a personal note, thanks to all of you for terrific season. It has been a pleasure sharing in all the highs and lows with you. 

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