BY Art Thiel 07:20PM 01/04/2015

Thiel: Carolina, a foe Seahawks aggravate most

The Panthers and Seahawks have played the same kind of game the past three meetings, all Seahawks win. But this one’s at the Clink. Another wreck for Newton?

Russell Wilson completed 20 of 32 passes for 199 yards against Carolina Oct. 26, including a game-winning TD pass to Luke Willson. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The Seahawks will say it makes no difference whom they host at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, and that’s largely true. But since the choice heading into the playoffs’ wild-card weekend was the 11-5 Detroit Lions or the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers, they can thank the Dallas Cowboys — and a bewildering officiating call — for making their road a tad fluffier.

The Cowboys’ 24-20 win Sunday that eliminated the Lions, thanks in part to a pass-interference penalty against Dallas that was belatedly withdrawn without explanation, sent the NFC South champion Panthers against a team they have played well enough — but cannot seem to beat no matter how intensely they scuffled.

The aggravation was palpable after the Seahawks’ Oct. 26 game in Charlotte, when the 13-9 triumph followed a pattern of the two previous games between the teams, 16-12 and 12-7, both Seahawks’ wins on the road.

“Man, I’m telling you, it’s just the Achilles’ heel, man,” Panthers CB Josh Norman told reporters. “They keep nagging us. They end up making one more play than us, every single time.”

Actually, it was a few plays in a row, all on the Seahawks’  last possession, that skewered the Panthers. The ninth and final play of an 80-yard drive became the game’s only touchdown with 46 seconds left when QB Russell Wilson hit TE Luke Willson with a 23-yard pass.

The triumph ended the Seahawks post-Harvin-trade swoon at two losses in a row and began a run that has reached nine wins in 10 games.

“It was a huge win because of the fashion we won it,” said Wilson post-game. He overcame multiple earlier mistakes to be flawless in the final drive. “The game on the line with three, two, one minute left — that’s all I can ask for.”

The game was a pivot point for Seattle, because national scrutiny had fallen upon the defending champs for their sluggish 3-3 start. Media stories sprouted that questioned team harmony, the relationship between RB Marshawn Lynch and coach Pete Carroll, and the issue of Wilson’s leadership and whether, as anonymous sources claimed in one story, Wilson “wasn’t black enough.”

The Carolina win started the turnaround that catapulted the Seahawks into the No. 1 seed, from where they watched in a bye week their potential foes beat up one another.

“People were trying to distract us with stories that we’re not together,” Wilson said. “We’re probably the closest we’ve been. There’s been no distraction at all. People keep finding ways to knock us down. But we keep believing in each other.

“Not black enough? I don’t even know what that means. I’m an educated male who’s not perfect. I’m just trying to lead us to win football games. We’ve lost some tough games against good football teams. We could have been 6-0.”

For Carolina, the loss was one of six consecutive that averaged nearly a 15-point margin of defeat. That’s part of why the NFC South became a national laughingstock, producing in Carolina a champ with a losing record.

Of course, no one in Seattle is snickering, because in 2010 it was the Seahawks who were the first division titlist in NFL postseason history to have a losing (7-9) record. That was coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle, and he helped engineer the “Beast Quake” upset of the defending champion New Orleans Saints.

The comparison will be offered up numerous times this week as an anti-smugness treatment suitable for all 53 players. And the Panthers can offer up their own, more recent history. They won their final four regular-season games, then Saturday crushed Arizona 27-16 by allowing the Cardinals a playoff-record-low 78 yards of total offense.

It was the franchise’s first playoff win in nine seasons.

Again, the Panthers were at home. And they picked on Arizona’s third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, as did the Seahawks two weeks earlier in a 35-6 win. And it also must be noted that none of the Panthers’ final four regular-season wins came against a team with a winning record. In factm their cumulative record was 22-42.

So they are 11-point underdogs for a good reason. Perhaps the biggest reason is that QB Cam Newton has never played well against the Seahawks. The October game was another example: 12 completions on 22 attempts for 171 yards and a passer rating of 61.0. He managed only 24 yards on 12 carries, with a long run of eight yards. That was his best of his three games against Seattle as starting QB.

And the Seahawks had all three of their sacks in the final seven minutes.

“We did a great job scheme-wise to make sure it didn’t come easy for them,”  Carroll said in October. “Sometimes their plays are so easy (for Carolina) because there is so much space around the quarterback when he’s making his reads. But our guys stayed with it. We kept him under wraps because they couldn’t do (much) consistently.”

Newton was involved in a rollover car accident Dec. 9 near the stadium when a speeding  driver ran a red light. He came out without serious injury. Saturday, his left ankle was stepped on, and he limped some. But Newton figures to be ready. Carolina doesn’t need him to be perfect to stay close.

The Panthers were 10th in the NFL in defense at 340 yards per game (the Seahawks were No. 1 at 267), but picked up late in the season behind MLB Luke Kuechly, who joined Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner on the All-Pro team last week.

When the teams first met, Wagner and CB Byron Maxwell were out with injuries and SS Kam Chancell0r was subpar with ankle problems. They’re all back healthy now, and backed by 68,000 fairly audible people.

It figures to be another defensive fist fight — Carroll’s favorite.

“We don’t have problems playing a game like that with our defense,” Carroll said in October. “We stayed with the game plan and slugged it out.

“The finish was a surge. They sensed an opportunity to win. It was a beautiful thing to see.”

Familiar too.

Carolina scored a field goal in the fourth quarter. That was three more points than the Seahawks have given up in the past six fourth quarters total. The potential is there for another car wreck, this one without air bags.


YourThoughts

  • http://rip-ragged.com/dross Raymond Meyers

    There’s no such thing as an easy game in the NFL, and certainly not in the playoffs, but I like the ‘Hawks’ chances.

    • art thiel

      Home against the lowest seed. Serving on a platter.

      • http://rip-ragged.com/dross Raymond Meyers

        Okay, you caught me. I expect the Seahawks to beat the Panthers like a rented mule. At the same time, I expect everybody to be polite and good sports about it all. I am hoping that Kam Chancellor scores a sack or tackles Cam Newton on a run, though. Mostly to hear the imaginative turns of phrase that will come about when they replay the highlight reel.

  • Ray

    Theil talking about sports? I expected a column about Palin’s pet abuse? Theil says he is going to talk of those things we need to talk about!
    Bring back Ray Rice!
    Keep the narrative Art.

    Ray

    • Sub 4.0

      What?

    • Diamond Mask

      hello?

    • sabasarge

      Hey Ray, since you brought it up, I’ll take Palin over the current WH inhabitant anytime anyplace.
      Now, back to the subject at hand……..Seattle wins this game 31-10

      • John M

        Your sport prognosis on this may be sound, but your political insight is sillier than Sarah her ownself . . .

      • art thiel

        Oh, no . . . stop already.

    • 1coolguy

      Meth is the only explanation I have for this rant…..

      • art thiel

        Ball only, please.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure there’s a thought in there somewhere . . .

  • jafabian

    Can’t underestimate the Panthers, especially on defense. Hopefully the O-Line will be at full strength going into this game as well as having Jermaine back. I imagine they’ll have a “spy” on Newton as well. Could mean more playing time for Malcolm Smith then as they rotate the LB’s more.

    • art thiel

      Unger’s potential return would be large. Wilson has done much better at getting rid of the ball quickly.

      • jafabian

        I think the Panthers have one of the best D-Lines in the league among the best LB’s. Their secondary is the weakest link of their defense. The Hawks WR’s should be able to exploit that but Wilson will need the protection to do so.

  • Diamond Mask

    Charlotte Observer story opener “Panthers road to NFC championship game goes through Seattle.” As if we were just a trail that needed to be walked down. Good luck with that.

    • art thiel

      Well, from their team’s perspective, the old cliche is true. Doesn’t mean the trail has no cliff.

      • Schaefdawg

        Kinda like being led down the garden path?;)

  • John M

    The Panthers may create a little doubt in the first half, but the Hawks should finish strong. Having a little trouble focusing on the game, can’t lose the mental pic of the Cowboys marching onto Lambou field in January. That one will be fun to watch . . .

    • art thiel

      Definitely the game of the weekend.

    • eYeDEF

      Especially if the Cowboys win. I would love to see them come to CenturyLink. I would love to see Chris Christie accompany them only to see thy cowboys get put down 38-3 and sent home with his tail between his legs.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Thank god they practice against a scrambling QB so they know Cams antics.
    There will be no surprises after the first whistle saturday night.
    For purists if it shakes out the way it looks?This will be a wonderful
    game to watch if you enjoy defense…Panthers have similarities to our club~they have a chip on their shoulder with all of the WHAT?! A record and in the play offs talk and of course the 5 game win streak speaks for itself.
    Couple that with the fact they are just sick and tired of losing to Seattle?Hawks will have their hands full.
    I suspect it will be a struggle/battle but this is the chase for the
    Lombardi.Nothing should be given.A tough win would actually bode well
    for the home team should they get past these guys as its only going to
    get more intense~home game or not. It could be everything you want in a
    high stakes game. Enjoy.

    • art thiel

      The Panthers will play with the passion of the denigrated. That usually peters out before the end of the game.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Yup ,balls to the wall for the first 2 hours…. then Panther thoughts turn to…. “Holy Pigskins… these guys are good. I really HATE ‘em…..(mind wanders)…Maybe i should just skip going back to Carolina and hop right down to Jamaica for vacation….