For the fourth time in five games, Seattle played a game that came down to one final possession.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Seahawks were determined to give this game away.
At least it looked that way through most of the first three quarters Sunday. Seattle was nothing if not persistent in undermining another incredible defensive effort with inexplicable penalties, wasted opportunities and an absolutely inexcusable trio of turnovers to start the second half, including an interception the Carolina Panthers returned for their only touchdown of the game.
But just when it seemed that Seattle was going to succeed in handing over a second consecutive road game, Brandon Browner reached in with both hands and took it back, forcing the fumble on an option run that was the most important play in Seattle’s 16-12 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
“I can’t even express how big of a play that was,” defensive tackle Red Bryant said. “That’s just our defense, man.”
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Browner waited as Carolina’s Cam Newton ran left, forcing the Panthers quarterback to pitch the ball to running back DeAngelo Williams. As soon as he did that, Browner reached in and forced a fumble that he recovered in what was the football equivalent of an unassisted triple play.
That gave Seattle the ball at the Carolina 27, its best field position of the game, and five plays later the Seahawks scored their only touchdown. Russell Wilson may have thrown the game-winning touchdown pass, Golden Tate caught it and kicker Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals, but there was no doubt it was Browner and the rest of Seattle’s defense that was the decisive factor in a game the Seahawks won in spite of themselves.
“It’s special what we’re doing right now on defense,” said Bryant, one of the team’s captains. “It’s special. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Just when it seemed the Seahawks had lost control of another winnable game, that defense simply reached out and took it back. Browner did it with the fumble that led to Seattle’s only touchdown of the game. Cornerback Richard Sherman did it, forcing a fourth-quarter fumble that cost Carolina a first down. Defensive end Bruce Irvin finished it off, ending Carolina’s final possession by forcing a fumble on a sack.
Throw in a goal-line stand with three minutes remaining to give Seattle a victory that shouldn’t have been that close in the first place, and could have been divisive, but instead showcased Seattle’s resolve.
“It definitely shows a lot about our defense,” safety Earl Thomas said. “Nobody points the fingers. We all had the same mentality. I always say when the defense is on one accord, we’re communicating like we did tonight, even though it wasn’t pretty we’re going to win a lot of games.”
The Seahawks outgained Carolina 174-93 in the first half, allowed Carolina to cross midfield only once and Wilson completed 12 of 13 passes, yet Seattle led only 6-3. That was a testament to the effect of penalties.
A first-quarter holding call against Breno Giacomini negated a 56-yard completion to Tate, which would have been Seattle’s longest gain of the season. Then there was the roughing-the-passer penalty against Chris Clemons on third-and-four in the second quarter, giving Carolina a first down on what turned out to be its only offensive scoring drive of the game.
In the second half, Seattle went from giving Carolina second chances to giving the Panthers the ball. Leon Washington fumbled away the opening kickoff, Wilson threw a poor pass to tight end Anthony McCoy, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and then running back Marshawn Lynch had the ball knocked loose from his hands, resulting in a second interception.
“I keep thinking, ‘Is this the day?’ ” Carroll said. “Are we just going to have all of this going for us and just keep giving it to ‘em and giving it to ‘em?”
Kind of like Week 4 in St. Louis when the Seahawks rushed for 179 yards, kept the Rams from scoring an offensive touchdown and still lost in large part because of three turnovers?
Seattle was in jeopardy of suffering a similarly puzzling defeat in Carolina, trailing 10-6 when the Panthers had the ball at their 30 with 2:37 left in the third quarter. At that point, the Seahawks offense had scored six points, allowed seven on the interception and after committing three turnovers was in danger of suffering a third consecutive road loss.
“That was absolutely the meltdown opportunity,” Carroll said. “We didn’t waver at all.”
Nope, the Seahawks reached down deep, grabbed hold of the ball and pulled it loose, forcing three fumbles in the final 18 minutes of the game, recovering two of them and regaining control for their first road win of the season.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil