It’s easy to look now at the score of the NFC Championship Game following the 2005 season — Seahawks 34, Carolina Panthers 14 — and think a Seattle victory was destined all along.
The Seahawks have been favored by 3½ points this week against San Francisco in the NFC title game at CenturyLink Field. They were favored by the same number the only other time they played for the NFC championship, against the Panthers.
They were far from a sure thing against Carolina, which had played in the Super Bowl two years earlier and had advanced to the NFC title game against the Seahawks with dominating road wins over the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, had appeared to show a few playoff jitters the previous week, losing three turnovers in a 20-10 win over Washington, a game in which star running back Shaun Alexander had played little due to a concussion.
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While news reports early in the week focused on Alexander’s health, a Seattle team coming off its first playoff victory since 1984 tried to keep it all in stride.
“It was just such an exciting time,’’ cornerback Marcus Trufant recalled this week. “And through it all, you’ve still got to remain focused and you’ve got to get in your playbook and do the same stuff you have been doing to get the kind of results you want to get.’’
For Trufant and the defense, that meant devising a plan for dealing with Carolina receiver Steve Smith, who had caught 12 passes for 218 yards the previous week against the Bears. Chicago had allowed a modern-day NFL record of just 61 points at home in the regular season. The Panthers almost got half that in a 29-21 win.
That road win hadn’t come without a negative for the Panthers, though, as running back DeShaun Foster was lost with a broken ankle.
“They’d had a couple of injuries at running back (Stephen Davis was also out) so as a defense, you knew that the ball had to come to him (Smith),’’ Trufant said. “So we had all types of different packages and stuff to stop Steve Smith.’’
As Trufant notes happily eight years later, the plan worked as Smith was held to five catches for 33 yards.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, meanwhile, decided to throw a curve at Carolina to jump-start an offense that had been sluggish the week before (going three-and-out on five of its first six possessions against the Redskins).
On Seattle’s second series against the Panthers, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace lined up wide and, in a one-on-one situation, caught a pass for 28 yards down the sideline over former Seahawk Ken Lucas.
While Wallace dabbled at times at receiver throughout his career, the reception was his first in the NFL.
“I thought it would be fun,’’ Holmgren said this week. “I said, ‘Let’s do something we haven’t done.’ And fortunately it worked. If it doesn’t work on something like that, people say ‘awww.’ But you have to have some fun doing this. But if it works, it’s a giant boost. I think that’s what happened with us. ”
Said Trufant: “I just think you’ve got to throw everything at them. It’s the playoffs. You’ve got to give everything you’ve got. That was just a little thing we had up our sleeve.’’
Seattle scored on the next play, a 17-yard pass from Hasselbeck to Jerramy Stevens, and was off and running. Two Josh Brown field goals and a 1-yard run by a healthy Alexander, who ran for 132 yards, made it 20-7 at halftime.
Seattle opened the second half with another TD, a 20-yard Matt Hasselbeck pass to Darrell Jackson, and that was pretty much that.
The Seahawks held Carolina to just 36 yards and outgained the Panthers overall 393 yards to 212.
Holmgren, now back in the area and working as a commentator at Sports Radio 950 KJR-AM, coached in 24 playoff games with Green Bay and Seattle. He isn’t sure any of his teams ever played better than the Seahawks that day.
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved with,’’ he said. “That’s what you want to do. You want to get hot there.’’
The big margin led to an extended celebration as Seahawks fans and players happily counted down the final minutes and then seconds to the franchise’s only conference title.
“It was a great feeling,’’ Trufant said. “At the end of the game, I just remember all the confetti coming down, the stage on the field, everybody is running around the stadium giving high-fives. It was a crazy time. Something I will never forget.’’