How did the Seahawks' position groups fare in the win over Carolina? Well, it depends on whether you look at the yardage they gave up, or the crucial plays they made at critical junctures.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talks often about establishing an identity, being able to rely on a proven style of play to win.
But like any coach, Carroll doesn’t mind winning by any means necessary.
And that was pretty much the case Sunday in the 30-27 victory at Carolina.
There was no punishing running attack on this day as the Panthers held Seattle to 75 yards and 2.7 yards per carry, and just 25 yards on 14 carries in the second half.
The Legion of Boom was a distant memory as Cam Newton completed 25 of 30 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
And Seattle allowed 8.1 yards per rush, which actually wasn’t a season high (Dallas had 8.7), though the 220 yards rushing was.
But Seattle somehow got the victory thanks to timely defense (holding Carolina to 3 for 8 on third downs, 0 for 1 on fourth and 3 for 7 in the red zone) and what, for the final three quarters, was an MVP-level performance by Russell Wilson. After going 2 of 4 for 28 yards in the first quarter, he was 20 of 27 for 311 and two touchdowns the rest of the way.
Add it up, and Seattle had maybe its most critical victory of the year, handing Carolina a third consecutive defeat and giving the Seahawks the tiebreaker on the Panthers, one of the handful of teams realistically competing for a wild-card spot.
Now some grades.
OK, so Wilson missed Doug Baldwin in the end zone early and also should have gotten rid of it more quickly on a play when he took a sack. No quarterback is perfect. But once he found his rhythm, Wilson could hardly have been better. Wilson was 15 of 19 for 218 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and made the perfect throws when he had to on the long passes to David Moore and Tyler Lockett. It was a fitting way for Wilson to get his 71st regular-season victory, breaking a tie with Dave Krieg to set a franchise record.
The Panthers came in as one of the better run defense teams in the NFL and set about trying to take away Seattle’s run and make the Seahawks beat them through the air. They mostly did the first part, but as noted above, Wilson beat them at their own game on the second part. Seattle’s backs didn’t have a ton of running room, and Seattle coaches also seemed to decide early to go with their most physical back, Chris Carson, given the nature of the game. Carson had 55 yards on 16 plays, 15 coming on his amazing leap and standing landing run. But he also fumbled once and almost fumbled a second time, something he has to clean up.
When they had to, the Seahawks proved they could win a game with the pass — and they did it without Baldwin leading the way. Baldwin toughed it out through a groin injury to make five catches. But it was Lockett and Moore leading the way, each breaking the 100-yard mark and coming up with a touchdown each. Lockett had 107 yards on five catches and five targets, and has erased all doubts about his worthiness as a starting receiver this season. Moore had 103 yards on four receptions. Carroll made an interesting admission later that the Seahawks targeted Carolina’s right side after starting right cornerback Donte Jackson went out with an injury on the first series. “It’s always about matchups and they (Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) were on it,’’ Carroll said. And also a hat tip to Malik Turner making his first career reception on a second-quarter drive that led to a Seattle field goal.
The tight ends made the most of their chances each making two receptions on two targets, Nick Vannett for 22 yards and Ed Dickson for 13.
An interesting day for the line, which allowed two sacks in the first half and got pushed around in the running game in a way it hasn’t been since early in the season. But the line adjusted once the Seahawks realized they had to throw more to win this one. Wilson wasn’t sacked in the second half and had the time he needed on the key, big throws late in the game. Guard J.R. Sweezy said the Seahawks simplified some of their calls at the line in the second half, saying they were “overcomplicating things’’ early on based on what they were seeing in Carolina’s defense. And 397 yards on the road in a tough setting isn’t bad, no matter how you get it.
Newton was never sacked — the first time all season Seattle hasn’t gotten a quarterback down at least once. Worse, Seattle wasn’t credited with a single quarterback hit, which would be a season low. (Though, Seattle’s coaches might question that after watching the film.) And the line got blown away on a few of those long runs.
Bobby Wagner had a sterling game, leading the Seahawks with 11 tackles and leading the charge on a few of those key red-zone stops. Austin Calitro got the start at weakside linebacker and had three tackles. Wagner was good but all those yards are hard to overlook for the group.
What a mixed bag here. Newton completed all 14 of his pass attempts in the first half, which isn’t all on the secondary, but some of it was. Shaquill Griffin had some more struggles, notably a pass interference call in the end zone that led to a touchdown. And there were times when Newton seemed to have his pick of an open receiver to throw to. The secondary also came up with some huge plays — Bradley McDougald’s interception, Tre Flowers’ tackle on the final series, Flowers’ two forced fumbles. But, Seattle isn’t going to go far in the playoffs with secondary play like that.
Sebastian Janikowski made three field goals, including the game-winner as time ran out, while Michael Dickson had some big punts early to pin the Panthers back when the Seattle offense was stalling.