For two franchises on opposite coasts and in separate divisions, the Seahawks and Panthers have developed an unlikely rivalry in recent years.
Carolina might not always be in the Seahawks’ minds, as James Taylor sang in the 1970s, but it does seem to often be in their way.
For two franchises on opposite coasts and in separate divisions, the Seahawks and Panthers have developed an unlikely rivalry in recent years, crossing paths both with an unusual frequency and at particularly critical times, especially for Seattle.
They will do so again Sunday when the Seahawks play at Carolina in a divisional playoff game, the Panthers once again standing between Seattle and the Super Bowl.
In all, the teams have met eight times in the regular season and twice in the postseason — both of those in years in which the Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl.
Six of those meetings have come since Pete Carroll took over as the Seahawks’ coach in 2010, meaning they have faced Carolina more than any other non-NFC West team in that time.
We could just list the games the Seahawks have played against Carolina. Instead, we thought we’d rate them in order of importance.
1. 2005 season NFC Championship Game, Jan. 22, 2006
At Seattle 34, Carolina 14
This arguably was, at the time, the biggest sporting event in Seattle’s history, with the Seahawks needing a win to reach their first Super Bowl. (The NFL is more popular than the NBA was in 1979 when the Sonics won the title — and that took place on the road in Landover, Md., not at home.)
The Seahawks didn’t disappoint, busting out to a 20-7 halftime lead and 34-7 at the end of the third quarter, turning the final 15 minutes into a prolonged celebration as joyous as anything in Seattle sports up to that time. Seattle dominated the stats as thoroughly as the scoreboard, outgaining the Panthers 393-212, led by 132 yards from Shaun Alexander and an efficient 219 yards passing by Matt Hasselbeck.
2. 2015 divisional playoff game, Jan. 10, 2015
At Seattle 31, Carolina 17
Carolina became the first playoff obstacle on Seattle’s path last season to a second consecutive Super Bowl. Few expected the Panthers (who had won the NFC South at 7-8-1) to be much more than a speed bump — the Seahawks were 13.5-point favorites going in.
Carolina, though, made it more difficult than most expected, trailing just 14-10 entering the fourth quarter before the Seahawks gave themselves some breathing room at 24-10.
Carolina, though, drove once more midway through the fourth quarter to try to make it interesting. Then Kam Chancellor had maybe the defining moment of his career, though some might prefer his 2012 hit on 49ers safety Vernon Davis or his Super Bowl hit on Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, but we digress. He picked off a Cam Newton pass and returned it 90 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. Many also remember this game for Chancellor’s attempts to leap over the line to try to block field-goal attempts.
3. Oct. 26, 2014
Seattle 13, at Carolina 9
This game came a week after the Percy Harvin trade and a loss to the St. Louis Rams that left the Seahawks at 3-3 and had many already penning obituaries for the defending Super Bowl champs. Matters looked dire much of the day, as the Seahawks were held to two field goals for the first 59 minutes — one a career-high 58-yarder by Steven Hauschka in the second quarter.
But Russell Wilson — following a week in which there had also been stories questioning how he was accepted in the Seattle locker room — led a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson with 47 seconds left.
Bruce Irvin then sacked Newton on two consecutive plays on the next series to sew up the win. It began a streak of nine wins in 10 games that led to another NFC West title and No. 1 playoff seed, and ultimately another Super Bowl.
Without the Wilson-led drive, Seattle would have fallen to 3-4. Given where the team was emotionally after the Harvin trade fallout, who knows what might have happened?
4. Sept. 8, 2013
Seattle 12, at Carolina 7
After the 11-5 breakthrough of 2012, the Seahawks entered the 2013 season as the favorite of many observers to reach, if not win, the Super Bowl. But the NFL world also wondered how the Seahawks would react to that role. The Seahawks opened the season by getting a tougher-than-expected test for much of the game against the Panthers, who led 7-6 entering the fourth quarter. They held the Seahawks to three-and-outs on four of their first six possessions and a fumble on another.
The Seahawks finally broke through with just over 10 minutes left when Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse with a 43-yard pass for Kearse’s first NFL touchdown and a 12-7 Seahawks lead.
Still, the Seahawks appeared to be in trouble again as the Panthers then drove 72 yards, with DeAngelo Williams breaking free for a run inside the Seattle 10-yard line before Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman converged to force a fumble (credited to Thomas and recovered by hustling defensive tackle Tony McDaniel at the Seahawks’ 8).
The Seahawks then ran out the clock to get a win that proved more pivotal than anyone could have imagined.
They finished the year 13-3 to earn home-field advantage over the Panthers, who were 12-4, and the 49ers, also 12-4.
5. Oct. 7, 2012
Seattle 16, at Carolina 12
Wilson was an untested rookie quarterback who had yet to throw for more than 160 yards in a game when the Seahawks traveled to Charlotte, N.C., early in the 2012 season. The Seahawks also were fresh off a loss in St. Louis — where Wilson had thrown three interceptions — and had a record of 2-2.
But Wilson bounced back from two more interceptions to complete 19 of 25 passes for a then-career-high 221 yards, including a late third-quarter touchdown to Golden Tate to put Seattle ahead.
Still, the Seahawks needed two late defensive stands to hold on, one when Newton threw a pass at the feet of an open receiver in the end zone on fourth down, and the next when Irvin sacked Newton and forced a fumble recovered by Alan Branch.
Honorable mention (or should it be dishonorable?)
Carolina 27, Seattle 23 — Oct. 18, 2015
This turned out to be one of five times in 2015 that the Seahawks blew a fourth-quarter lead, with Carolina rallying from a 20-7 deficit late in the third quarter to win with two 80-yard drives in the final eight minutes. The winning TD came on a 26-yard pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen with 32 seconds left against a confused Seattle secondary playing two different coverages. It was Newton’s first win in his fifth career game against the Seahawks.