The Panthers had a field day offensively against the Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, with quarterback Cam Newton throwing for 256 yards and running back Christian McCaffrey amassing 236 total yards a runner and a receiver.
But even after surrendering 476 total yards of offense, the Seahawks’ defense found ways to make crucial stops when they needed them most, guiding coach Pete Carroll’s team to a pivotal 30-27 road win and positioning them in the driver’s seat for a wild card in the NFC.
“The defense had a hard time today. McCaffrey was awesome and Cam [Newton] was awesome, but when we got ’em in the red zone, we stopped ’em.” a fired-up Carroll said following the game. “We got done what we needed to get done enough to win the football game, but we’ve got a lot of work to do though. We don’t want to see those kind of yards and that kind of output from the other side.”
Carolina moved the ball up and down the field against Seattle’s beleaguered defense with ease all afternoon much to the dismay of Carroll.
Running the football with power and completing all 14 of his pass attempts, Newton led his team inside the Seahawks 20-yard line four times during the first half, including Carolina’s opening drive. Once the Panthers reached the red zone, however, they weren’t efficient, squandering multiple opportunities to put the game away and allowing the Seahawks to hang around.
After a Seahawks three-and-out to open the game, the Panthers marched down to the Seattle five-yard line, only for linebackers Bobby Wagner and Austin Calitro to stuff Newton on a fourth down run.
“It was a huge stop,” Carroll said. “All of the red zone stops were dramatically important as you look back on this one… Fantastic finish in the drives by the guys. The other stuff didn’t look very good, but when we got down to the hard-knocking stuff, our guys really came through and did a fine job.”
On their ensuing possession, Carolina again reached the Seattle four-yard line, but defensive tackle Naz Jones shot through his gap and tackled McCaffrey for a three-yard loss to hold the Panthers to a Graham Gano field goal.
Seattle answered with a 33-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski to tie the game early in the second quarter. Both teams exchanged scores late in the half, with Newton hitting receiver Curtis Samuel for a seven-yard touchdown, Seahawks running back Chris Carson finding the end zone on a one-yard plunge, and Gano connecting on a 25-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 13-10 halftime lead.
Newton again promptly drove his team all the way down to the Seahawks 18-yard line on the opening series of the second half. With Carolina on the verge of extending their lead to two scores, safety Bradley McDougald deflected Newton’s pass and immediately ended the potential scoring drive with a sensational interception in the end zone.
“Oh man, what a big play.” Carroll said of McDougald’s turnover. “To be plus-one on this day was huge, we needed it.”
After trailing for most of the game, Seattle finally captured its first lead. Quarterback Russell Wilson connected with receiver David Moore for a 54-yard gain on 3rd-and-12 to move deep into Carolina territory and hit Tyler Lockett two plays later for a 12-yard touchdown to put Seattle in front 17-13.
Though the Panthers re-took the lead on two different occasions with McCaffrey running for a touchdown and also hauling in a two-yard score as a receiver out the backfield, Seattle kept fighting back, eventually tying the game at 27 when a well-protected Wilson again linked up with Moore on a perfectly-thrown fade route for a 35-yard touchdown on 4th-and-3.
“I told the guys in the huddle right before, you gotta have no fear. Let’s go for it.” Wilson said when asked about his decision to throw the deep ball to Moore. “We were able to make a big play, guys stayed calm, guys did a tremendous job of protecting — offensive line was unbelievable, especially in the second half.”
With less than four minutes remaining, Seattle’s defense did as it has done all game. They allowed Newton and his teammates to move the football, but when they needed one last stop, they found a way to make it happen.
After Carolina moved swiftly past midfield courtesy of three first down throws by Newton, Seattle tightened up defensively, stuffing the 245-yard quarterback on a run attempt and forcing an incompletion on second down. With 1:50 left on the clock, cornerback Tre Flowers made a game-saving tackle against receiver D.J. Moore, limiting him to a three-yard pickup on a short crossing route and forcing Gano to come on for a game-winning field goal attempt.
Shortly after the football launched off Gano’s foot, the kick faded outside and went wide right, giving the Seahawks one last chance to steal a road victory.
Wilson then came with his biggest throw of the game on third down, buying time in the pocket as Lockett snuck down the right sideline. With great protection, Wilson connected with Lockett for a 43-yard completion all the way to the Carolina 10-yard line, positioning the Seahawks for a game-winning field goal by Janikowski as time expired.
With the win, Seattle moved to 6-5 and bypassed Carolina in the wild card standings by virtue of a tiebreaker. The Seahawks control their own destiny, playing four of their final five games at CenturyLink Field.