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NFC Playoff Race: The Seahawks could’ve had a “win and in” Week 17 if not for Cam Newton

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have to root for the Carolina Panthers to get a road win vs. the Atlanta Falcons in week 17, otherwise the Seahawks will not be going to the playoffs, even if they defeat the Arizona Cardinals. Things could’ve been a whole lot different had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held on against Carolina in the 10 AM slate on Sunday.

Tampa Bay, who’d missed a game-tying field goal in their bid to upset the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, missed a field goal that would’ve put them up by 7 points late in the 4th quarter against the Panthers. Carolina drove down the field, were faced with 4th and 3, Tampa Bay jumped offside, and Jonathan Stewart just barely picked up the 1st down to keep their final drive going. With no timeouts left and under a minute remaining, the Panthers were either going to score a touchdown and win the game, or come away with no points and a stunning home loss.

Cam Newton then did this.

Newton fumbled the snap, picked it up, and still ran it in for the touchdown. Inside of two minutes, the only person who can advance a fumble is the fumbler himself, so no controversy there.

Jameis Winston was strip-sacked on the game’s final drive, Carolina recovered, and clinched a playoff spot. Winston lost three fumbles, including one deep in Panther territory, and it’s a 22-19 loss that sums up the shambles that the Bucs are.

Beyond thinking that Newton has evidently learned his lesson about going after fumbles in late-game situations, this might go down as one of the single biggest plays of the entire NFL season.

Had Tampa Bay won, the Seahawks would’ve only needed a win over the Cardinals to qualify for the playoffs. The Carolina-Atlanta loser would be staring at elimination and hoping for a Seahawks loss, because a 10-6 Seahawks team would have the conference record tiebreaker on Carolina, while even an Atlanta tie would not be enough to get the defending NFC champions into the postseason over Seattle. At that point, the rooting interest in Panthers-Falcons would all be dependent on your personal preference, and the Seahawks would just need to take care of business at home.

So it was almost a perfect day of results for Seattle in terms of getting a wild card spot. Operative word is “almost.” After spending Sunday rooting against Cam, it’s up to him and the Panthers to do the Seahawks a solid and knock off the Falcons one more time.