The Seahawks and Panthers just have a way of finding each other. It seems no matter the vagaries of the NFL schedule, these two franchises end up squaring off— and it’s almost always in Carolina. Usually, these teams are within a game or two of each other when they meet, and the matchup typically has outsized playoff consequences for both. This year, however, the Panthers have receded from contention faster than Greg Olsen’s hairline.
Not so for Seattle who, despite limping in after a drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams, still found themselves at 10-3 and very much in the mix for home field advantage in the NFC. Still, these two have a way of making things ugly and when things get ugly, the playing field levels.
Seattle started the game with the ball and proceeded to unleash a sensational opening drive, alternating runs and passes for a series of chunky gains. Whether you’re inclined to see them run more than pass, or vice versa, I think we can all join hands and agree that it’s best when both aspects of the game are clicking. That’s how it went on Seattle’s first possession; check it—
*Chris Carson runs for 2
*Slip-out pass from Russell Wilson to Jacob Hollister for 9
*Carson getting skinny up the middle then accelerating into the soft underbelly of Carolina’s secondary for 23
*Wholesale bailout by Wilson to the right, throwing back across the field to Tyler Lockett for 10 well-blocked yards
*CJ Prosise(!) up the middle for 1
*Screen pass to Prosise(!) for 10 more
*Back to Carson for 6 around the left end
*Carson off the right end, where he beat the linebacker to the corner, turned up field, and laid some poor cornerback to rest in the endzone.
*Jason Myers misses the extra point because everyone dies eventually, no matter how beautifully one lives
5 runs, 3 passes, 75 yards, 1 TD. That put the Seahawks defense on the field with a myriad of holes in their starting lineup. Missing from action were Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, Mychal Kendricks, and Shaquill Griffin— huge pieces to a Seattle defense that has oscillated between slightly above average and slightly below all season long. Nevertheless, they forced a quick three-and-out and gave the ball right back to their smoldering offense.
The second verse was the same as the first, as Seattle used another 8 play drive to go the length of the field for a score. This possession featured a top-popping 44-yard pass to Tyler Lockett, who beat his man deep then managed to snag the pass and curl up like a potato bug before the safety overhead could hit him. I honestly don’t understand the physics behind these Lockett catches— nothing about the dimensions involved make sense— and yet there he is, a dozen times a year, making 30+ yard grabs in traffic a dozen times a year.
After a couple of runs and a throwaway, Wilson dropped straight back, drove his right foot into the dirt, and fired a shot up the left sideline towards DK Metcalf. DeKaylin’s comic-book combination of size and speed provided ample space for Wilson’s perfect throw and the receiver hauled in the pass for Seattle’s second TD. This time it was 5 passes, 3 runs, and 80 yards. Just gorgeous balance and productivity.
Now the Carolina Panthers offense has been struggling for a number of weeks and it would’ve been easy for them to simply turtle up and take the late-season beating. Instead, they hammered back with a 12-play drive featuring about 18 touches from Christian McCaffrey, who eventually capped it with a short TD run. I am in the camp that says most running backs don’t matter, as the overwhelming majority of them end up being products of their system more than they are catalysts for them. I do not, however, believe that applies to McCaffrey. He was insanely good today, just as he has been throughout this historic season, and was the only reason the Panthers even had a chance this morning.
The Carolina touchdown made it 13-7 and could’ve switched up the momentum. Except Russell Wilson and Co wouldn’t allow it. Well, not yet anyway. For the third straight possession, the Seahawks went 75+ yards for a touchdown, this time with the bulk of those coming on a Superman-esque diving catch from Josh Gordon.
The Seahawks haven’t been going up top much over the last month, relying instead on a series of shorter throws in the passing game. For as big a deal as the ‘Hawks make out of being a run-first team, throwing deep is a major part of their approach. That’s why it was so refreshing to see Seattle make it a staple today, especially since they have arguably the best deep-ball passer in the world. That precision was on display on this one, as Wilson launched his pass way up into the air, banked it off what’s left of the ozone layer, and back down towards a sprinting Gordon. The man they call Flash picked up speed like a plane before spreading his wings and taking off. He soared horizontally for what seemed like 10 yards, somehow snatching the ball out of the air inches before it left a crater in the turf. It was one of those plays that just doesn’t exist without superhuman ability from both passer and receiver.
Two plays later, Tyler Lockett got lost in the Panthers secondary like a 5-year-old in a supermarket before popping his head out in Aisle 6 to catch a perfectly-placed pass from Wilson. 20-7 and it seemed like maybe, just maybe, the elusive route was on. Haha, as if we could ever be so lucky.
The teams would punt on their next four drives, with Seattle dodging a major bullet with less than two minutes to go. Finding themselves pinned deep, they gave the ball to Prosise(!) on a white-flag draw play. As CJ worked his way for somewhere between 2 and 4 yards, he tripped and tumbled to the turf. As he hit the ground, the ball squirted free where it was recovered by Carolina inside Seattle’s 20.
Fortunately for the good guys, former fan favorite Bruce Irvin managed to make glancing contact with a single cleat on the bottom of Prosise(!)’s shoe as he fell down, turning the fumble into a down-by-contact. One last nod to the team that drafted him, I suppose. Love ya, Bruce. Still, Seattle had to kick out of their own endzone and the Panthers began moving the ball with intent to shrink the lead before the break. They got into field goal range, which is when Kyle Allen tried to whip a 3rd down pass to his TE over the middle. Sadly for him, he’s Kyle Allen and Bobby Wagner is Bobby Wagner. Seattle’s all-world LB darted in front of the receiver to steal the pass for a drive-saving INT. 20-7 after two quarters.
The Panthers started the second half with a lumbering 9-play drive that ended with a long FG to bring the hosts within 10. After another Seattle punt, Carolina picked right up where the first half ended, with a Seahawks linebacker picking off Kyle Allen. This time it was KJ Wright, after Poona Ford stabbed his chubby little drumstick up in time to tip Allen’s pass at the line of scrimmage. The ball fluttered over the middle and Wright swooped in to snag it.
It was the first of a series of increasingly silly plays because two snaps later, Wilson was tossing a reverse to Josh Gordon so he could throw the ball deep to a double-covered Metcalf*. That ball was picked off easily, which allowed Kyle Allen to trot back on the field to hit KJ Wright for his second interception in as many plays. In fact, that made it three straight passes in this game that ended in interceptions and somehow none of them were committed by Russell Wilson. On this one, Ford created immediate pressure, cutting off Allen’s bootleg and forcing a desperate throw that Wright easily undercut.
*Even though the result sucked, I don’t hate the play call there. Team on the ropes, let your nuts hang and try to steal their soul. The problem is, plays like that have no contingency plans if the deception doesn’t work.
Seattle struggled to move the ball for their 5th straight drive, but were able to leverage their terrific field position into a field goal to make it 23-10. Almost every score is good, but this one was particularly frustrating. Facing 3rd & 7, Wilson hit Lockett for 6. Now, a less reactive head coach would be prepared for this situation and would have either decided already to kick it, or have a play ready for 4th down. Instead, the Seahawks trundled up to the line of scrimmage while Pete Carroll’s khakis darted up and down the sideline. Carroll was completely unprepared for 4th & short, eventually burning a timeout and kicking instead.
After forcing a Carolina punt on the following possession, the ‘Hawks uncorked their best drive of the day— and that’s saying something. It started with a 15-yard scamper from Carson and was followed up by Lockett squirreling a short catch into 20 more. Two nowhere handoffs forced a 3rd & 9 that Wilson overcame with a 17-yard spiral to Metcalf that spun tighter than the top in Inception. The immaculate pass was caught easily by the towering rookie to keep the drive alive.
The next half-dozen plays would gain between 2 and 9 yards each, setting up a 3rd & 3 at Carolina’s 8. On that play, Wilson found Lockett in a pocket underneath a couple of tacklers just short of the first down. Again. This time, Carroll used a challenge to burn his timeout but at least he kept his offense on the field after the inevitable rejection of his plea. It’s to his credit— the NFL’s most conservative 4th down coach shunned the Siren song of a short FG and chose instead to let Carson hammer it up the middle. And oh man, did his RB reward the decision. Carson took the handoff and obliterated the dude matched up with him in the hole. Chris exploded through the tackler like he was made of glass, registering his second
homicide touchdown of the day. 30-10.
With just 7 minutes left, the rest of the game should’ve been a footnote. Instead, Bobby Wagner got his ankle rolled up on the next drive, joining Quandre Diggs among Seahawks defenders who wouldn’t return to the game. In his stead, rookie Cody Barton was tasked with running the defense and whether it’s because of him or not, the Seattle D sucked butt the rest of the way. In fact, the only time I heard Barton’s name called after that was when the Panthers’ QB stiff-armed him into the shadow realm on a scramble. He had been having a terrific game filling in for Kendricks, but MLB in this defense is a much bigger task.
Wagner’s and Diggs’ absences, combined with Seattle’s typical reversion to the world’s softest coverage when up by two scores, allowed the Panthers to go right down the field for a touchdown to make it 30-17. After Seattle failed to pick up a first down with about 4 minutes left, Carolina took over again and wasted no time scoring. Again. All of a sudden, a Carolina receiving corps that couldn’t find room to breather for three and a half quarters was picking up 20-yard catches on every play. It took less than two minutes to make it 30-24. It’s just so hard to watch when this team refuses to kill a wounded opponent.
Just like that, Myers’ seemingly innocent miss on the first XP was looming huge over this game and the pressure switched firmly to Seattle for the first time. The Seahawks would need to pick up two first downs in order to avoid giving Carolina a chance to win it at the end. The Seahawks started with a 5-yard Carson sweep that burned the Panthers final timeout. The next play was a give back to Carson around the left end. On it, Duane Brown caved a DB’s ribs in with a stunning straight-armed block. Unfortunately, he was flagged for being too bad of an ass, and his will-stealing devastation was horrendously ruled a hold instead. Garbage call, but those go both ways. 2nd & 15.
No matter, it’s right back to Carson for 14. Just relentless aggression from the Seattle running back today. On 3rd & 1, Carson wiggled forward for 2 yards and a first down, but that one was called back on a legitimate hold against DJ Fluker. All of a sudden, it was 3rd & 11 with the game on the line. How did we get here?
With all the penalties stopping the clock, we still hadn’t reached the two minute warning. The next play carried with it a far bigger swing in winning percentage than it ever should have. Thank God for Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett. On this all-important snap, Wilson dropped back and found nobody. He stepped up, through, and out of a collapsing pocket, trigger the scramble drill. Wilson hopped out of the diving grasp on a D-lineman and moseyed towards the line of scrimmage. Just before Russ passed the point of no return, his main man slipped open at the sticks. Wilson whipped the pass to Lockett, who caught it for the first down. A Chris Carson first down later and the Seahawks were kneeling out their 11th win of the year.
~The Seahawks came into this game a staggering 30-7 (.811) in Russell Wilson’s career following a loss. The sheer resilience of this team under the on-field leadership of this quarterback is unbelievable. They’re now 31-7, and while wins aren’t always the best measure of performance for a QB, they’re generally pretty reflective of Wilson’s play.
As we mentioned earlier, he got back to chucking the ball deep today, with overwhelming results. he missed a couple of them (once to Lockett on a deep endzone cross and once to Metcalf on a sideline go) but overall, it was his downfield passing that set the tone for this one. Despite the MVP being out of reach, Wilson still played like one today. He completed 20 of 26 passes (76.9%) for 286 yards (11.0 Y/A), with 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a sensational rating of 137.7. He was as good as ever today, and he played the way he’ll need to if this team’s championship aspirations are going to be realized.
~With Rashaad Penny out for the year, it was clear that Chris Carson was going to have to do some seriously heavy lifting the rest of the way. And man, did he deliver today. He carried the ball 24 times for 133 yards and 2 TDs, adding a 4-yard catch for good measure. More important than the yardage total was the volume of first downs he picked up. All morning long he kept moving the chains with his incessantly powerful legs and deadly shoulders. He caused tacklers to wilt on contact and his speed to the edges went unmatched all game long. Just a superb performance in a huge win.
~After a month-long coma induced by injuries and the flu, Tyler Lockett is back. He was everything today, combining crucial ball-moving short catches with game-altering long ones. He was targeted a robust 9 times in this one, turning those opportunities into 8 catches for 120 yards and a TD. The only incompletion his way came when he got open on the aforementioned deep cross but Wilson just missed him. Phenomenal performance from Lockett today.
DK Metcalf came into this game leading all rookies in catches, receiving yards, and was one off the lead in TDs. And while it looks like his college teammate AJ Brown may have passed him in those regards with a big game today, Metcalf still played a big part in this one. He was targeted just 4 times, as the Panthers decided to shadow him with their #1 CB, and the rook caught 2 of them for 36 yards and the early score. The volume stats weren’t crazy today but this game represented yet another step forward for a first-year player who just continues to answer all the doubts that accompanied his entry into the league.
~ I thought the O-line was pretty good with the exception of Germain Ifedi, who continues to beg his team to bench him with increasingly atrocious play. Outside of Ifedi getting beat, Wilson didn’t suffer much additional pressure. He took just two sacks today and the OL didn’t kill them with penalties.
~ With all the injuries and sickness on defense, the onus fell even more heavily than usual on the bulbous shoulders of Bobby Wagner. And, as usual, he delivered. In addition to his impressive interception, he had 10 tackles including one behind the line of scrimmage. His ankle injury now becomes the single most important storyline of the season, although his early post-game comments seem to indicate that he avoided the worst of it.
Wagner’s LB-mate KJ Wright played great today as well, with his consecutive INTs helping preserve a lead during the 3rd quarter wildness. Just 4 tackles, but he wasn’t a liability in coverage, with is a huge step forward for him cuz you know the rest of his game is rock solid. Meanwhile, Cody Barton found himself having to do a little bit of everything. As a weak side fill-in for Michael Kendricks, he made a ton of tackles. As the middle backer for Wagner, he looked toothless. Which is okay. It was a nigh-impossible task. He still had 10 tackles, which is awesome.
Poona Ford was so, so good today. Incredibly disruptive, he blew up a dozen plays and was the main cause of both of KJ Wright’s interceptions. He was all over Allen in the backfield and his impact was far bigger than his box score contributions. Rasheem Green continues his development, notching another sack for his troubles.
With Shaquill Griffin out, and Diggs suffering a mid-game in jury, the Seahawks defense actually played really well. Before they retracted their claws to allow those two late Carolina TDs, they held Panthers wide receivers to just 4 catches for 35 yards. They were great! Tre Flowers and Akeem Kind were terrific in coverage while Bradley McDougald and Delano Hill refused to allow anybody to get over the top of them. Just a great team effort from a depleted defense and I hope that, in the future, this group keeps the pressure on when they have a late lead.
~ After being one of the most penalized teams in the league for the last decade, Seattle has disciplined themselves back into the middle of the pack. It may not seem like much, and we haven’t discussed it a lot this year, but being a league-average team with regards to penalties is an enormous development for this team. With so many young players, they just don’t have the same margin for error as previous iterations of this team and their ability to limit self-inflicted damage has a lot to do with being 8 games over .500.
The Seattle Seahawks are 11-3. That is crazy. They won their franchise-record 7th road game this year, which is absolutely bonkers. They bounced back from a terrible performance last game to be exceptional for the vast majority of this one. With two games to go, every single pre-season goal this team had is still very much within reach. They can still win the division, get a first-round bye, and lock up home field advantage by winning their final two games.
Week 17’s showdown with the 49ers hangs pendulously over this team as potentially the biggest regular season game in franchise history. Truly. But all of that is in play only if the Seahawks take care of business against the Cardinals next week. 11-3. Man. Onward, my friends, and ever upward.
This article was accompanied by the 1844 Club Selection Robusto Connecticut, a stout offering from the H. Upmann collection. It has terrific punch at the front and a feathery finish that made it a perfect dance partner for the Oban 14 I was swigging.
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