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The Seattle Seahawks came into this game riding high off an emotional win over the Los Angeles Rams, keeping their playoff quest on track and setting themselves up to go 8-5 if they could handle their business at home against a frisky Carolina Panthers team. This was an opportunity to solidify their postseason positioning and, perhaps just as importantly, to show that they can take care of a below-par team after losing to the Las Vegas Raiders and barely nipping the Rams. Instead, they showed up looking timid and unprepared, and the Panthers dropped the hammer on them.
Y’all don’t need me to spend as much time on the game flow and play-by-play as normal because this was not a back-and-forth battle. The anticipation for another punch/counter-punch match like we’ve grown accustomed to went out the window when the Panthers took the Seahawks to the mat as soon as the opening bell rang. Everybody knew the Panthers were gonna come out running and that’s exactly what they did on the first drive.
It didn’t matter that the crowd did their job, forcing a false start on the opening play; Carolina simply ran it three times to convert 1st & 15, and they didn’t stop there. The Rams put something on tape last week and it’s very clear that the Panthers seized on the idea. Running the ball wide with jet sweeps, lateral passes, and off-tackle rushes, they spread the Seahawks defense out then gashed them up the middle. For 13 plays the Panthers carved Seattle up, the drive looking like a Varsity-JV scrimmage. The Seahawks’ only bright spot was a remarkable pass breakup by Tariq Woolen, who peeled off of his man to swat away a pass that DJ Moore was about to catch for a touchdown. Reprieve came when a second false start created a 1st & 15 Carolina couldn’t convert, and they finally settled for a short field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Just as Seattle knew that Carolina would keep it on the ground, the Panthers knew the Seahawks would lean on Geno Smith’s arm. With Ken Walker III and Deejay Dallas out, it was up to Smith and his receivers to score enough. But unlike Seattle, Carolina made ‘em pay— and they did it on Seattle’s first snap. Smith dropped back on that opening play and looked deep down the left sideline, where Tyler Lockett was running behind a DK Metcalf out route. Smith dialed up Lockett but didn’t see Jaycee Horn baiting him. Horn spun off of DK and drifted beneath Lockett, easily picking off the pass and slaloming his way through traffic for what looked like a sure defensive TD. Sadly for Horn, he got his feet crossed up and tumbled to the turf at Seattle’s 13— not that it hurt the Panthers any. Sam Darnold used play-action to find a wide open Shi Smith for a touchdown on the very next snap, pushing the lead out to 10-0 before the Seahawks had a chance to run a second play.
Seattle couldn’t pull themselves off the ground after that score either, managing one hard-fought first down on offense before kicking it back to Carolina for more punishment. This time it took 12 plays and unlike their first long possession, the Panthers finished the job when Chuba Hubbard ran it in from two yards out. 17-0 like it was nothing.
Seattle finally woke up and salvaged the first half with two touchdowns, the first one to Tyler Lockett after a long drive that featured a huge completion down the sidelines to Marquis Goodwin. I don’t know if Geno was rattled by how the game started or if the drizzle was affecting him but even on his completions, the ball was not arriving with the pinpoint accuracy we’re used to seeing during his magical season. He did find a nice rhythm on that drive, but even the two big completions required excellent efforts from his receivers. Goodwin went high in the air to catch his and Smith damn near overthrew a wide open Lockett on the TD. Fortunately, Tyler is a marvel of body control and stretched his slight frame like Gumby to snag the pass while barely tapping his feet in the paint to make it 17-7.
For the next ten minutes, it actually looked like the Seahawks had found themselves. Darrell Taylor nearly got a sack coming off the right edge on 2nd & 7 then finished the job from the left side on 3rd down. That gave the ball back to Seattle with a chance to make some inroads but Geno’s bad day continued. A false start and a negative run set up 2nd & 17 that was mitigated by a short completion to Will Dissly. Then, (rightfully) thinking he had a free play when a couple Panthers jumped early, Smith forced a back-foot throw into double coverage towards Metcalf.
It’s not a throw that he would have made if he didn’t think it wouldn’t count, but it doesn’t make it a good throw. The pass was easily picked off but I can’t get too down on him for this because again, the refs blatantly missed a neutral zone infraction. Still, it was just a kick in the crotch when things seemed to be turning around.
The Panthers took advantage of the field position and kicked another field goal to make it 20-7 before the Seahawks offense started clicking for real. Geno answered with confident completions to Metcalf, Lockett, and Goodwin, moving the ball inside the redzone before dropping back and whistling one into the endzone towards a streaking Metcalf. It was Smith’s best throw of the day and DK trusted his hands, reaching out to snag the bullet instead of letting it get in on his body. That made it 20-14 and when the Seahawks started the second quarter with a long field goal drive, it honestly felt like everything was gonna be okay.
It was not okay.
The Panthers spent the rest of the game not even pretending to do anything other than slowly choke the Seahawks out with run play after run play. Hubbard, D’Onta Foreman, and even Raheem Blackshear took turns ripping off gains of five to nine yards, adding 10 more points including a backbreaking TD with six minutes left.
It felt like the Seahawks would find an answer on offense but their defense didn’t leave them any margin for error. Seattle would add seven more points of their own but they came with 16 seconds left on an acrobatic effort from Goodwin. It was nice to see but it was far too late to matter. The onside kick was easily recovered by Horn and the Panthers downed out Seattle’s third home loss of the season.
~Geno Smith’s numbers ended up just fine and if you only saw the box score, you might feel differently than if you watched the whole game. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 264 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. But the lack of a running game and, with no defensive help, he simply needed to be much better.
I don’t know if it was because of the pressure or maybe his footwork just wasn’t as sharp as usual, but it seemed like he threw off his back foot a lot and very nearly had three other passes picked off as a result. This game doesn’t change my opinion of Geno as it relates to his future in Seattle but it was a tough one to watch.
~The running backs were a complete afterthought, as Travis Homer picked up just 26 yards on nine carries while Tony Jones Jr lost two on his only carry. They didn’t even pretend to try and run and when you’re down 17-0 by the time the coin toss hits the turf, its kinda tough to do so. Honestly, the sample size just wasn’t enough to draw any real conclusions about the running game— just gotta hope Ken Walker III is back for next week.
~Tyler Lockett was awesome again today, catching a touchdown for the sixth straight game. He kept his Pro Bowl season on track with five catches for 60 yards and that unbelievably graceful touchdown catch. In fact, all three receivers had five catches and a score, with Marquis Goodwin leading the way with 90 yards and DK Metcalf coming in at 71. The receivers did what they could on a tough day, and were generally excellent aside from one Metcalf drop in the third quarter.
The tight ends didn’t contribute a lot, as Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson combined for 30 yards on three catches while Noah Fant was unable to catch his only target.
~For all of the playoff hopes— and they are still very much alive— it’s just hard to imagine them making any kind of deep run when they’re utterly unable to stop the run. Carolina ran the ball a staggering 46 times for 223 yards, making it nearly 700 yards on the ground for Seahawks opponents over the last three games. I’ve never seen anything like it.
To be honest, the D still looks like they’re guessing on half their assignments; and it’s too easy to beat them horizontally. Most dishearteningly, the Panthers ran it right at them for the whole fourth quarter and the Seahawks were incapable of stopping them— like, ever. Carolina ran twice as often as they threw it and honestly, you’re not gonna win many games when it goes like that.
The secondary played well with limited opportunities. Ryan Neal flew all over the field while Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant each turned in remarkable pass breakups on deep balls. Games like this underscore why coaches love running the ball so much; because when it’s working like this, you can simply bludgeon your opponent into the ground. It’s a bit of a gambit to build an offense that way, as it’s an excellent tool when you’re ahead but it makes it tough to mount a comeback if you fall behind early. All the more frustrating that Seattle allowed the score to get so lopsided early on. You wanna make the Panthers throw to beat you and the Seahawks never gave them any reason to.
You guys don’t need me to tell you how bad this game was. Seattle lost by six but it rarely felt any closer than that. After spending the first half of the year owning the early parts of games, the Seahawks have now had four straight where they’ve had to fight uphill after poor starts.
Seattle is back outside the playoff picture, their faces pressed against the glass and they’ll need to find at least two wins in their final four games to have a chance to sneak in. It’s hard to imagine— though not impossible— this team beating the 49ers or Chiefs so barring an upset there, they’ll need to sweep the Rams and New York Jets. Even then they’ll need a couple things to break their way.
Don’t get me wrong, this can absolutely happen. But any margin for error this team earned through ten games has been spent over the last four. Seattle remains ahead of schedule as far as development goes and the final month— fighting to extend the season— will be the type of test teams this young rarely get. They will emerge from the homestretch better off for it, no matter what happens, but pushing their way into the postseason could supercharge this roster’s development moving forward. Here’s hoping they pull it off.
Onward and upward, friends.
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