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Originally published January 10, 2015 at 9:16 PM | Page modified January 14, 2015 at 5:29 PM

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Russell Wilson’s air show lands Seahawks in NFC title game

The Seahawks’ maligned passing game, led by Russell Wilson cold third-down efficiency, leads Seattle to a 31-17 NFC Divisonal playoff victory over Carolina.


Times staff columnist

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Wearing a gray suit and a black scarf, Russell Wilson stood behind a podium Saturday night, smiling like a man headed back to the NFC Championship Game.

For once, the say-the-right-thing quarterback, who’s always careful not to make the Seahawks’ success about him, allowed a moment to express his self-pride publicly.

“Sometimes, I think I’m made for these situations,” Wilson said, answering a reporter’s question about his knack for thriving on the big stage.

It seemed the underdog had the perfect plan. But Carolina forgot to account for Wilson and the Seahawks’ maligned receiving corps.

For most of the game Saturday, the Panthers did exactly what an upset of the Seahawks requires: Stop Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks’ league-best rushing attack. Force Wilson and his receivers to manufacture offense. Tame the Seahawks defense with nibble plays — short run here, short pass there — until the 68,524 rowdy fans at CenturyLink Field choke on their confidence.

And the Panthers still lost because this Seattle team is far more versatile than some think. They lost because Wilson, despite arguments to the contrary, is an elite quarterback who can take over a game.

With a 31-17 NFC divisional playoff round victory over Carolina, the Seahawks advanced to the NFC title game in a different manner. They threw their way to a win, one sweet Wilson pass at a time. And their aggressive defense managed to be patient, withstanding a good Panthers’ effort and changing the game by forcing three turnovers.

It wasn’t an overpowering, message-sending performance that will cause the 12th Man to book Super Bowl tickets prematurely. But it may have been more meaningful for the Seahawks to show this kind of adaptability.

“That speaks more to the resiliency of this team,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Wilson. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get a win. We have starters who play special teams. It’s just the culture we have here. Nobody is more special than the next guy. We have a lot of talent on this football team, and maybe sometimes guys get overshadowed, but we’re confident that anyone on this roster can help lead us to a win.”

If the Seahawks want to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they’ll need to be ready for anything. When you look at the diverse playing styles of the teams remaining in the postseason, the Seahawks will be challenged to show their versatility. As formidable as the Panthers were for much of this game, they also had the worst regular-season record (7-8-1) in the field.

Now the Seahawks’ competition is about to get significantly more difficult.

This is the first time in franchise history that the Seahawks have advanced to the NFC title game in back-to-back seasons. They will host the winner of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Green Bay at 12:05 p.m. next Sunday.

One more victory, and the Seahawks will return to the Super Bowl. If they do so, they will be the first team to achieve that in 11 years. The New England Patriots last did so in 2003 and 2004, and they won both, setting the back-to-back standard that the Seahawks would like to match.

“It’s exciting,” Wilson said. “The job’s not done, though. We still have more to do. We’re on one mission. That’s what we keep saying. We’re on one mission.”

This game was the anticipated hard-hitting struggle, except for some surprising doses of good offense. The Seahawks did it in explosive bursts, with Wilson flinging the football all over the field. He hit Jermaine Kearse, who caught the pass one-handed, for a 63-yard touchdown. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson and a 16-yarder to Baldwin. Overall, Russell Wilson completed 15 of 22 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, with Kearse the recipient of 129 of those yards on only three receptions.

“There were some beautiful plays,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

Wilson now has a 5-1 career postseason record as the Seahawks quarterback. His numbers in those games are off the charts: He has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,364 yards. He has nine touchdowns and just one interception in his postseason career.

On Saturday, he outdueled Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who is also one of the league’s top young signal callers. Newton threw for 246 yards, but he lost a fumble and threw two interceptions. The final of those turnovers — a 90-yard Kam Chancellor interception return, the longest play in Seahawks’ playoff history — gave Seattle a 31-10 lead and allowed the crowd to have one last scream, not to mention one long sigh.

On a cool and foggy night, the Seahawks broke the curse of recent Super Bowl champions. The previous nine defending champs hadn’t won a playoff game the next year. Four didn’t even qualify for postseason.

There’s no jinx here, though. The Seahawks are too good for that. More specifically, they’re too versatile.

“That was really an extraordinary night,” Carroll said.

One more victory, and Carroll will have to find an adjective even better than extraordinary.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer



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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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