Seahawks’ winning formula works again in 31-17 playoff victory over Panthers
Marshawn Lynch gets running game going, Russell Wilson throws three touchdown passes and Seattle will stay at home for the NFC title game
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seahawks’ time table has become so predictable, you can set your watch by it.
The top seed in the NFC lets teams hang around for a half, maybe more. The underdogs start to believe, the CenturyLink Field crowd begins to tighten up. Then Marshawn Lynch shakes free, the Seattle defense comes up with a big stop and before you know it, the Seahawks are pulling away.
The formula carried Seattle to its first Super Bowl title last year. And Saturday night, in front of a crowd of 68,524 at CenturyLink, it lifted the Seahawks to two victories away from a second consecutive NFL title.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers and Seattle scored 17 consecutive points in the second half en route to a 31-17 victory in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
The Seahawks will play host to the winner of Sunday’s Green Bay/Dallas game in the NFC title game next Sunday at 12:05 p.m.
The Panthers ran just nine plays and managed only 23 yards in their first three possessions Saturday night. They turned the ball over twice in the first quarter alone, with Seattle safety Richard Sherman intercepting a Cam Newton long pass, then Tony McDaniel falling on a botched handoff.
The second giveaway led to the game’s first score, as Wilson found Doug Baldwin behind the Panthers’ secondary with a touch pass from 16 yards out.
Carolina began its next drive on its own 21-yard line and marched 79 yards on 14 plays, bleeding off 8:12 of game time. Facing third-and-six on the Seattle 7, Newton hit Kevlin Benjamin on a slant at the goal line for the tying score.
The teams finished the first half with nearly identical yardage totals: The Seahawks edged the Panthers by a single yard, 170-169. But they accumulated them in wildly different ways. While Carolina edged down the field bit by bit, Seattle broke things open with big plays.
The biggest of them all restored the Seattle lead — and doubled as the longest postseason offensive play in franchise history.
On third-and-seven at his own 37, Wilson dropped a pinpoint fade over Jermaine Kearse’s left shoulder. The receiver hauled in the pass with one hand, won the race to the corner and capped a 63-yard touchdown by touching the ball off the pylon.
Then came another Seattle drive, with the Seahawks clinging to a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter, right on time as usual.
The Seahawks took over at their own 12, and Wilson scampered for 14 yards to edge Seattle out of the shadow of its own goal post. Lynch, who had been held for 21 yards on eight carries in the first half, finally shook free, tossing aside defenders as he rumbled up the right hash for 25 yards.
The Seahawks marched deep into the Panthers’ red zone, though they were held to a Steven Hauschka field goal when Wilson took a sack on third-and-three at the 7.
A first-down penalty and a third-down drop blighted the next Panthers possession, and Seattle took over again with good field position with a chance to put the game away.
Wilson — who finished 15 of 22 passing for 268 yards — picked out Luke Willson on third down at the Carolina 46 to extend the drive. Wilson hit Willson again on third-and-10 from the 25, the tight end rumbling up the seam all the way into the end zone to put the Seahawks up 24-10 with 10:26 to go.
Newton drove the Panthers deep into Seahawks territory once more, only to have Kam Chancellor to jump in front of an out route, take the interception 90 yards in the opposite direction for another Seattle score and set the celebrations off in earnest.