Carolina plays tough, but in the end mistakes prove too costly
Panthers gain more yards than Seattle, hold possession of the ball longer
Seattle Times staff reporter
Panthers by the numbers
34:03 Time of possession for Carolina, the highest by a Seahawks opponent since Dallas kept the ball for 37:39 in Week 6. San Diego maintained possession for 42:15 in Week 2 against Seattle.
362 Total net yards by Carolina, the most given up by the Seahawks since the Cowboys gained 401 yards in their Week 6 game.
When the Seahawks emerged out of the CenturyLink Field tunnel Saturday night, a single Carolina Panther stood apart to meet them.
There at the 10-yard line, amid the fanfare and the flames and the dancing cheerleaders, waited quarterback Cam Newton. He bounced back and forth from the ball of one foot to the other, did some stretching, watched the Seahawks run onto the field one by one.
“I don’t put on my helmet just to bow down to somebody and say, ‘Well, you guys got it,’ ” Newton said.
The Panthers, NFC South champs at a sterling 7-8-1, didn’t back down from the defending champs. They hung close for more than three quarters and actually outgained the Seahawks.
But ultimately, the aggressiveness that helped Carolina stand toe-to-toe with Seattle ultimately did it in during the 31-17 defeat in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder coming into this game,” Newton said. “At times, you saw a team that wasn’t afraid of the hostile environment, that wasn’t afraid of the defense we were going against.”
Unlike St. Louis in Week 17 on this same field, which used conservative play-calling in an attempt to force Seattle to beat itself, Carolina went right at the vaunted Seahawks defense.
Newton tested cornerback Richard Sherman early, getting picked off on a long pass down the right sideline on Carolina’s third possession of the game. Undaunted, Newton nearly connected with Kelvin Benjamin on a fade over Sherman’s head late in the second quarter, only to have the second of the receiver’s feet land out of bounds.
“We know who Richard Sherman is, but I said it Day 1: I’m not going to not throw it to his side,” Newton said. “We’re not going to let it dictate our pass scheme. We can’t just eliminate that side of the field.”
Carolina ran the ball 30 times for 132 yards. Lacey native Jonathan Stewart had 13 carries for 70 yards, Newton 37 on 11. At halftime, the Panthers had an 87-21 edge in rushing yards.
“That’s our offense,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “That’s our mentality – to keep pounding, regardless of what happens, keep pounding. … We’re going to run the ball, that’s what we do. And we ran the ball today.”
Down the stretch, though, when the Panthers needed to show some composure to keep their upset bid alive, aggression turned to recklessness and a series of miscues.
Carolina’s defense held Seattle to a field goal in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, coming up with one of its few third-down stops of the game.
The Panthers took over at their own 20-yard line with 14:55 to go, and Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen for nine yards on the first play of the drive. An illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty, though, negated the positive gain. It backed Carolina closer to its own end zone and on third-and-long, Tolbert dropped a pass across the middle that looked destined for a drive-extending first down.
The Seahawks answered with another score to make it 24-10, but Newton marched the Panthers right back. He found Ed Dickson for 19 yards and Olsen for 31 more. He stepped into the Seattle pass rush and the home fans braying for a killer stop. Carolina got as close as the Seattle 13-yard line.
Then Newton telegraphed an out pattern and watched Kam Chancellor gallop 90 yards in the opposite directions with Carolina’s last chance.
“We made some mistakes,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We missed some opportunities.
“They did the type of things that lead to winning championships.”