Seahawks once again pull away in fourth quarter
Kam Chancellor’s interception return was a fitting capper to an afternoon that was yet another textbook example of Pete Carroll’s philosophy that while games can’t necessarily be won in the first three quarters, they sure as heck can be won in the fourth quarter.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks’ next steps
What’s next: NFC Championship, Sunday, noon at CenturyLink Field (Ch. 13)
Who’s next: Seattle faces the winner of Sunday’s Dallas at Green Bay game (10 a.m., Ch. 13)
Super Bowl: AFC and NFC champions meet Feb. 1, 3:30 p.m. in Glendale, Ariz. (Ch. 5)
Bruce Irvin didn’t bother trying to hide the fact that on the play that clinched Seattle’s 31-17 divisional playoff win over Carolina Saturday, he didn’t really carry out the Seahawks’ mantra to finish every play.
Instead, as Kam Chancellor ran down the field with a 90-yard interception return that assured victory at last, Irvin let out a sigh of relief and joined the rest of the happy 68,524 at CenturyLink Field in watching as the Seahawks secured a spot in the NFC Championship next Sunday against either
Dallas or Green Bay.
“Whoosh,’’ Irvin said, wiping his brow to indicate his initial thought as Chancellor picked off Cam Newton’s pass. “That’s all I did. I didn’t even run with him. I just met him at the sidelines. That was a reliever, though. That was a big relief.’’
It was also a fitting capper to an afternoon that was yet another textbook example of Pete Carroll’s philosophy that while games can’t necessarily be won in the first three quarters, they sure as heck can be won in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys know that the second half is something that we really count on our guys to make things happen on both sides of the ball,’’ said Carroll. “It’s really, really fun to finish well and we take pride in that and it’s working out still.’’
Indeed, Seattle’s score-by-quarter stats coming into the Carolina game painted a picture of a team that gets better with each minute that the game grows long — 67-57 in the first quarter, 117-87 in the second, 82-43 in the third, and 122-67 in the fourth.
So as the Seahawks headed to halftime ahead of the Panthers just 14-10, having allowed the Panthers two long scoring drives in the second quarter, there was a feeling of “we’ve been here before’’ in the locker room.
“That’s what we always do,’’ said Seattle defensive tackle Michael Bennett. “We settle down, see what we made mistakes on and come out and play a great game.’’
In the first half, and especially the second quarter, the Panthers had the Seahawks off-balance for a while with some misdirection running plays and some passes to the flat that made a Seattle defense many are touting as among the best in NFL history look merely mortal.
Carroll explained later that the Seahawks keyed their game plan to containing the running of quarterback Cam Newton, something the Panthers tried to exploit.
“They were able to take advantage of the fact that we had loaded up against the running game and throw the ball outside some and they had some success out there,’’ Carroll said.
Said linebacker K.J. Wright: “We really emphasized the option and they hit us with a couple of counters on it.’’
The Panthers ended up running 24 plays in the second quarter to just five for the Seahawks, and a Newton 7-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 7:44 to go in the quarter not only tied the game but was the first touchdown the Seattle defense had allowed since the second quarter of the San Francisco game on Dec. 14.
But at halftime, said Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner, there was no concern.
“They had a lot of misdirection plays we hadn’t seen before,’’ he said. “But as soon as we figured them out we were good. We don’t ever panic. We always feel like if guys get us in the first half, we will find a away to make adjustments and get them in the next half. That’s kind of what we did.’’
Indeed, Carolina punted on its first two possessions of the second half while the Seahawks scored on two of their first three to push the lead to 24-10.
Then, with the Panthers making one last attempt to make it a game, driving to the Seattle 19 with under seven minutes left, Chancellor stepped in front of Newton’s pass and turned it into the longest scoring play in Seahawks postseason history. That capped a string of 17 points in a span of nine minutes that turned the game into the expected comfortable win.
A garbage-time 83-yard drive for the Panthers helped even out the stats and allowed Carolina to become the first team since Kansas City on Nov. 16 to score a fourth-quarter TD on Seattle.
But when it finished, the Seahawks had again, well, finished.
They had also accomplished something that no defending Super Bowl champion had done since the 2005 New England Patriots — win a playoff game.
“We knew that,’’ Wright said. “And we didn’t want to be another victim of that.’’
Now, they wait to find out if it is Dallas or Green Bay they will host in the NFC title game next Sunday.
No matter the opponent, they expect their formula for victory to be the same.
“Teams can’t come in here and beat us,’’ Wright said. “It’s going to be super tough. You’ve got to do something real special, real spectacular to come in here and beat us.’’