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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

December 6, 2010 at 11:15 AM

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What we learned: Seahawks 31, Panthers 14

Posted by Danny O'Neil

I. Three things we learned

     1. Lofa Tatupu's understanding of the game remains special.
A sore knee has kept him from practicing much of the past month, but one third-quarter play showed the anticipation and instincts that have made him the leader of Seattle's defense. He not only recognized the Panthers were setting up a pass to the fullback, but he reacted without hesitation, processing numerous factors to cut in front of Tony Fiammetta, intercepting the pass and returning it for a touchdown. It was a truly special play, the kind of thing that's the product of hours of film study and a special feel for the game.

     2. Seattle can turn the tide in a hurry.
Coach Pete Carroll talks about momentum plays in a game, moments in which the direction of the game shifts, and of all this team's faults, it has shown an ability to capitalize on those opportunities. It happened in Week 1 against San Francisco when Seattle scored 28 points in the span of 7 minutes of the second and third quarters. It happened against San Diego when the Seahawks forced five turnovers and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. It happened on Sunday, the Seahawks scored 24 points in the span of 9 minutes, 29 seconds as the offense put together its longest touchdown drive of the year, the defense scored on Lofa Tatupu's interception return and the special teams set up a third touchdown with Leon Washington's 84-yard punt return.

     3. Matt Hasselbeck hasn't quite kicked the interception bugaboo.
Seattle's quarterback had reined in the turnovers after a rough Week 2. He was picked off three times in the span of seven starts from Week 3 through Week 11. Well, he has been picked off four times the past two games, and he really could have been intercepted one more time on Sunday. Those interceptions haven't cost Seattle a game. Not yet. But with the emphasis coach Pete Carroll places on not turning the ball over, the leash is bound to be getting shorter.

II. Three things we don't know

     1. Was Seattle's second-half rushing surge a sign of things to come?
The Seahawks rushed for 126 yards on the ground in the final two quarters. That would have been Seattle's second-highest total in any game this season, and what made that more impressive was the Seahawks' ability to gain yardage on the ground when the Panthers knew they were going to run the ball. And while the Panthers are 1-11, that is still a John Fox-coached defense so Seattle's rushing total was no gimme putt.

     2. What the Seahawks are going to do at wide receiver?
Hard to imagine being able to expect Mike Williams to play after he has suffered two injuries to the same foot in the span of three weeks. Ben Obomanu had a severe laceration of his right hand so while he expects to be available, there's going to be a question of his effectiveness. Those are Seattle's two starters, which brings up the question of whether the Seahawks need to make an addition to supplement that group.

     3. Why Seattle's offense starts so slow?
The Seahawks failed to gain a first down in the first quarter for the second consecutive week. The Panthers entered Sunday's game having scored 22 points in the first period -- fewest in the league -- and they jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Seattle has scored 27 points in the first quarter in 12 games, fewer than every team except for the Jets who play on Monday night.

III. Three things we're still trying to figure out

     1. When will Seattle's rush defense begin to improve?
Sure, Carolina rushed for only 36 yards in the second half, but that was as much a product of the score as anything. Once the Panthers got behind, they couldn't keep pounding the ground game, carrying only nine times in the final two quarters after rushing 21 times in the first half. So the question is whether Seattle fixed something on the defense or if score and circumstance did more to cut into Carolina's rushing game than anything Seattle did.

     2. Which was Chris Clemons' hardest hit this year?
He knocked Arizona quarterback Max Hall out of the game with a concussion in Week 7, and his second-half sack of Jimmy Clausen was every bit as violent. Clemons has 8.5 sacks, the most he has ever had in his career.

     3. Just how much grief Leon Washington is getting?
Getting tripped up after downshifting to coast into the end zone is bad enough, but getting tripped up by the punter after pointing skyward to celebrate a touchdown? That's even worse, and as great as Washington's 84-yard punt return was, he's probably going to keep hearing about getting tackled by the punter for quite some time.

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