The long-awaited arrival of the off-season’s prize acquisition being utilized is apparently here for Seattle fans. Unfortunately for them, the Carolina Panthers came into their city with a bigger chip on their shoulder.
The Panthers could easily be mistaken for a NFC West division team these days with their tenacious, hard-hitting and defense. It has, in fact, been the main reason the team has remained undefeated through the first four weeks of the season. Following a bye, however, Cam Newton and the Panthers were prepared to make an offensive statement in response to recent criticisms in vast football circles that their lack of name brand talent and scoring makes them the worst of the undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the 4-and-0 Panthers’ odds of winning the Super Bowl were at 20-1, trailing miserably behind the others, favorite Green Bay (5-2), New England (4-1), Denver (10-1), Cincinnati (10-1) and Atlanta (14-1). To add to this insult, the 2-and-2 Seahawks’ odds were well above Carolina’s, at 6-1. Now at 5-and-0, the oddsmakers, and most of the sports media analysts and social media pundits, might do well to rethink their position after Sunday’s stunning upset of those same Seahawks by the latest Rodney Dangerfield of NFL.
Cam Newton carved through the Legion of Boom with precision passes like a hot blade through soft butter on the last two consecutive 80-yard drives to lift the Panthers pass the Seahawks for a 27-23 win, keeping them in the ranks of the undefeated for yet another week. What was more impressive than the score itself was the next-level focus and determination Cam showed when it mattered most, obviously wanting this game more than most others, so much so that the final touchdown pass to a wide open tight end Greg Olsen appeared to leave defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in disbelief and pointing fingers at each other in the end zone. Until that play, Olsen, who had a great day catching 7 of 11 targets for 131 yards and a score—easily Carolina’s leading receiver, had been overshadowed by Jimmy Graham’s best day of the season, reeling in 8 of 12 targets for 140 yards—easily Seattle’s leading receiver but no TDs.
In the end, it was as if the Panthers had such replies for every accomplishment the Seahawks could manage. Russell Wilson completed 18 of 30 passes for 241 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 INTs for a QB rating of 96.7, and added 53 ground yards on 8 runs, a 6.6 average. Cam Newton posted a 20-36-269-1TD stat line with a QBR of only 65.6 while adding 30 ground yards on 7 carries, one for an additional TD, and clearly outplaying Russell when it mattered most. Marshawn Lynch carried the rock 17 times for a better-than-looked 54 yards and a score, but Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart out performed him with 78 yards on 20 carries and 2 TDs. On the defensive side, linebacker K.J. Wright led all Seahawks with 12 total tackles, but the returning Panthers Pro Bowl LB Luke Kuechly was everywhere and led the entire stadium with 14 total tackles. The battle of kickers went to Seattle as Steven Hauschka went 5-for-5 (2 XPMs/3 FGs), and Graham Gano (3-of-4 XPMs only) missed a crucial fourth-quarter extra forced the Panthers to play for an additional touchdown rather than a field goal to win the game.
Scoring summary per quarter:
FIRST QUARTER: After exchanging punts early on, the Seahawks took advantage of a Cam Newton interception by Earl Thomas on the Panthers’ side of the field, but could only move the ball 21 yards to stall inside the red zone, and settled for a 30-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. Carolina’s drives consisted of a punt and a turnover, but their third drive was more productive. Score: Seahawks 3, Panthers 0
SECOND QUARTER: From their own 20-yard line, the Panthers drove slow and methodically 80 yards on 14 plays (mostly on the running Jonathon Stewart) and capped it off with Cam taking it in himself on a 2-yard run. The Seahawks’ very next series was much like Carolina’s in that it took awhile, going 90 yards on 12 plays and highlighted by a 25-yard pass play from Wilson to Jimmy Graham. Marshawn Lynch finished with a score from a yard out. Neither team could do much afterwards in what was mostly a defensive first half. Halftime Score: Seahawks 10, Panthers 7
THIRD QUARTER: After a Panthers punt, the Seahawks scored on a 40-yard strike from Wilson to receiver Ricardo Lockette. Following a Kam Chancellor interception two Panthers plays later, the Seahawks kicked a 50-yard (Hauschka) after failing to take better advantage of having the ball at Carolina’s 33-yard line from the turnover. Highlighted by a 22-yard connection to tight end Greg Olsen from Cam (after moderate chunks of yardage from J. Stewart and Mike Tolbert were accumulated), Stewart scored on a 1-yard run that sealed a drive that went 80 yards on 11 plays. Score: Seahawks 20, Panthers 14
FOURTH QUARTER: Punts were exchanged again before the Seahawks began what was almost their most exciting drive. A pass of 45 yards to Graham, and a 17-yard burst up the middle by Lynch led a drive that was forced to stall when Wilson took a sack of 10 yards. Hauschka then kicked a 43-yarder. Both teams followed with a 3-and-out series, exchanging punts yet again. However, Cam Newton has his best series of the game with an 80-yard/9 play drive that was highlighted by crisper passes to Olsen and receiver Devin Funchess, and finished with another Stewart run from a yard out. Seattle’s next series started with a 20-yard pass to Graham, but they could do nothing after, and punted back to Carolina. With 2:20 left on the clock, Cam Newton had what may have been part two of his finest NFL moment to date with a masterful drive that mixed it up to perfection with plays that included hitting Olsen, the other tight end, Ed Dickson, Funchess, Cotchery, and began with an 8-yard run from Stewart to the left and out of bounds. With 37 seconds remaining, Cam spiked the ball to stop the clock, then proceeded to spot Greg Olsen, who emerged alone beyond beaten Richard Sherman and confused Earl Thomas, lobbing a perfectly timed pass to his favorite weapon to seal the Seahawks’ fate. Final Score: Seahawks 23, Panthers 27
The Seahawks stand at 2W-4L through six weeks (tied with San Francisco) and missed a golden opportunity to move into second place in the NFC West ahead of the idle St. Louis Rams, who are 1-up on them in division play. They remain two back of the 1st place Arizona Cardinals (4W-2L), who also lost Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 25-13. Of their next four games, three are divisional; one versus the Cardinals, two versus the 49ers, including the upcoming Thursday night game, October 22nd.
The Panthers (5W-0L) are now in sole position of 1st place by a half game in the NFC South following the unexpected Thursday night loss to the Saints by the previously-undefeated Atlanta Falcons (5W-1L). They go home to host their next three games in possibly the toughest stretch of their season against teams that can light up a scoreboard; The Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and Green Bay Packers.