CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Seattle Seahawks always make things interesting. But the most important thing is that they once again took care of business on the road, and now Seattle has a chance to win the NFC West at home.
Seattle had what appeared to be a routine victory turn tense at the end, but ultimately the Seahawks capped off a banner year on the road by beating the Carolina Panthers 30-24 Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Seattle was on cruise control, leading 30-10 midway through the fourth quarter before the Panthers scored two late touchdowns and had a chance to get the ball back one last time. But a vintage performance by the Seahawks’ most senior players, plus some hard-nosed running from Chris Carson, meant Seattle finished the season a franchise-record 7-1 on the road. That includes a perfect 5-0 in games in the Eastern time zone that started at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
If Seattle (11-3) can win its final two games at home — this coming Sunday against down-and-out Arizona, then the following Sunday in what looks like it will be a winner-take-all game against San Francisco — then the Seahawks will claim the division title for the first time since 2016. Even if the Seahawks stub their toe against Arizona, they can still clinch the division with a win over the 49ers thanks to San Francisco’s loss to Atlanta on Sunday and the fact Seattle already has beaten the 49ers once this season.
“We go back home for a couple and try to finish this thing up,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m really proud of getting to 11 wins at this time with a chance to get more. I’m fired up for this team, they deserve to be sitting where they’re sitting, and they’re ready to go forward.
“It got a little tough at the end, but we did a lot of really good things again today,” Carroll added. “To put this season together on the road is something to be proud of. It’s hard to do this. … We may have to go on the road (in the postseason), and we’ll have done everything we can to be ready for that.”
Speaking of the postseason, Seattle’s victory, combined with the Los Angeles Rams’ loss at Dallas, meant the Seahawks clinched a playoff berth. Seattle has made the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons.
Carson, facing the league’s 29th-ranked run defense, had a field day Sunday, rushing for 133 yards on 24 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Russell Wilson was back to his MVP-caliber ways, going 20-for-26 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Those two were instrumental in Seattle scoring TDs on each of its first three drives, something the team hadn’t accomplished since Nov. 22, 2015, as the Seahawks took control early.
“Last week (in a 28-12 loss at Los Angeles) we kind of started off great, but ended up kicking a field goal,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We want to get touchdowns in the red zone, and we were able to get touchdowns this time. The first and third series last week were kind of how we wanted to play, with tempo and moving the ball around. This time we came out and did all those things correct. We stayed on schedule, we didn’t have penalties and we were able to capitalize on moments. It’s championship football time and you have to capitalize on your moments.”
Defensively Seattle was missing four starters because of injuries — defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (core/flu) and Ziggy Ansah (neck), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), and cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) — but it was the old guard that came up with the big plays as veteran linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner combined for three interceptions, two by Wright. Those turnovers were a big reason the Seahawks built a 30-10 lead.
Wagner went down with a sprained right ankle in the fourth quarter and had to watch from the sidelines as Carolina rallied late. However, after the game he said, “I’ll be fine.”
In contrast to Seattle, Carolina (5-9) is a team in disarray, with franchise quarterback Cam Newton (foot) on injured reserve and longtime coach Ron Rivera fired two weeks ago. For most of Sunday’s game the Panthers looked as if they were a one-trick pony behind running back Christian McCaffrey (87 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 88 yards receiving). Carolina’s offense sparked to life at the end, with Kyle Allen leading the Panthers on two long touchdown drives to make things interesting, but in the end Carolina lost its sixth straight.
The game was all Seattle at the start, with Carson’s early running setting up play-action for big passes. Carson found the end zone on the game’s opening drive when he bounced a run outside, then ran over a defender at the goal line for 16-yard touchdown. Then tremendous catches by Tyler Lockett and Josh Gordon on deep balls set up the next two TDs — DK Metcalf was too big for his defender as he caught a 19-yard touchdown in the left corner, Lockett was left uncovered for a 19-yard TD in the right corner — as Seattle took a 20-7 lead into halftime.
The game seemed over when, on fourth-and-1 from, the 6, Carson kept his legs driving and powered his way into the end zone for a touchdown that made it 30-10 with 7 minutes, 18 seconds remaining.
But Wagner was injured on the second play of Carolina’s ensuing drive, and the Panthers finally found an offensive rhythm. McCaffrey scored on a 15-yard run to make it 30-17, and Carolina held Seattle to a three-and-out to get the ball back with 4:25 remaining. The Panthers then marched 84 yards in just 1:11, culminating with Allen’s 5-yard TD pass to Curtis Samuel to make it a one-score game.
Seattle got the ball back, and holding penalties put the Seahawks in a tough spot at third-and-11 with 2:24 remaining. But Wilson extended the play and hit Lockett for a 14-yard completion to effectively ice the game.