By John Boyle
It’d be easy to call the Seahawks’ 12-7 win in Carolina ugly, but when you beat a good team on the road, when you’re a West Coast team playing an early game, when you’re playing in some serious heat and humidity, there’s no such thing as an ugly win.
Yes the Seahawks had some issues on offense, and yes they’ll need to play better than this if they’re really a Super Bowl team, but Sunday’s win in Carolina was still a significant accomplishment. In last year’s opener on the road, the Seahawks had a chance to pull of a victory in Arizona, but the defense gave up a late scoring drive, and the offense, led by a rookie quarterback making his first career start, got in position to score the winning touchdown, but couldn’t quite finish it off.
This time, even if it was lacking in aesthetics, the Seahawks finished.
The offense that had struggled so much with Carolina’s front seven—seriously, that’s a nasty defensive front—got the one big play it needed in the form of a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, and the defense, which gave up a few leads late last season, held on by forcing a key turnover when the Panthers looked like they might be on their way to getting the go-ahead score.
“We just made some plays when we needed to,” Russell Wilson told reporters.
So what did we learn from this game? Here are a few things:
—Russell Wilson looks like he’s ready to pick up where he left off. After Wilson and the offense struggled on the first two possessions, the second-year quarterback was incredibly efficient the rest of the way. Wilson was just 1 for 4 for one yard on those first two possessions, but finished the day 25 for 33 for 320 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 115.7. It was Wilson’s first 300-yard game in the regular season (he had 385 against Atlanta in the playoffs) and a sign that he can carry the offense if the running game is struggling, which it did Sunday.
—Doug Baldwin looks ready to return to his 2011 form. After a breakout rookie season, Baldwin struggle with injuries early last year and never was able to replicate his 2011 success. He has talked this offseason about bouncing back, and based off this performance (seven catches, 91 yards) he appears ready to do just that.
—Defense still dominates for Seattle. Yes the offense got a lot better as Russell Wilson grew last year, and yes the Seahawks have one of the best running games in the NFL, but even if the Seahawks are going to get more out of their offense this year, a lot of their success will still be dedicated by the defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL last year. For the second year in a row, the Seahawks went to Carolina and managed just one touchdown, and for the second year in a row, they won anyway because of the way the defense played. The Panthers managed just the one touchdown and gained 253 yards. Cam Newton was held to 125 passing yards and 38 rushing yards.
And as was the case last year, the game turned on a big turnover, and as it turned out it was DeAngelo Williams fumbling the game away again. Last season, Brandon Browner stripped Williams to set up the Seahawks’ only touchdown; this time, it was Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas combining to knock the ball loose after a long Williams run. That ended the scoring threat, and the Seahawks were able to run the final 5:25 off the clock to secure the victory.
—Of course it wasn’t all good for the Seahawks. Most notably, the Seahawks had nine penalties for 99 yards, several of which were serious drive killers. And that’s hardly an isolated problem. The Seahawks were one of the most penalized teams it he league last year, especially early in the season, and struggled with penalties in the preseason too.
—The other big negative for Seattle was the running game, which netted just 70 yards on 26 carries. The Seahawks didn’t run the ball a ton early on, then struggled to get the ground game going later, with Marshawn Lynch gaining just 43 yards on 17 carries. That being said, the Seahawks did run it well on the final drive, which allowed them to run out the clock without giving the ball back to the Panthers.