By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They tried mightily to give this one away, but all Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could do was breathe a sigh of relief while talking with reporters after another tense victory, this one a 16-12 nail biter over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
“Geez, we just got to get out of our way,” Carroll said. “And when we do that, we’ll be okay.”
The Seahawks turned the ball over three times and had 87 yards of offense nullified because of penalties, yet still managed to earn their first road win of 2012.
Seattle improved to 3-2 on the year because of another strong effort by its defense, showing once again they have one of the best units on that side of the ball in the NFL by limiting Carolina’s human highlight film — quarterback Cam Newton — and the rest of the Panthers’ explosive offense to 190 total yards.
Newton finished 12-of-29 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and a 56.8 passer rating.
Carolina’s charismatic quarterback had a chance to win the game for the Panthers, but on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line with just over four minutes remaining, his pass short-hopped a wideopen Ben Hartsock in the back of the end zone.
“We were expecting that he (Newton) was going to jump over the top,” Carroll said. “And so everybody was ready and raring to go. But when he pulled out to throw the football it was like, ‘Hallelujah, we’ve got a chance.’”
Added Seattle safety Earl Thomas:
“When it was time for us to bow up, we bowed up. And that shows a lot about our defense. We’re just not giving up points.”
While Newton struggled, Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson put together his best game statistically of this young season.
Wilson did not play flawlessly — he finished 19-of-25 for 221 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to Golden Tate and two interceptions — but his performance was a step in the right direction, serving as an answer to critics calling for him to head to the bench.
“I use it as fire,” Wilson said about criticism. “I ignore the noise all the time, but at the same time, I know that I have to get better. I’m a self motivator. That’s the way I’ve always been.”
One area Wilson showed improvement was on third down. Seattle finished 7-of-14 on the money down against the Panthers, helping to keep drives alive.
“I thought Russell played a great football game today,” Carroll said. “He was in control the whole time. He had one throw that got away from him. He was terrific on third down.
“I think Russell really showed his strength as a football player and a competitor to just hang in there.”
After dominating the first half, the Seahawks led 6-3.
And Seattle basically tried to give the game away in the third quarter.
On the kickoff to start the second half, Leon Washington burst through for a 45-yard return, but was stripped of the ball by linebacker Jason Phillips, with Carolina’s Josh Thomas recovering on Seattle’s 38-yard line.
But the defense forced Carolina to punt, with linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive end Chris Clemson sacking Cam Newton for a 10-yard loss, taking the Panthers out of field goal position.
However, the Panthers took the lead when Wilson tried to force the ball on an out route to tight end Anthony McCoy. Carolina defensive back Captain Munnerlyn undercut the route, intercepting the ball and racing 33 yards for a touchdown, giving Carolina its first lead, 10-6, early in the third quarter.
“It was just a foot and a half behind him,” Wilson said about the interception returned for a touchdown. “If I put it a foot and half in front of him, it would have been perfect.”
Wilson put the play behind him on the next possession, marching Seattle right down the field.
But on first and 10 from Carolina’s 30-yard line, Marshawn Lynch bobbled a pass over the middle of the field from Wilson, and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly corralled the deflection for an interception.
Seattle’s stingy defense once again stopped Carolina’s offense from converting the turnover into points.
“That was absolutely the meltdown opportunity,” Carroll said. “But we didn’t waver at all. We knew that we were doing well on defense. And we know that we were doing well on offense if we could just stay out of our way.
“We talked over the headphones and said. ‘Let’s stay with what we’re doing. Let’s wait this thing out and see if we can finish up really well.’”
Seattle got the break it needed when cornerback Brandon Brown stripped Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams of the ball, recovering the fumble on the Panthers’ 27-yard line with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter.
Five plays later, the Seahawks took the lead for good on a nice throw by Wilson to Tate on a 13-yard slant route for a score, giving Seattle a 13-10 lead.
“You can’t go anywhere without winning on the road,” Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant said. “You never know, it might come down to the end of the year when you’re on the road, trying to get into the playoffs, and you have to find out a way to win tough games.”