By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There would be no Superman poses in the back of the end zone for Carolina’s Cam Newton.
Seattle’s stingy defense discovered the kryptonite for one of the league’s most explosive offenses, holding the Panthers’ offense to 190 total yards.
“I’m privileged to play on a defense like this,” Seattle defensive end Red Bryant said. “I’ve never played on a defense this good, this talented. At every position someone can take over the game. I’m glad we got the win today.”
Entering Sunday’s contest, Carolina had been averaging 10 explosive plays a contest — passes of 16 or more yards, or runs of 12 yards or more.
But Carolina finished with just six of those plays on Sunday, and failed to score a touchdown on offense.
Seattle’s suffocating defense has only given up two touchdowns the last four games.
“That was an extraordinary job by our defense, because that’s the most explosive team that we’ve faced,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ve proven last year with their numbers, and again coming in with 40-something (43) explosive plays coming into this game. To throw together a defensive effort like that I think is really a statement about our guys.”
Stopping Carolina’s spread option attack was a point of emphasis for Seattle all week, as they focused on maintaining their assignments and staying home defensively.
But one critical play at the end of the game demonstrated the Seahawks’ razor-like focus on defense.
Carolina had the ball on Seattle’s 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal with about four minutes remaining in the game, trailing 16-10.
And with 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton under center, everyone in the stadium sensed a quarterback sneak would be the call, with Newton jumping over the pile for a score.
Except for Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Because of the team’s success against opposing teams in snuffing out runs near the goal line with run blitzes by Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor, Thomas thought the Panthers might throw instead.
“If I make up my mind, I’m blitzing,” Thomas said. “I don’t care really what the call was. If I feel like it’s a run in a crucial situation, I’m gone. And they see that on film.”
Newton said that he had a run-pass option, but audibled to a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Thomas believes that Newton seeing Seattle’s tendency to blitz in those situations played a role in the Carolina quarterback changing the play.
Cornerback Brandon Browner also played an important role in setting up the situation. Without Seattle’s big corner keeping Carolina receiver Louis Murphy out of the end zone on third down with a sure tackle in front of the goal line, the Seahawks would have not had an opportunity for the big stop.
Browner also had a key play that set up Seattle’s go-ahead touchdown, stringing out an option play, and then tackling Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams behind the line of scrimmage, stripping him of the ball and recovering it Carolina’s 27-yard line.
Golden Tate put Seattle up for good five plays later on a 13-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Russell Wilson.
“Brandon’s play where he takes the ball from him on the option was a terrific play,” Carroll said. “But then he makes a terrific tackle to put them in fourth-and-1 there, when most of the time guys get in the end zone. But he just didn’t let it happen.”
The Panthers had one final opportunity to take the lead at the end of the game, but rookie Bruce Irvin sacked Newton and forced him to fumble on second-and-10 from Carolina’s 31-yard line, with fellow defensive lineman Alan Branch recovering the ball with 49 seconds to play in the game.
Irvin finished with two sacks on the day, and leads all rookies with 4.5 sacks for the season.
“It was awesome to see Bruce be that productive and make big plays when it’s most needed,” Carroll said. “To see him knock that ball out to finish and win it was really cool.”