Panthers build 31-0 halftime lead, hang to beat Seahawks 31-24

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Linebacker Bobby Wagner sat at his locker in full uniform for almost a half hour after the Seattle Seahawks’ season came to a sudden, thudding end — the way they do for every team but one each season.

To Wagner’s left in the visiting locker room, free safety Earl Thomas also wasn’t moving out of his locker, uniform or mood.

Yet as they eventually left Carolina and the 2015 season behind them, quarterback Russell Wilson’s and fellow Seahawks’ heads stayed high.

They are proud of their comebacks this season, and in this 31-24 loss to Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

But they will remained pained into the summer by their starts. Those ruined Seattle’s reign atop the NFC.

Jonathan Stewart ran for 59 yards on Sunday’s first play from scrimmage, running past defenders slipping so much on new sod they had to then change to longer cleats, and Carolina’s romp was on. Wilson threw two interceptions, one of which Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly returned 14 yards for a touchdown on the Seahawks’ first offensive series. And Seattle trailed 31-0 before this divisional playoff game was even a quarter and a half old.

“We made a mess of it in the first half,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “We look at this game as a microcosm of the season. We struggled so much early in the season to get going, and it took us a long time. When we finally did, we caught fire, and got rolling. Everyone in here just feels like we ran out of time.”

Ultimately Wilson’s excellence, the defense pitching a shutout for the final 21⁄2 quarters and the Seahawks (11-7) at their most-resilient best couldn’t overcome being down 31 points.

Wilson’s 366 yards passing and three touchdowns in the second half, his 31 completions in a career-high 48 passes, frantically rallied the Seahawks to within seven points, 31-24. But a final onside kick failed with just over a minute remaining. That’s how Seattle’s do-it-the-hard-way season and defense of two consecutive conference titles ended.

“If we had one more drive we would have won it,” Wilson said.

The Seahawks came within a couple minutes and seven points from pulling off the largest comeback to a win by a road team in NFL history. They ended up eight points short of the league’s biggest rally to win by anyone, anywhere: host Buffalo’s comeback from being down 35-3 to Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers in a 1993 playoff game.

“We didn’t start the way we wanted to,” said Wilson, who set Seahawks records with 4,024 yards passing, 34 touchdowns and completion rate of 68.1 percent this regular season. “But the best part about our football team showed up — and we’ve been doing it all year … our resilience. We were down and out early in the year. But we kept believing.

“We were mentally strong. … We are going to come back stronger. … You can’t find anybody that would fight the way we fight.”

This season began 0-2, 2-4 and 4-5. Then an 7-1 run got Seattle to within two games — or perhaps a game and a little bit more time Sunday — of becoming the first team in the salary-cap era to reach three straight Super Bowls.

The problems with pass protection by the offensive line ruined the first half of the season and ultimately had Seattle on the road as a wild card for these playoffs. Those issues returned Sunday. Wilson got hit 14 times and sacked five times by the Panthers. Carolina’s Mario Addison ripped left tackle Russell Okung’s arm out of its shoulder socket on his way to the hit that forced Wilson’s second interception of the first half. Okung did not return.

“It was my fault,” Wilson said. “We got behind, and I take the blame for that.”

Yet Wilson’s 31 completions were one short of his career high set in another rally that begin this schizophrenic Seahawks season, in September’s overtime loss at St. Louis.

Marshawn Lynch returned from abdominal surgery to play for the first time since Nov. 15. But his part in the game plan disappeared within the abyss the Seahawks fell into immediately.

Wilson’s interception that Kuechly returned for a TD made it 14-0 Carolina after just two offensive snaps by the Seahawks. Wilson’s throw to Lynch came so quickly because the quarterback was getting hit by Kawann Short, Carolina’s leading sack man. Lynch never got his head around to see the hurried pass over the middle behind him into Kuechly’s arms.

Lynch finished with 20 yards on just six carries. Instead of Lynch’s running, Seattle had to rely on Wilson’s throwing to come back.

With 6 minutes left in the first half the total yards were Panthers 213, Seahawks 17. Carolina had 14 more points than Seattle had yards and led 31-0.

Overlooked amid all that went wrong for Seattle in the first half: The Seahawks used 55 of the final 65 seconds of the half around midfield, with a running play to Lynch and short pass over the middle to Luke Willson. That loss of time for minimum gain resulted in Steven Hauschka having to try to 55-yard field goal instead of one closer. His kick was a yard short and two or so yards wide right.

Those three points lost loomed over the Seahawks’ entire second-half comeback. They had to make up three scores in the fourth quarter instead of two, and two scores in the final 2:30 instead of just one.

But then, as Carroll said, “sometimes halftime is the best thing to happen to us.”

Forced by the huge deficit to throw on just about every down, Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a 13-yard touchdown 93 seconds into the third quarter. He found rookie Tyler Lockett for a 33-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter. And with 6:04 to play Wilson scrambled on third and goal from the 3. He twisted, reset his feet then lofted a jump ball just over Carolina star cornerback Josh Norman’s leap into Kearse’s outstretched hands.

Incredibly, Carolina’s lead was down to 31-21 with 6:04 to go. The largest deficit overcome to win in team history, down 21-0 on Nov. 3, 2013, against Tampa Bay, was improbably within reach.

Seattle got the ball back at its own 22 with 2:49 left after yet another defensive stop. On third down Wilson completed another throw while getting nailed yet again, to Baldwin. Seattle was at the Carolina 13 with 90 seconds to play.

On third and 15 Wilson overthrew Kearse in the end zone; he didn’t jump because, the receiver complained in vain, he’d been held down by the waist. Hauschka kicked a 36-yard field goal to make the score 31-24 with 1:12 to play.

Hauschka’s onside kick bounded into the arms of Carolina Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis held on to the ball as Seattle’s Derrick Coleman took his legs out from under him.

The Panthers (16-1) advanced to next week’s conference title game here against NFC West-champion Arizona (14-3).

Wilson finished his fourth season. He’s just 27 years old. Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman said, responding to those who say the Seahawks’ run is now over, “People get confused. They think our quarterback is 38.

“We are going to be special for a long time.”

Wilson’s played in two Super Bowls already, winning Seattle’s first one two seasons ago. Yet he said this season in which he became the first NFL player to throw for 4,000 yards, rush for 500 and throw at least 30 touchdown — when his Seahawks went from buried to brilliant to ultimately beaten by too much too quickly at Carolina — was his most enjoyable season yet.

“Honestly, my most fun year,” Wilson said. “Just because of the leadership on the team. And the fact that the overcomers that we have are pretty special.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Kenai Sinaphet takes the hand off from head coach, Dalton Schwetz, during practice Wednesday afternoon at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington on August 17, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Fresh start’ for Marysville Pilchuck under new coach Schwetz

The Tomahawks begin practice without longtime coach Brandon Carson, who stepped down following last year’s playoff run.

Stanwood's Ryder Bumgarner rushes with yardage with Arlington's Trenton Lamie, left, closing in the third quarter Friday night at Stanwood High School on September 24, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Prep football: 5 storylines to watch this season

A look at some intriguing questions as local high school football practices get underway.

The Central Welding Supply 125, which serves as the season finale at Evergreen Speedway, will attempt to run on Saturday, after being bumped postponed last weekend due to weather.
Community roundup: ARCA West comes to Evergreen Speedway

Plus, a host of local collegians earn preseason honors, Jake Luton gets released by the Jaguars and more.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox fall to Canadians in slugfest

Everett loses 12-8 as the two teams combine for 30 hits.

Seattle Mariners' Cal Raleigh celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Raleigh homers twice, Mariners top Angels to complete sweep

Seattle hits four total home runs in an 11-7 win over Los Angeles.

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn directs her team during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Sam Morris)
Can 2nd-year coach Quinn lead Storm to 5th WNBA title?

Seattle’s postseason gets underway at home against Washington on Thursday night.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock (2) walks the sideline during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Carroll laments lost chance for Lock, Seahawks due to COVID

The QB will miss an opportunity to start Thursday’s preseason game after getting the virus for the second time.

People explore Everett Memorial Stadium’s new turf and track during an open house event Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Memorial Stadium reopens with new-look field, track

The facility, which originally opened in 1947, underwent renovations this summer.

Angel of the Winds Arena stands ready and waiting Friday afternoon for Kraken fans to arrive for the preseason game against the Edmondton Oilers. (Jake Goldstein-Street / The Herald)
Kraken’s new AHL affiliate set to play game in Everett

The Coachella Valley Firebirds take the ice at Angel of the Winds Arena on Oct. 28.

Most Read