Seahawks get chance ‘to correct’ a wrong against Panthers

RENTON — If there was a play that defined the first half of the season for the Seattle Seahawks, it came with 32 seconds remaining in Seattle’s Week 6 game against the Carolina Panthers.

It had tight end Greg Olsen, Carolina’s top receiving threat, running uncovered into the end zone for what was the game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass to complete an improbable comeback in the Panthers’ 27-23 win.

It had Seahawks defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, a pair of Pro Bowlers, pointing fingers at one another in anger and confusion.

It had Seattle coughing up yet another fourth-quarter lead, the fourth time the Seahawks did that in their first six contests.

So when the Seahawks take on the Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday in the NFC divisional playoff round, it’s a chance for atonement, not only for their regular season loss to Carolina, but for the entire first six weeks of the season.

“It’s awesome,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said about getting another crack at the Panthers. “You always want to correct your wrongs.”

That Week 6 game against Carolina looked like it was going to be the turning point for Seattle. A win would have evened the Seahawks’ record at 3-3 and been the team’s first against a quality opponent. For 45 minutes Seattle dominated the Panthers, carrying a 23-14 lead into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks’ stuttering start to the season was on the brink of being over.

That’s when it all fell apart for Seattle. Carolina, which struggled to move the ball throughout the game, marched down the field on a pair of 80-yard scoring drives. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was in the midst of a dreadful day — he was 9-for-23 for 102 yards and two interceptions — performed a sudden transformation over the final two drives, going 11-for-13 for 157 yards and a touchdown. Carolina scored twice in the game’s final four minutes to snatch victory away from the Seahawks, with the communication breakdown in the secondary that led to Olsen’s touchdown providing the final insulting image.

“On the game winner we screwed it up and busted a coverage,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll lamented. “But other than that we played really well against them for a long time, and then Cam really got on the stick in the fourth quarter. He hit everything and they were able to make all the plays they needed.”

The loss, particularly the manner of it, stung for the Seahawks. But it’s also a moment they remember.

“What was it, game six during the season?” said Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed the game because of a pectoral injury. “I feel like we’ve grown a lot since then and it’s just an opportunity to show how much we’ve grown since the last time we played them.”

This will be a different Seattle team than the one the Panthers faced in Week 6. Defensively, the Seahawks were their usual dominating selves against the Panthers — with the exception of the fourth-quarter collapse that became all too familiar early in the season. Those fourth-quarter woes have long disappeared, and Seattle finished the season allowing the fewest points in the league for the fourth straight year.

It’s on offense where the biggest changes have been made by Seattle. The Seahawks sputtered through the first six weeks of the season, particularly in the passing game as quarterback Russell Wilson found himself under constant pressure — he was sacked four times by Carolina. The sack issues have been ironed out through a combination of improved protection and tweaks to the offensive scheme, and Seattle averaged 32 points per game during the second half of the regular season.

“I think we’re executing better,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I think we’re protecting better. Really, we’re doing just about everything better. We’re still running the ball well, but we’re probably throwing it better than we did even at that time. … We have way more guys involved in the offense now, whether it’s wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, we can get the ball to any of those guys. We can get it out quick, we can take shots down the field, and we’re doing it at a pretty efficient level.”

But Carolina isn’t the same team, either. At the time the Panthers may have been 4-0, but those victories were the less-than-convincing kind against lesser competition. However, Carolina has proven itself over the course of the season, winning its first 14 games, finishing the season 15-1, and scoring the most points of any team in the NFL.

“More than anything else it’s experience,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said about the difference in the Panthers from Week 6 to now. “We played a lot of young guys early on and those guys have had a pretty good opportunity to develop and grow in our scheme. We have a lot of guys back on the field who weren’t healthy earlier, so now I just think it’s one of those things that as the season has gone on we’ve grown, and I just feel comfortable with who we are as a football team.”

The Panthers won’t make it easy, but the Seahawks are thrilled to have their chance at atonement.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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