CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — It was 3 minutes and 26 seconds that encapsulated all the best attributes of these Seattle Seahawks.
And it means the Seahawks will be racing down the home stretch for a spot in the postseason.
Seattle scored 10 points in the final 3:26, including Sebastian Janikowski’s game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired, and the Seahawks are back in the thick of the playoff hunt thanks to their come-from-behind 30-27 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Two weeks ago Seattle was 4-5 and facing daunting games against fellow NFC playoff aspirants Green Bay and Carolina. Both appeared to be must-wins for the Seahawks to keep their postseason hopes alive.
But their 27-24 victory at home against Green Bay on Nov. 15, combined with Sunday’s win at Carolina, pulled the Seahawks into a four-way tie for a wild-card spot at 6-5 — Carolina, Washington and Dallas are also 6-5 (the NFC East title remains in play), while the likes of Minnesota and Green Bay are clustered nearby.
”We have a long ways to go,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re alive, but we have a long ways to go. We’re really happy going home, it seems like we’ve been away for so long. But we’re already in the playoffs as far as we’re concerned, we have to win every game and we have to do it one game at a time.”
It all came about thanks to more late-game heroics from quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense. Carolina led most of the game and appeared to be the better team, and the outlook appeared grim for the Seahawks when the Panthers took a 27-20 lead with 6:57 remaining on Christian McCaffrey’s 2-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.
But then Wilson went to work. First he engineered a seven-play, 75-yard drive in which, on fourth-and-3, he threw an inch-perfect 35-yard touchdown pass to David Moore to tie the score.
Carolina responded and thought it had moved itself into field-goal range, but a last-ditch tackle by Tre Flowers forced the Panthers to try from 52 yards, and Graham Gano’s attempt sailed slightly wide right to keep the game tied with 1:40 remaining.
The Seahawks, with no timeouts remaining, faced third-and-5 from their own 47. But Wilson found Tyler Lockett deep for a 43-yard reception to put Seattle in easy field-goal range. The Seahawks ran the clock down, and Janikowski made no mistake to give Seattle a vital win.
”You have to have no fear,” Wilson said. “You can’t doubt, you have to have no fear. I think you either look forward to the moment or you fear it, that’s the difference in what we’ve been able to do the past several weeks. I firmly believe you have to have no fear, you have to want to be in those moments, and we did that.”
A big component of the comeback was the play of the offensive line. Carolina blitzed all day, and it caused Seattle problems early. But the Seahawks adjusted, and both Moore’s and Lockett’s late receptions came on plays when Seattle picked up the blitz, giving Wilson time to throw.
Seattle’s defense had its struggles, allowing a season-high 476 yards of offense. But the Seahawks did a good job stiffening when the Panthers entered the red zone. Carolina managed just three touchdowns on seven trips inside the Seattle 20, including turning the ball over on downs and throwing an interception in the end zone.
It got somewhat lost following the late-game twists and turns, but Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald’s interception was a huge play in the game. Carolina led 13-10 at halftime, received the second-half kickoff, and the Panthers marched down the field into scoring position. But when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton tried to force a throw into the end zone, McDougald reached an arm up and tapped the ball to himself for an interception. That play kept the Panthers from making it a two-score game, and Seattle managed to stay within sight the rest of the way.
Russell Wilson, Seattle. The Seahawks’ quarterback had another masterful performance, completing 22 of 31 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Tyler Lockett/David Moore, Seattle. Each receiver broke the 100-yard mark and scored a touchdown — Lockett had five catches for 107 yards, Moore had four catches for 103 yards — and each made a crucial play down the stretch.
Bobby Wagner, Seattle. The linebacker had another mammoth effort with 11 tackles, including two on Newton on consecutive plays inside the 10 that forced a turnover on downs.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina. It was a career game for the Panthers’ running back as he had 17 carries for 125 yards, 11 catches for 112 yards, and scored two TDs.
Cam Newton, Carolina. The Panthers’ quarterback was a perfect 14-for-14 in the first half, and finished the game 25-for-30 for 256 yards and two touchdowns with one pick. He also ran eight times for 63 yards.
Seattle played the game without linebacker K.J. Wright, who missed his eighth game of the season because of a knee injury. Receiver Doug Baldwin, who was listed as questionable because of a groin injury, played and appeared uninhibited. The Seahawks had no significant injuries during the game.
The Seahawks have a massively favorable schedule down the stretch. Seattle plays four of its final five games at home, and three of its games are against downtrodden NFC West rivals San Francisco and Arizona, which have four wins between them. The first of those games comes next Sunday when the Seahawks play host to the 49ers at CenturyLink Field.