Saturday, the Carolina Panthers face the Seattle Seahawks for the fourth time in three years. Each meeting was in Charlotte, NC, and each game was a low-scoring defensive battle decided by five or less points. Seattle edged out late game victories in all three, after tired Carolina defenses could no longer bear the entire burden.
Now Carolina heads west to try to upset the number one seed, a team they have only scored 28 total points against in their last three meetings. Vegas likes the home team, and given Seattle’s 12-4 record, their six-game winning streak, and CenturyLink Field’s reputation as one of the most the most inhospitable places to play as a road-team, it’s to be expected.
These teams have a history, however, that may make for a closer game than Vegas predicts. Over the last three years, these teams have gotten to know each other well. They’ve fought hard, each game coming down to the wire, often to a single play. Recently, Thomas Davis confidently reminded that they’ve been in these games to the end, and that all the Panthers have to do is make “one more play than Seattle does to win.” Looking back at the past three games, that is all Seattle did — made one more play down the stretch.
One play in three games made for one story. Here’s the story.
Two young quarterbacks battled two stingy defenses. Cam Newton in his second season had a slow day. The Seattle defense didn’t allow a touchdown. Captain Munnerlyn did return an interception for a touchdown, but other than that, Carolina’s offense grinded to a familiar standstill in the redzone. Seattle clearly committed to stopping Carolina’s rushing attack and forcing the Panthers to win with Cam in the air. Cam struggled to get things going, and in an effort to make something out of nothing, held the ball too long, allowing for Seattle to rack up some devastating sacks.
Cam wasn’t the only young quarterback that struggled that day. Russell Wilson threw two interceptions, one resulting in Carolina’s only touchdown. Seattle ran the ball 35 times, hoping to take some of the pressure of their rookie quarterback. It worked, as the clock grinded down. In the last seconds of the 3rd quarter, Wilson hit Golden Tate for a TD down the middle of the field. Seattle’s defense got the job done, forcing Carolina to punt on their only two meaningful possessions of the 4th quarter.
One play: Wilson to Tate for TD
Final 16-12 Seattle
This is a game Carolina should have won. The Panthers defense dominated Seattle for three and half quarters. Wilson connected deep to tight end Jermaine Kearse on a Panthers suspect secondary to open the 4th quarter. Other than this one mistake, this one play, Carolina’s defense shut Seattle down. Things actually looked OK as Carolina responded with a 78-yard drive, until DeAngelo Williams fumbled on the 8-yd line.
This was the momentum destroying play that sealed Carolina’s fate. Seattle then went on a clock-killing drive, where Wilson looked poised, and Marshawn Lynch hammered a spent Carolina defense.
One Play: Deangelo Williams 4th quarter fumble
Final 12-7 Seattle
The Panthers hosted the Seattle Seahawks once again. This time, however, both teams were struggling. Carolina had had only won one game in five weeks, and Seattle was sitting right at .500. The stage was set for another schoolyard fistfight, where the winner had a chance at catching some momentum.
Carolina’s defense looked ready for the challenge, forcing Seattle to punt on their first two possessions. Carolina responded with two solid drives that, however, fizzled with field goals. Seattle also then kicked a couple of field goals and turned the ball over twice, following a similar storyline as their previous meetings. Carolina’s offense again couldn’t score, leaving Seattle in it, despite the defense’s valiant effort. And like their last meeting, Wilson made them pay late, tossing a deep touchdown to tight end, Luke Wilson.
Carolina had played the reigning NFL Champions down to the wire. This time, however, Carolina’s offense did something worse than not scoring, they turned the ball over. Cam Newton had two turnovers that resulted from him trying to do too much. BA fumble on Seattle’s 14-yd line in the first half sapped much of Carolina’s momentum. The Panthers only put together one more offensive drive that game, one that ended in with a field goal.
One Play: Cam Newton 2nd quarter fumble
A New Story
If the pattern continues, this game will be a close one. Clearly, the advantage is with the defending champions on their home-turf. The Seahawks got hot later in the season, much like the Carolina Panthers, but they haven’t been as dominant as they were last season. Much like Carolina, their defense has carried the load. Currently, Seattle leads the league in nearly every defensive category. Over the past five weeks, however, Carolina’s defense has been stingy as well.
The two teams meeting Saturday are starting to resemble those of last year. Both Carolina and Seattle believed their regular season meeting would create momentum for two teams in a mid-season funk. There’s a good chance that momentum, each hoped to capitalize in Week 7, will overtake the victorious team Saturday. Both teams are hot, and the winner of this game will be scorching-hot.
Follow the Professor, aka Tony Dunn, @Cat_Chronicles