Russell Wilson didn’t throw for 300 yards and, in fact, didn’t quite throw for 200. He didn’t run for 100 and, in fact, didn’t get 40. He missed a wide-open receiver for an easy touchdown, bounced a 12-yard pass, twice was involved with near-killer fumbles, and had a miserable passer rating of 77.5. But as he has done so often, Wilson incredibly found a way to beat the Carolina Panthers Sunday. Saving it all for last, naturally.
What Wilson needed was a nine-play, 80-yard drive with the clock ticking late in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks staring at a season-altering defeat. Of course, Wilson got it, concluding the march with his best pass of the day, a 23-yard touchdown to TE Luke Willson with 47 seconds left that lifted the Seahawks to an improbable 13-9 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
The 12th fourth-quarter, come-from-behind drive of Wilson’s career might have saved the season, considering the sorry fate that awaits teams that open with a 3-4 record. The Seahawks improved to 4-3, snapped a two-game losing skid, and avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2011.
For an array of reasons, each underscored by missed opportunities, the Seahawks looked like losers much of the game. Perhaps they played distracted due to Wilson’s alleged lack of “blackness.” Or perhaps pre-game stories to the effect that the Seahawks are “fed up” with Marshawn Lynch and intend to jettison him in the off-season, contributed to their early malaise.
But after much uncharacteristic boobery by the locals, it came down to this: after Graham Gano kicked his third field goal to give Carolina a 9-6 lead with 4:37 left, Wilson and the Seahawks had one final shot to redeem themselves. But they needed to cover 80 yards fast and efficiently to avoid coming home 3-4.
Wilson threw 11 yards to TE Cooper Helfet for a first down and then Kevin Norwood for 11 more — two receivers, incidentally, on no one’s radar a month ago. After OG James Carpenter collected Seattle’s fourth pre-snap penalty of the day, Wilson bailed him out with a 14-yard scramble setting up second-and-one.
Then Wilson found rookie Paul Richardson, practically a non-entity until the Percy Harvin trade, for nine yards. Lynch added nine on two runs. With 1:22 remaining and facing second and five, Wilson, from the shotgun, skirted right end for seven to the Carolina 23, an easy chip for Steven Hauschka, who had earlier kicked a franchise-record tying 58-yard field goal.
Stymied in the red zone all game, there was no need this time for Hauschka. Wilson threaded his last pass perfectly, in such a way that no Panther could make a play. Willson bounced off two defenders and scored.
To set up Gano’s final three, Cam Newton made one remarkable deep pass, a 51-yard bomb to rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin with All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas draped all over him. But the Seahawks were not about to let Newton do further damage.
After forcing Newton into an incompletion, Bruce Irvin sacked him on back-to-back plays, forcing a fourth-and-25. The Seahawks put such pressure on Newton that he, like Wilson earlier, bounced a screen pass to end it.
That the Seahawks required another fourth-quarter semi-miracle from Wilson to escape Charlotte with their third win in three years there underscores the chances they frittered away.
In the first quarter, following the first of two three-and-outs, the Seahawks failed to recover a muffed punt easily with their grasp at the Carolina 29-yard line, botching a scoring opportunity.
In the second quarter, Jon Ryan uncharacteristically butchered a punt, sending it 25 yards, the mis-kick helping set up a Gano field goal. Then an almost sure interception of Newton bounced off Tharold Simon’s chest.
Just before the half, with Seattle at the Carolina seven-yard line, Wilson threw a perfect pass to Lynch in the end zone that would have given the Seahawks a 10-6 lead — after they ran only six plays the entire first quarter. But the ball skipped through Lynch’s fingers and was intercepted.
After backup CB Marcus Burley picked off Newton early in the third quarter, giving the Seahawks field position at the Carolina 40, Wilson took Seattle to the 23. Facing second-and-10, he rolled left, suckered a linebacker and had Helfet all alone for what should have been an easy touchdown. But Wilson — this never happens — bobbled the ball and couldn’t get any juice on his throw, burying it a foot in front of his tight end.
Prior to his game-winning catch, Willson couldn’t hang on to a throw at the goal line that could have gone for a touchdown. K.J. Wright dropped what should have been an interception in Carolina territory. And, from the Carolina 21 late in the third, Wilson and backup center Steven Schilling failed to negotiate a snap, the Panthers recovering the bobble.
The Seahawks also might not have required Wilson’s final-drive theatrics if Michael Bennett, his arms enveloping Newton, had sacked him in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The safety would have provided an 8-6 lead with 9:26 left.
But Bennett couldn’t hold on. Newton wriggled free. Two plays later, Newton and Benjamin hooked up for the 51-yard play, setting up Carolina’s go-ahead points.
Except for the fact that Wilson was bound to do something special, several things forecast for this game didn’t pan out. With Seattle ranked No. 2 in rushing at 153.3 per game and Carolina in the league’s bottom third at stopping the run, it set up as a Lynch showcase. But the Seahawks ran for only 119 yards; Lynch for 62 on 14 carries. Twenty-five came on one play.
The Seahawks held six previous opponents to 89.9 rushing yards, but Jonathan Stewart (79) and Newton (24) combined for 103.
Russell Wilson’s fourth-quarter drive will get the headlines, but Seattle’s defense finally had a big day, forcing two turnovers, sacking Newton three times and hitting him a dozen more. Carolina converted only two of its 10 third-down attempts.
Hauschka’s 58-yard field goal in the second quarter tied the franchise record for the longest three by Josh Brown at Green Bay Oct. 5, 2003. Hauschka’s previous longest: 54 at Houston Nov. 9, 2008 . . . Wilson has 28 wins in the regular season as a starting quarterback . . . Seattle has won 24 of its last 31 regular-season games . . . OL J.R. Sweezy was injured just before halftime and didn’t return . . . For the first time this season, the Seahawks used Sherman as a punt returner. He was had one fair catch . . .The Seahawks are 10-4 in their last 14 road games dating to 2012 and 6-2 in their last eight 10 a.m. starts . . . The Seahawks lead the Panthers 5-2 in their all-time series . . . Before making two sacks on Carolina’s final drive, Irvin twice was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone.
The Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field next Sunday for a 1:25 p.m. game (CBS) against the Oakland Raiders.
1st Qtr. (Panthers 3-0): Graham Gano 31 FG, 6:21. Drive: 11 plays, 58 yards in 6:26. Key Plays: J. Cotchery 13 pass from Cam Newton; Kelvin Benjamin 17-yard pass from Newton to Seattle 26.
2nd Qtr. (Panthers, 6-0),: Gano 26 FG, 13:23. Drive: 12 plays, 46 yards in 6:21. Key Plays: 25-yard punt by Jon Ryan, giving Carolina field position at own 46. Greg Olsen 15 pass from Newton to Seattle 19; Newton first down on 4th and 1.
2nd Qtr. (Seahawks 6-3): Steven Hauschka 58 FG, 11:00. Drive: 5 plays, 13 yards in 2:23. Key Play: Ricardo Lockette 10 pass from Russell Wilson on 3rd down.
3rd Qtr. (Seahawks 6-6): Hauschka 29 FG, 7:13. Drive: 12 plays, 29 yards in 6:00. Key Plays: Marcus Burley interception; 14-yard scramble by Wilson for 1st down.
4th Qtr. (Panthers 9-6): Gano 46 FG, 4:37. Drive: 9 plays, 46 yards in 2:46. Key Play: Benjamin 51 yard pass from Newton following a near safety.
4th Qtr. (Seahawks 13-9): Luke Willson 23 pass from Russell Wilson (Hauschka kick), 0:47. Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards in 3:50. Key Plays: Kevin Norwood 11 pass from Wilson for 1st down; Wilson 14-yard run for 1st down.