The Panthers had a 3 and out to open the game, then Seattle took their first drive 41 yards on 8 plays for a field goal. The Panthers had a 3 and out again, punted, and forced Seattle to punt after a couple of first downs.
Carolina started from their own 5 and finally managed a first down as Newton pitched to Pilares for a first down run. On the next play, Cam completed his first pass of the game in 5 attempts – to Steve Smith – for another first down. It looked like they had finally gotten their offense into gear, but after an incomplete play-action pass, a 2-yard swing pass to Louis Murphy and a Newton scramble for a loss, they had to punt the ball away.
At least things were beginning to look up for the offense at this point, having actually gotten started for the first time in the game.
Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson got them started again and looked sharp, at one point on the drive being in a 2nd and 15 hole. He completed consecutive passes and was picking on another rookie, CB Josh Norman, several times on the drive. Whenever Carolina would make a play defensively, Wilson would make a play and move the chains, keeping the Carolina defense gassed. Luckily, he didn’t notice an open Doug Baldwin OR Golden Tate on 3rd down at the Panthers’ 19 yard line as they settled for another field goal to make it 6-0, Seahawks.
The Panthers took over at their own 23 and took a shot at Steve Smith going deep. It was incomplete, despite apparent pass interference on CB Richard Sherman. Another incomplete pass and a sack by first-round rookie Bruce Irvin demonstrated why he was drafted so high back in April. Yet another 3-and-out for Carolina.
By now it’s obvious that the Seahawks came to play and so did the already-crippled Panthers’ defense, missing Jon Beason and Chris Gamble, their two most accomplished players aside from Charles Johnson. The defense really was stepping up despite giving up some yardage between the 20′s while waiting for that big-motored offense to warm up.
On the Panthers’ final drive of the first half, Cam Newton continued to struggle but he had help from others. Steve Smith had previously dropped two catchable passes and Jonathan Stewart dropped a short one over the middle that would have given them a first down on third down, but the drive was kept alive by a roughing penalty as Newton was hit late.
Brandon LaFell caught Newton’s second completion on a shallow crossing route that he took 21 yards for a first down. Again, it appeared as if they were getting something going when Earl Thomas dropped a would-be interception on a deep ball for Steve Smith.
Newton took the gifts from Seattle on the drive and finished a 15-yard first-down run with a punishing hit on the Seattle defensive backs trying to haul him down along the left sideline. The contact got Newton’s Panthers another 5 yards, despite already having gotten the first down.
On the next play, a designed run for Cam gained another first down. Things were looking up….but not for long.
Newton hadn’t targeted TE Greg Olson the entire time yet and didn’t this time, either. Instead, he threw two incompletions before hitting Steve Smith for a short gain. Smith had been targeted 9 times by now for 2 completions. They settled for a field goal of their own to go into the half down 6-3.
At halftime I thought about the game as usual. It has been apparent to me even before this game started that the Panthers’ offense just was not playing consistently. If not for the defense rising to the challenge, this game could have gotten very ugly very quickly.
Dropped passes, not seeing open targets, and a couple of passes batted down at the line made Newton’s 3-of-15 passing for 40 yards in the first half understandable. The statistics make it look like Newton was off, and certainly not seeing/targeting Greg Olson didn’t help, but the entire team was playing inconsistently….just like they have all year.
The Panthers didn’t have to wait long for their first break of the second half. Leon Washington had a 47-yard opening-half kickoff return but fumbled it away with the Panthers recovering at around the 40. Once again, their fortunes were going up and down as they had yet another 3-and-out without being close enough for a field goal attempt.
What an emotional roller-coaster ride this had to be for the Panthers’ players, especially after what was about to come.
Russell Wilson threw a ball behind Anthony McCoy that was intercepted by Captain Munnerlyn and returned for a 33-yard touchdown down the sideline.
Up, down, up, down…now up once again.
On their ensuing possession, Wilson threw another interception – this time, on a perfectly-thrown pass.
Wilson completed a short pass to Marshawn Lynch, but LB Thomas Davis was on the ground beneath him and smartly reached up, grabbing Lynch’s arm, which made him bobble the reception. Rookie LB Luke Kuechly didn’t need any more prodding as he fought for the ball and came up with it, and a short return followed.
Next, Cam threw a 3rd and 4 pass in the dirt. NICE. Cam’s obviously pressing…but the defense was holding. First down and ten.
Steve Smith had been battling Richard Sherman all game in a fierce way and was called for holding on the next play. First and 20.
Jonathan Stewart dropped a screen to make it 2nd and 20, but the pass was behind him.
Cam was definitely starting to press, release early, and hear footsteps by now.
Josh Thomas had a wonderful open-field tackle on a 51-yard punt by rookie Josh Nortman to force Seattle to go about 90 yards if they wanted to get into the end zone. They couldn’t, and punted, and DeAngelo Williams fumbled on a pitch-left for a turnover at our own 30 yard line. Williams had the ball snugly, but Brandon Browner simply ripped it out of his hands in an All-Pro-type defensive play.
Roller coaster down….
After several runs to get the ball at the 12 yard line, Wilson scrambled and tossed an incomplete pass out of bounds. The Seahawks are worst in the NFL in the red zone, so what do you think happened?
That’s right, on third down, Wilson threw a TD pass to WR Golden Tate.
Did I mention the Panthers’ defense leads the NFL in missed tackles?
Thomas Davis, who should know better, hit Tate at the 5 and didn’t wrap him up, giving the Seahawks a 13-10 lead.
On their first play, DeAngelo Williams dropped yet another Cam Newton swing pass in the right flat. A short gain up the middle by Jonathan Stewart closed out the 3rd quarter.
In shades of the Atlanta game and Cam’s fumble, Cam completed a pass to Stewart who ran for a first down…before fumbling the ball backward and recovering to in fact give them a 4th and 1.
A weak punt gave the ‘hawks the ball at their own 35 yard line.
A pass to Zach Miller got them into field goal range before rookie LB Luke Kuechly tackled Marshawn Lynch for a 4-yard loss. The defense forced Wilson to throw the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack on 3rd and 13 to set up 44-yard field goal attempt which was good to give the ‘hawks a 16-10 lead.
Uh-oh. In my game prediction I said “the first team to 15 points wins this game.”
FINALLY, the Panthers picked themselves off the mat of inconsistent play and missed opportunities to get down to a first and goal at the Seattle 6 yard line. Newton ran around right end for a gain of 3, then Williams lost that gain on a handoff. Newton then fired a strike to Louis Murphy, who was barely kept out of the end zone by…Brandon Browder.
Rivera decided to go for it. Newton rolled right, Ben Hartsock was in the middle of the end zone, and Newton, for at least the third time in the game, threw the pass to him in the dirt.
Oh well. At least the Seahawks were packed-in at their own 1 yard line to start their drive but after 2 short runs, “The Beast” took it up the middle for an 11-yard gain and a first down. Another run took the clock down to the 2-minute warning.
Roller coaster…waaayyyy down now.
After running some more to milk the clock and sap Carolina’s remaining timeout, the ‘hawks had to punt on a 4th and one…or so we THOUGHT!
Nope. A high snap was brought in by the punter who immediately ran out of the end zone for a safety, a play that looked planned despite the high snap. It still gave the ‘hawks a 16-12 lead, keeping the Panthers from tying with a field goal. Captain Munnerlyn took the kick out to the 31-yard line with 54 seconds left and no timeouts.
Alas, it was not to be as Newton fumbled as he was stripped of the ball on the second play of the drive.
As predicted, the first team to 15 points won the game.
Seattle 16, Carolina 12.
Now that the Panthers are 1-4 on the season, it is officially time to panic.