Even before the Seahawks learned they would play the Green Bay Packers next Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, the national media and major newspapers began paying their respects to the reigning Super Bowl champions.
No one’s handing Seattle the Lombardi Trophy just yet. But quarterback Russell Wilson’s outstanding performance, several eye-popping plays by strong safety Kam Chancellor and another ground-shaking night by fans at CenturyLink were cited again and again. Saturday’s 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers wasn’t perfect, of course, but several declared the Seahawks the favorite to repeat.
First, here are links to all of The Seattle Times great content, then an early roundup of national media reaction. Look for more Sunday night or Monday morning.
The press box shook.
When Kam Chancellor put the Seattle Seahawks’ 31-17 divisional playoff win away with a 90-yard interception return – really, it was done long before then, but play along with me – the loudest crowd in the NFL erupted. As Chancellor ran down the near sideline with the longest touchdown in Seahawks playoff history, making the score 31-10, the noise was outrageous and the press box moved, if just a little bit.
This is why the Seahawks are so good. They have players like Chancellor, who isn’t even the first- or second-most celebrated player in the Seahawks’ secondary, but he’s one of the best strong safeties in the NFL and was awesome on Saturday. And whether it’s the noise, intimidation or just the team on the field, CenturyLink Field is almost impenetrable for opponents.
The Dallas Cowboys won here earlier this season, and who knows, they might do it again. But if the Cowboys or Green Bay Packers (Sunday’s winner comes here on Jan. 18) knocks off these Seahawks before they reach a second straight Super Bowl, they’ll have done something special. Panthers-Seahawks was the “other playoff game” on Saturday, mostly because the Seahawks never really allowed the Panthers much hope that they could win.
It was a brief encounter when Cam met Kam, sort of a hello-and-goodbye affair.
Carolina’s Cam Newton threw the pass, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor picked it out of the chilly air and ran it back for a 90-yard interception.
“Kam Chancellor,” teammate Richard Sherman said, “damages people’s souls.”
And Saturday, the 232-pound sledgehammer crushed the Panthers, putting an exclamation point on Seattle’s 31-17 victory in a divisional playoff game at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks are one step closer to becoming the first NFL team in a decade to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They will play host to the winner of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Green Bay for the right to represent the NFC in the league’s marquee game Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.
It was third-and-7 for the Seahawks from their 37-yard-line. Quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back, scanned the field and lofted a deep fade across his body and the field. He later estimated it traveled 50 yards in the air. Receiver Jermaine Kearse jockeyed for position with cornerback Bene Benwikere; it looked like he shoved his way into a sliver of separation. The ball landed in Kearse’s right hand, only one hand necessary, with Benwikere just behind him and open space ahead. He crossed into the end zone for a 63-yard score, the longest postseason pass in franchise history, and a 14-7 lead that only grew as Saturday night unfolded.
The Seahawks advanced to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday with a 31-17 victory defined by a single pass. It was an elite throw, the kind that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers make. It was also the kind of pass that Russell Wilson makes, and it doesn’t matter whether Wilson is on their level or whether he will be. It doesn’t matter if he’s an elite quarterback, or one backed by an elite defense. All that mattered Saturday was another Seahawks win, another postseason march, another NFC title within reach. All that mattered was the potential to add another ring.
The throw made the Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon nostalgic. He stood in the Seahawks locker room afterward and marveled at the window Wilson placed the ball into, just out of the defender’s reach and just within Kearse’s grasp. It’s really the only place he could have put it for a completion. It was the kind of throw that reminded Moon of, well, himself.
“That was a beautifully thrown football,” he said. “That ball couldn’t have been any more on the money.”
When general manager John Schneider entered the locker room after the win, he didn’t make a beeline for Russell Wilson, though Wilson was 8 for 8 with three touchdown passes on third down. No, he went straight for the guy he took in the middle rounds years ago out of Virginia Tech, when Chancellor was thought to be more of a linebacker-safety hybrid with middling upside as a pure pass defender.
Through his development, Chancellor has become one of the most technique-efficient and multi-faceted enforcers in recent memory. Yes, you can focus on the big hits. Sherman did after the game when he said Chancellor “plays in a dark place” and “damages people’s souls,” but it was the player who has improved greatly in coverage, and the ability to quickly read offenses, who came away with the game-sealing pick-six with 6:11 left in the game.
Chancellor jumped a third-read throw from Newton to Ed Dickson, and it was off to the races. As he said after the game, “All I saw was green, and green means go.”
In the end, though, it was how Chancellor read the play and not any level of intimidation that made the difference.
“Give the D-line all the credit on the interception,” he said. “I looked back and saw Cam under pressure. It looked like he was about to get tackled and then he threw the ball right to me. I read the play and the pressure, and finished it home.”
The Seattle Seahawks are inevitable. Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, the Carolina Panthers provided genuine resistance. Cam Newton plowed into the line and rifled passes. The offensive line held its own. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis launched themselves into running backs and chased down ball carriers from one sideline to the other. They sustained drives. They slowed down Marshawn Lynch.
But at no point in Seattle’s 31-17 victory did Carolina ever seize something close to control, because the Seahawks do not allow it. They remind you constantly how much more varied they are than you, how many more weapons they possess, how much better they are. They play such a fierce brand of football it sometimes seems like they’re playing a different version of the sport. The Panthers played a decent game Saturday, and the Seahawks rendered them a pile of teal-black refuse.
The Seahawks need two more victories to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since 2004. Who is going to stop them? They showed vulnerabilities Saturday night; the Panthers had success when they ran the ball straight at them, backup cornerback Tharold Simon was picked on and Kelvin Benjamin was at times too big and physical to stop.
But those blemishes only served to reinforce Seattle’s dominance. When you think you see an opening, a weakness, Seattle reminds you of its diverse, endless strengths. You think you’re making progress, and then Russell Wilson is running around you, or Kam Chancellor is jumping over something, or Earl Thomas is flying in from the second deck or a tight end named Luke Willson is tearing through the secondary. Plug one hole, another opens. Either way, the ship is sinking.
The Seahawks have given up the fewest points and yards in the league for two consecutive seasons. They had ceded all of 39 points in the last six games. They had not allowed a touchdown over the last 10 quarters. Their collective reaction: So what?
Every play, they must prove themselves — the Seattle ethos — and the Seahawks had to do so again after Carolina gashed them on a 79-yard scoring drive. On it, Newton converted all four third downs, the final one with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin that silenced the crowd, at least temporarily.
All Carolina did last weekend was hold Arizona to 78 yards, the lowest total in postseason history. The Seahawks noticed, and they were not impressed.
“They were going against the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback,” Seattle linebacker K. J. Wright said last week of the Panthers, “so I don’t think we should praise them too much.”
One similarity between that third-string quarterback, Ryan Lindley, and Wilson: They both throw right-handed. As for other similarities: See the previous sentence.
Wilson extends plays and makes smart decisions and can loft a ball 35 yards downfield into an area roughly the size of a keyhole. That is what he did on a 63-yard scoring play by Jermaine Kearse, who slipped behind the rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere and caught the arcing pass with his right hand, cradling the ball as he raced toward the end zone.
As impressive as the pick-six was, it arguably wasn’t Chancellor most impressive athletic move Saturday. This is where the leaping tall men comes in.
Almost everyone knows about Chancellor’s vicious tackling skills (he had 11 tackles Saturday), but he also showed he’s one heck of a high hurdler. Chancellor timed his leaps perfectly on back-to-back field goal attempts by Carolina at the end of the first half, jumping over the players at the line of scrimmage and heading straight for Carolina kicker Graham Gano.
“I did that one time last year or the year before, but it was failed mission,” Chancellor said of his line leap. “I fell over the center. But this was something our coaches saw this week because they saw their linemen stayed low, so we decided to put it in. We just wanted to jump them.”
Carolina offensive lineman Chris Scott had a false start on the first attempt. Scott was probably shocked to see a 6-foot-3, 230-pound man leaping over everyone. Then, Chancellor did it again.
“I was so confident with it,” he said. “I saw how it went with the first jump, so I said, ‘I might as well do it again.'”
Chancellor showed his gazelle-like skills a second time. Gano managed to get the kick off, but he missed it badly. However, Chancellor missed the block and was flagged for running into the kicker, a slight bump when Gano fell down.
“Once he saw me, he just shanked it far left,” Chancellor said. “There was no way I could get my hand on it.”
Cam Newton didn’t have to look far on Saturday night to see what a franchise quarterback looks like.
He was wearing No. 3 for the Seattle Seahawks.
Russell Wilson stepped up on the big stage once again, completing all eight of his third-down pass attempts — three of them for touchdowns — in a 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers that sent the defending Super Bowl champions back to the NFC Championship Game.
Newton, who celebrates big moments with his patented “Superman” move, looked human.
His first-quarter fumble led to Seattle’s first touchdown. He took a third-quarter sack in Seattle territory that derailed a drive with Carolina trailing only 14-10.
Then came his biggest mistake, a fourth-quarter interception that safety Kam Chancellor returned 90 yards for a touchdown, registering what locals called a “Kam Quake” on the seismograph.
On a night when Newton needed to create a “Cam Quake” for the Panthers to keep their improbable playoff run alive, he couldn’t cause a rumble.
In saying it’s not too early to call the Seahawks a potential dynasty, we also understand that they haven’t even won the franchise’s second Super Bowl yet. Heck, this team could even lose at home in the NFC Championship game next weekend.
However, under my definition, that wouldn’t necessarily preclude the team from being a dynasty.
Look at the San Francisco Giants of the Major League Baseball world. They have yet to win back-to-back championships, but have earned three World Series titles in the past five years. No one in their right mind would conclude that San Francisco isn’t a dynasty.
Based on Seattle’s roster make up and the job its front office has done, there’s no real reason to believe this team won’t win at least one more Super Bowl before some of its core players depart for larger contracts in the coming years. In this, we’re able to conclude that they may very well be a dynasty in the making.
And while teams likes the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals might have something to say about that moving forward, it’s rather clear that Seattle is the class of the best division in football.
Things could change quickly, but this is a squad that will contend for a Super Bowl every year for at least the next half decade. In and of itself, that makes Pete Carroll’s team a potential dynasty in an era where most of us concluded dynasties couldn’t be had.
1. Seattle still looks somewhat beatable. From where we’re sitting, the Percy Harvin trade (and letting Golden Tate bolt in free agency) will be a fascinating case study on team harmony versus the overriding benefit of other-worldly skill position players. Russell Wilson certainly has a telepathy developed with some of his receivers, seen clearly on Doug Baldwin‘s opening touchdown, but what would Saturday’s score have been with another X-factor drawing the defense’s top cornerback? While it hasn’t caught up with Seattle yet, we wonder how long they can survive on Marshawn Lynch‘s power and Wilson’s sheer magic.
2. Wilson was impressive Saturday, but especially in tight situations where he needed to match up against charging defenders with a serious height advantage. Seattle had the bootleg game open Saturday night but that meant Wilson one-on-one with an unblocked linebacker or defensive end. With the deft precision of a hook shot, he was consistently able to pick up first downs.
3. I don’t think we needed to see Kam Chancellor crush Mike Tolbert — one of the toughest backs in the NFL to tackle — in order to reaffirm our belief that he is quite possibly the most intimidating safety to play the game since Troy Polamalu was in his prime. But it was still something. Chancellor also hopped the offensive line twice in a row and nearly blocked two kicks at the end of the first half. Oh yeah, his pick six just happened to be the longest score in Seattle postseason history. He was, once again, unbelievably impressive.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks stand two wins shy of another coronation.
Saturday night’s 31-17 division-round demolition of the Carolina Panthers advanced top seed Seattle into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against Sunday’s Dallas-Green Bay winner. The rout was a showcase of classic Seahawks football — a fast, takeaway defense, hard running and someone finding a way to make a play that made the biggest difference time and again on third down.
Their win was the first for a defending champion in a decade.
Three times on third-and-long, that big-play someone proved to be quarterback Russell Wilson, who found receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse running free on seam routes for a pair of first-half touchdowns. Then, Wilson sealed the deal with a 25-yard, fourth-quarter scoring strike to tight end Luke Wilson to beat a third-and-10 blitz.
When the Panthers loaded up to take away Marshawn Lynch’s running, Wilson put on a passing clinic with his most efficient postseason performance yet. He completed 15 of 22 for 268 yards with three touchdowns to key the Seahawks’ seventh straight win.
The dual-threat quarterback was the reason why the Seahawks look to be the most complete team in the postseason after he extended his astonishing 41-13 run as the league’s winningest quarterback in his first three seasons by playing efficiently and error free.
At this point, though, it would be tough not to consider Seattle the favorite to take home the Lombardi Trophy yet again.
This didn’t seem all that likely a few scant months ago, when the Seahawks were just 3-3 and coming off back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Rams. There were reports of tension in the locker room, injuries to important players and Percy Harvin was about to be traded. They were in serious danger of becoming next in the line of defending Super Bowl champs to miss the playoffs. All Seattle has done is win 10 of its last 11 games since that point, dropping only a road game to the Chiefs in Arrowhead.
The Seahawks again have the most terrifying defense in the league, a defense that’s allowed a total of 56 points during their current seven-game win streak. Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the offense are on a tear of their own, pounding away at the opposition with the running game until they can break for a big play.
Wilson is a magician inside and outside the pocket, buying time with his legs while always keeping his eyes down the field and looking to make things happen with his arm. And if there’s no throwing lane, he just takes off and makes tacklers miss before safely sliding or jumping out of bounds to avoid a hit.
That happened time and again in this one, even as Carolina attempted to control the flow of the game with a ball-control offense. Wilson was terrific on third downs (Seattle converted 7-of-13 for the game), while Lynch patiently picked up yards against a good Panthers run defense before breaking off a Beastquake-esque run late in the game. Combined with the work done by Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and the rest of the defense, it was enough to send Seattle into the next round.
The biggest problem was that Seattle had better players. That was the bottom line. And nowhere was that more apparent than at quarterback.
The Panthers have to make a $100 million decision at some point on Newton and whether they want to give him a significant contract extension (Newton is locked into playing for Carolina for 2015, but not beyond that).
This game showcased both sides of whether or not to make that offer. Newton threw for 246 yards and two TDs, ran for 37 yards and generally was Carolina’s best offensive threat.
But Newton’s three turnovers were either poor decisions, poor throws or both. He was badly outplayed by Wilson, the former N.C. State star who was drafted two rounds later and is half a foot shorter but hardly ever makes the big error.
Rivera said he would look back at this season “with a little humor and a little pride.” Carolina’s bizarre year included Newton’s car accident, Rivera’s house fire and both a winning and a losing streak that stretch more than a month.
Finally, it all came to a halt against Seattle – the team everyone in the NFC is trying to figure out how to beat.
Carolina will visit the Seahawks again in the 2015 regular season and get another dose of the NFL’s loudest crowd. But Panthers fans should hope the team comes more prepared for that battle – with a handful of difference-making players who aren’t on the roster now but must be acquired.
As for Newton, he will undoubtedly still be Carolina’s quarterback in 2015. And if he is ever going to beat Wilson and Seattle with the Panthers, he will have to be a lot better.
The Carolina Panthers’ improbable late-season surge ended in the din of CenturyLink Field under the weight of three turnovers by their franchise quarterback.
Cam Newton turned in another poor performance against Seattle, losing a fumble and tossing two interceptions, including a pick-six as the reigning Super Bowl-champion Seahawks rolled to a 31-17 win Saturday before 68,524 fans, many of whom will wake up hoarse Sunday morning.
The Panthers (8-9-1), who closed the regular season with a four-game winning streak, had their improbable playoff run end. But not before they joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only teams to win their division – and a playoff game – after finishing with a losing regular-season record.
The Panthers didn’t just lose to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, they were unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs by 14 points. The 31-17 score wasn’t quite indicative of how this divisional-round contest played out, however.
Seattle played well and truly put a hurting on Carolina, especially in the fourth quarter. But the Panthers had trouble getting out of their own way at times, and squandered a number of opportunities to keep a win within striking distance.
It’s impossible to look at a game that was filled with three Panthers turnovers and more than a few breakdowns in the secondary, and focus on one play that brought on this loss more than any other. But an early fourth- quarter incompletion — a drop by fullback Mike Tolbert on third down — more than summed up how the Panthers’ day went.
With 13:13 to play, Seattle held just 17-10 lead and Cam Newton was throwing from his own 19-yard line. Newton found an open Tolbert, who would have easily moved the chains after a reception. Except that Tolbert dropped the pass.
Carolina was forced to punt.
Six plays and 153 seconds later, Russell Wilson hit Luke Willson to put the Seahawks up 24-10. Eight plays after that, Newton was picked by Kam Chancellor at the Seattle 10-yard line and watched the Seahawks safety return the football 90 yards for a score.
In the span of just over seven minutes, Carolina went from a manageable seven-point deficit, to being down 31-10.
There Carolina stood at the Seattle 13 in the late stages of the fourth quarter of an NFC Divisional playoff game Saturday night. A touchdown by the Panthers would make it a one-score game and keep alive their hopes of a win.
On that drive to get inside the Seattle red zone, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was throwing with laser-like precision to lead his team down the field in quick fashion. He was 4-for-5 for 46 yards. It seemed relatively likely that the Panthers would get the touchdown.
However, then came the problem that has plagued Newton the entirety of his four-year career: wild inconsistency.
Upper echelon quarterbacks in the NFL all have the same thing in common when it comes to performance. For the most part, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from pass to pass and series to series. There usually isn’t guessing.
With Newton, it’s been anybody’s guess.
On that all important drive late in the game, Newton was quintessential Newton.
After leading the team to the doorstep of the end zone, Newton took the snap out of the shotgun, looked briefly to his left then turned to his right, where he stared down tight end Ed Dickson, and threw as hard as he could toward the right sideline. Only problem was Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor was waiting for such a throw.
Chancellor stepped in front of Dickson to intercept it and raced 90 yards for the touchdown to all but end the game and advance the Seahawks into the NFC Championship Game.
This time Russell Wilson did it with his arm, passing the Seattle Seahawks into the NFC championship game for the second straight year with a big assist from Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks are one step closer to defending their Super Bowl title.
“It’s exciting but the job is not done. There is still a lot more to do,” Wilson said.
Wilson threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a TD midway through the fourth quarter and the Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Saturday night in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Wilson was nearly flawless in one of the best playoff performances of his young career. He took shots downfield and was perfect on third downs.
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