Resilient. Relentless. Tough-minded.
Whatever word you want to use to describe it, the Seattle Seahawks showed the mental fortitude to outwork their opponent in a season-opening, 12-7 over the Panthers.
The Seahawks held onto a tenuous, five-point lead with the Panthers driving to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
With 5:34 left in the game, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams broke through the middle of Seattle’s defense and burst down the right sideline for a long gain. But as he lowered his head to prepare for contact at Seattle’s 8-yard line, Richard Sherman put his shoulder on the ball, loosening it up as Earl Thomas stripped the ball carrier from behind.
“I actually pulled a Winston right there,” said Sherman, referring to former teammate Winston Guy, now with Jacksonville, who jarred a ball loose in a similar manner against Green Bay in a preseason game this year. “He’ll throw his shoulder at the ball when he goes in to make a tackle and tries to pop the ball out. He doesn’t always secure the tackle, but it’s intentional.”
It’s also risky, something that Sherman acknowledged.
“I had leverage, and I put helmet in there to make him go straight to Earl,” Sherman said. “I knew other guys were showing up. That’s the great thing about our defense.”
The ball popped free, and Sherman dived back into the scrum for the loose ball, with defensive tackle Tony McDaniel ultimately emerging from the pile with the football.
You may believe that the Seahawks are a lucky team that benefit from these types of plays every Sunday. But Seattle players would argue that they make their luck, with daily drills on stripping and recovering the football in practice.
“As a defense last year against Arizona we needed a stop like that, and we didn’t get it,” Sherman said. “And they were able to score. And despite the fact that the offense was at the 4-yard line or whatever, we felt like we lost that game.
“And so we were working on that all offseason. That was one of the things we thought about, that game and Atlanta. Things like that where we didn’t make a play, and we could have got off the field and won the game. And today was one of the games where we were going after it. We were hunting the ball. And that’s the emphasis that the coaches are making every single day.”
Williams also lost a fumble last year against Seattle that led to Seattle’s winning score. Williams was stripped by Brandon Browner, who also recovered the fumble.
Williams shouldered the blame in the locker room afterwards.
“Let’s just get that out of the way, it was my fault,” Williams said. “In that situation, I’ve watched countless feilm on them, and I know that’s what they do, they strip and go for the ball. But I’m a fighter, I’m going to fight for every yard that I can get and help my team win, and put them in the best situation.
“Unfortunately, today they got the ball out, and it cost my team and the fans a hard-fought win. And I want to apologize.”
Wilson puts together second career 300-yard performance
It wasn’t always a work of art, but Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson put together his second, 300-yard passing performance.
Wilson finished 25 of 33 for 320 yards. He had no interceptions, and the game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse early in the fourth quarter. He finished with a 115.7 passer rating.
Wilson was sacked twice, including a strip fumble by defensive end Charles Johnson.
“I think Russell played great under the circumstances,” Carroll said. “And he came through for us in great fashion. But we don’t need him under pressure that much.”
The last time Wilson threw for over 300 yards was his 385-yard, two-touchdown pass performance against Atlanta in the NFC division playoff game.
But the key play for Seattle’s offense was Wilson’s 43-yard strike to Kearse. The Seahawks had gone after Carolina cornerback Josh Thomas, at 5-11 and 195 pounds, on the previous play, with 6-5 Stephen Williams. However, Williams couldn’t come up with what would have been a tough catch.
With Kearse out there, Wilson decided to take another shot.
“I just kind of read that play,” Wilson said. “I went through my progressions really, to be honest with you, and he was my second read. And he just did a great job of attacking the football.
“I gave him a shot, and you know, Kearse has done a tremendous job all offseason, every since L.A. when we went to train. He’s done an unbelievable job, and he keeps doing it.”
Running game woes
The Panthers came into this contest intent on shutting down Seattle’s running game. And for the most part, Carolina’s defense was successful.
The Panthers held Seattle to 70 yard rushing on 26 carries, for a 2.7 per carry average. The Seahawks averaged 161.2 rushing yards a contest in 2012. Marshawn Lynch finished with 43 yards on 17 carries, with a long of 14 yards that came late in the game.
“We did not feel good at all about the way we ran the football today,” Carroll said. “And we need to go back and take a look and see what happened here. We thought we would be better than that. We had a really nice array of things that we wanted to do, and we tried them all; we tried everything we wanted to try in the plan.
“And we weren’t getting much movement. I thought they played very active up front, and were very difficult. And we’re just real disappointed in that.”
* Carroll said that Jeron Johnson was the only notable player that suffered an injury. Johnson suffered a hamstring injury on the opening kickoff, and did not return.
* Punter Jon Ryan had a good day flipping field position. He finished with a 49.5 punting average, and a 47.0 net punting average.
* Doug Baldwin led all Seattle receivers with seven catches for 91 yards, including a long of 25. Baldwin was targeted a team-high eight times.
* The Seahawks finished with 9 penalties for 109 yards, which is probably a little high for Carroll’s liking.
* The Seahawks finished 6 of 13 on third down, but were 0 of 3 in the red zone.
* Seattle won the turnover battle, with two fumble recoveries compared to one for Carolina.
* Steve Smith led Carolina with six catches for 51 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown for a score.
* Cam Newton finished 16 of 23 for 125 yards and a touchdown pass. He was sacked just once, and also ran for 38 yards. Newton finished with a 97.2 passer rating.
* Earl Thomas led the Seahawks in tackles with a combined 10, followed by Bobby Wagner with seven. O’Brien Schofield picked up Seattle’s only sack.
“For us to have played that team that’s considered by all accounts the best team in the NFL, according to Skip Bayless ‘The best AFC team around,’ I think if that’s who is the best team, you know it came down to the last 2:36 and it was a well-fought game.”
— Carolina receiver Steve Smith, commenting on his team’s 12-7 loss to Seattle.