Jermaine Kearse had a one-handed catch and the most spectacular touchdown of the game, and it was also the longest pass play in Seahawks’ playoff history.
But Luke Willson came up with the most receptions and the game-breaking touchdown as the Seahawks advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.
For the second time this season, Willson made a pivotal scoring grab against the Panthers. On Oct. 26 at Carolina, Willson’s 23-yard touchdown reception with 47 seconds left gave the Seahawks a 13-9 win.
Saturday night, he scored on a 25-yard pass from Russell Wilson that put the Seahawks in front 24-10, snuffing most of Carolina’s hopes until Kam Chancellor extinguished them altogether with a 90-yard pick-six.
Russell Wilson found Willson on two receptions that covered 46 of the 58 yards on the Seahawks’ next-to-last drive of the game, and both came on third down.
Facing a third-and-five from the Seattle 46-yard line, Willson caught a pass and broke tackles, knocking over a pair of Panthers and rumbling to the Carolina 25-yard line.
More coverage of the Seahawks’ playoff win over Carolina
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Interviews | Carroll Show||• O’Neil: What we learned||• O’Neil: Kam Chancellor helps put away Panthers||• Henderson: Third-down success for Wilson||• Henderson: A ‘hard night’ for Simon||• Stecker: Newton can’t reverse fortunes|
“I’m not sure what happened there,” Willson said when asked about his tackle-breaking run.
Then on 3rd-and-9, Wilson initially looked toward Marshawn Lynch but found Willson down the seam for the 25-yard touchdown with 10:26 remaining.
“I looked to the flat to make guys move a little bit,” Wilson said. “(With) how fast he is, you can see the types of plays he can make.”
Willson finished with four catches for 68 yards, one reception off of his career high set against Jacksonville last year.
The Seahawks have cobbled together an effective tight end corps most of the season after Zach Miller underwent ankle surgery in late September.
Cooper Helfet missed four of the last five games and returned Saturday night while Tony Moeaki was on the inactive list.
“It’s a great group,” Helfet said. “It’s a fun room with a lot of jokes. It’s a long season so we make sure to have fun all the time. We play for each other.”
Of Willson, Helfet said: “He’s doing a hell of a job. He’s all about being positive. His play-making is coming alive. He’s a big, fast, strong dude. He’s a dangerous weapon. It’s fun to be out there with him.
“It’s all about taking advantage of your opportunities, and he’s been doing a great job of that.”
It was his second-best game of the season; Willson had three catches for 139 yards and two TDs in a 35-6 win over the Cardinals on Dec. 21.
He said a playoff TD doesn’t feel any different than a regular-season TD because of the Seahawks’ approach of treating each game the same as all of the rest.
Willson distributed praise to his teammates, saying: “We have a lot of play-makers on this team. We’re not one-dimensional, and we showed that today.”
When the Packers and Cowboys play Sunday morning in Green Bay, Willson won’t be watching. He’ll watch film of the winning team on Monday.
If it’s Green Bay, there is sure to be praise for Jordy Nelson. If it’s Dallas, there will be plenty of stories written about Dez Bryant.
But Seattle’s tight ends will play an important role as receivers, especially if the knee injury that knocked Paul Richardson out in the first half of Saturday’s game keeps him out of the NFC Championship Game.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.