O’Neil: Seahawks didn’t win so much as they survived against Panthers
Nov 25, 2018, 2:00 PM | Updated: 3:13 pm
The Seahawks bent, but they did not break.
This surprised me because I’m not one of those people who subscribes to the very idea that a defense can consistently bend without eventually breaking.
Yet the Seahawks did exactly that on Sunday in what might turn out to be their most significant regular-season victory of 2018. And while Sebastian Janikowski’s 31-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave Seattle a 30-27 victory, the Seahawks didn’t win this game so much as they survived.
Seattle survived the fact that Cam Newton completed every pass he threw in the first half and survived Christian McCaffrey gaining both 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving. The Seahawks survived being not only outgained by the Panthers, but having Carolina drive the ball inside the Seattle 20 on seven of nine possessions in the game.
And while Russell Wilson deserves a lot of credit for the guts he showed with a pair of fourth-quarter completions that were as gutsy as they were aggressive, the key to understanding how Seattle won this game is to understand exactly how the Seahawks stayed afloat through the first three quarters of a game in which the Panthers were parading up and down the field.
This Seattle defense has alligator blood, to borrow an expression from Teddy KGB in “Rounders.”
Seattle kept hanging around, and on Carolina’s final possession cornerback Tre Flowers made one last tackle on third-and-7, which forced the Panthers to settle for a 52-yard field goal attempt, which Graham Gano pushed to the left.
And while that opened the door for Seattle’s game-winning field goal, the reality is that Seattle only had that chance because of what the Seahawks’ defense did when the Panthers came knocking earlier in the game.
The Panthers got the ball down to the Seattle 5 on their first possession before turning it over on downs. Carolina got it to the Seattle 4 on its second possession before the Panthers settled for a field goal. Throw in Bradley McDougald’s third-quarter interception in the end zone and you have a pretty tidy explanation for how the Seahawks kept the Panthers from cashing in the opportunities that should have given Carolina a cushion entering the fourth quarter.
That’s not to say the Seahawks’ defense played well. In fact, that defense hasn’t been playing all that well for a month now. Each of Seattle’s last three opponents averaged more than 7 yards per offensive play. The Panthers averaged 8.4 yards per play.
That is not a recipe for sustained success, and for all the times that defenses get praised for bending but not breaking, there’s not a lot of statistical evidence that points to that being a repeatable trait from week to week – and it is absolutely not something that translates from one year to the next.
Yet the Seahawks’ resiliency has made me rethink my belief that Seattle’s defense is going to finally give way. For all the yards the Seahawks have given up these past four weeks, they held the Chargers to a single field goal in the second half, then did the same to the Packers last Thursday. Then on Sunday the Seahawks dug in their heels when it mattered most and kept Carolina from cashing in all those red-zone opportunities.
Seattle survived, which is what will give this team a chance to thrive in the postseason.