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Seahawks hang on for 30-24 win over Panthers despite banged-up defense

DK Metcalf's 19-yard TD catch got the Seahawks on the board against Carolina. (Getty)

With four Seahawks defensive starters out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, pressure was on Seattle’s offense to lead the way in a must-win Week 15 matchup.

Seahawks clinch playoffs, re-take NFC West lead after 49ers lose

The Seahawks got a big showing from their offense in the first half, a flurry of interceptions from linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright helped keep the Panthers at bay, and a valuable Chris Carson touchdown run on fourth down helped Seattle hold off Carolina 30-24 and move one step closer to clinching a playoff spot.

Seattle scored touchdowns on each of its first three drives, marking just the second time this season that it found the end zone three times before halftime. Luckily for the Seahawks, they fared better in the second half than they did on Oct. 27 when they managed just a field goal in the second half and had to hang on for a 27-20 win over Atlanta despite jumping out to a 24-0 lead by halftime. But only a little better.

Though Carolina’s Joey Skye kicked a field goal to cut Seattle’s lead to 20-10 early in the third quarter, Wright made interceptions on back-to-back series and Jason Myers put the Seahawks back ahead by 13 just before end of the frame. Seattle then scored a crucial touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the 6 by Carson early in the fourth quarter that pushed its lead to a comfortable 20-point margin.

Carolina scored on back-to-back drives to cut the lead to just six points, but a 14-yard catch by Tyler Lockett and 10-yard run by Carson allowed Seattle to run out the clock and leave with a nail-biting victory.

Injuries are still very much a concern for the Hawks’ defense, which played without Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Mychal Kendricks and Shaquill Griffin, and saw both Wagner and Quandre Diggs leave the game with ankle injuries.

Russell Wilson and the passing game looked a lot like it did earlier in the season, as Seattle’s quarterback threw 20 for 26 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Lockett, who battled a shin injury and illness in recent games, looked healthy and caught eight passes for a game-high 120 yards and a touchdown. Carson ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Carolina’s Kyle Allen threw 25 for 41 for 277 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. DJ Moore (113 yards) and Christian McCaffrey (88 yards) each had eight receptions, and McCaffrey also had 87 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

Here’s a quarter-by-quarter look at Seattle’s win.

First quarter

Seahawks 13, Panthers 0

It’s not often the Seahawks just dominate an opponent. And while they still didn’t, Seattle looked like it was on its way to doing so in the first quarter.

The Seahawks came out like a house of fire at Bank of America Stadium, using their ground game to take advantage of a spotty Panthers run defense. Seattle ran on five of the eight plays on its opening drive, with Carson getting four carries – and the two biggest plays of the series. On third-and-1, Carson picked up 23 yards to move Seattle into Carolina territory with its initial first down of the game. Five plays later, Carson took another handoff and went 16 yards to give the Seahawks a quick 6-0 advantage.

Seattle’s defense, which came into the game with four starters inactive due to injury, needed a big statement out of the gate, too. That’s exactly what happened, as the Seahawks forced the Panthers to punt after just three plays and 36 seconds of game time.

The Seahawks’ offense kept rolling, again scoring a touchdown on eight plays. Lockett had his biggest play in at least a month, a 44-yard reception, and Wilson eventually connected with DK Metcalf on a 19-yard TD pass to push the Hawks’ lead to 13-0.

Not everything was positive for Seattle, however. Myers’ up-and-down season took another turn as he missed his first PAT attempt of the day (though he hit his second), tight end Jacob Hollister and defensive tackle Al Woods both had to have potential injuries checked out, and the Carolina offense appeared to find its footing late in the quarter.

SEA – Chris Carson 16 run (kick failed, 6-0 SEA), 10:26
SEA – DK Metcalf 19 pass from Russell Wilson (Jason Myers kick, 13-0 SEA), 5:22

Second quarter

Seahawks 20, Panthers 7

Did you know that Josh Gordon plays for the Seattle Seahawks? Well, here’s a reminder.

In his fifth game since being acquired by Seattle, Gordon finally had an opportunity to show what he can do on a route other than a slant. The result was a jaw-dropping 58-yard reception on an absolute bomb of a pass by Wilson, helping set up a 19-yard touchdown pass to Lockett – after Wilson fumbled on a sack and lost the ball to Carolina, only for the play to be nullified due to a defensive offside penalty on the Panthers.

Lockett’s score was the third touchdown of the day for Seattle, which marked the second time this season they scored three TDs in the first half of a game, the other being in a 27-20 win over Atlanta on Oct. 27. Guess the Seahawks like playing on the road against NFC South opponents.

The Seahawks needed that third touchdown to answer Carolina’s first good series on offense. The Panthers covered 75 yards over 12 plays on a drive that began late in the first quarter, and all-purpose superstar McCaffrey did his part to get Carolina on the board. Not only did he score on a 1-yard rushing TD, but he touched the ball a whopping eight times on that drive alone, including back-to-back runs of 13 yards.

Seattle was ready for Carolina’s offense the next time around, with Rasheem Green recording his fourth sack of the year to move into the team lead in that category and help the Seahawks force their second three-and-out of the day.

The Seahawks averted disaster as an apparent C.J. Prosise fumble was overturned when it was ruled he was down, and Seattle was afforded the opportunity to punt the ball away instead of handing it over to Carolina late in the quarter in field goal range. Even better was that Wagner picked off Allen for his first interception of the year, preserving Seattle’s 13-point lead going into halftime.

CAR – Christian McCaffrey 1 run (Joey Slye kick, 13-7 SEA), 13:43
SEA –Tyler Lockett 19 pass from Wilson (Myers kick, 20-7 SEA), 10:09

Third quarter

Seahawks 23, Panthers 10

Welcome to the part of the game where the interceptions happened.

A lot of interceptions.

After Carolina opened the second half by cutting Seattle’s lead to 10 on a long field goal by Joey Slye and the Seahawks stalled out on five plays, the Panthers continued to threaten Seattle’s thin defense. And when I say thin, I mean thin, as the Seahawks lost safety Quandre Diggs to an ankle injury, making it five defensive starters out of action. But just as the Panthers got close to field goal range, Wright made a crucial pick to stop Carolina from drawing closer.

That would have been an opportune time for the Seahawks’ offense to add some breathing room to help out its ailing defense, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Gordon was given a shot to throw a pass on a trick play, and while he made a strong throw, it was directed at a well-covered Metcalf and intercepted by Carolina’s Tre Boston.

Like I said, there were a lot of interceptions, and Seattle wasn’t done yet. In fact, Wright wasn’t done yet, and he came up with his second interception in as many series, giving the Seahawks the ball at Carolina’s 21. That set up a 30-yard field goal by Myers that allowed Seattle to leave the third quarter the way it started – ahead by 13 points.

CAR – Slye 52 FG (20-10 SEA), 11:35
SEA – Myers 30 FG (23-10 SEA), :28

Fourth quarter

Seahawks 30, Panthers 24

The Seahawks got what they didn’t get in that aforementioned game against the Falcons – a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Seattle rolled the dice on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 6, handing the ball off to Carson. He didn’t stop after getting the first down and found the end zone, giving the Seahawks a welcome three-score lead.

Turned out they needed it, too, as the Panthers scored not just on a 15-yard McCaffrey run to cut the lead to 30-17, but also on a 5-yard pass from Allen to Curtis Samuel. Allen sliced through Seattle’s defense, connecting on three straight passes to Moore – all for at least 17 yards – and then a fourth to McCaffrey for 18. Just like that, Carolina had pulled within six points with 3:14 to go. Oh, and Wagner had found himself on the sideline with an ankle injury, which for those of you scoring at home made it six defensive starters not on the field for Seattle.

It sure never is all that easy for these Seahawks.

Seattle was at risk of having to give Carolina the ball back before the two-minute warning, as it faced third-and-11 following a 2-yard run by Chris Carson on third-and-1 that was called back for holding on D.J. Fluker. Wilson kept the play alive for as long as he could and found Lockett, who made a huge 14-yard catch. Carson added a 10-yard run to allow Seattle to run out the clock.

SEA – Carson 6 run (Myers kick, 30-10 SEA), 7:18
CAR – McCaffrey 15 run (Slye kick, 30-17 SEA), 4:53
CAR
– Curtis Samuel 5 pass from Allen (Slye kick, 30-24 SEA), 3:14

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Carroll’s update on defense | Instant Reaction | O’Neil’s column | 3 stars