With Seahawks’ defense thin, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright take charge
The Seahawks knew the key to stopping the Carolina Panthers on offense would be to contain running back Christian McCaffrey.
Problem is, they were facing that challenge short four starters on defense: edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Two of those players (Kendricks and Clowney) led the team in sacks prior to Sunday, while Griffin led all defensive backs in passes defended.
To make matters worse, safety Quandre Diggs – who has only strengthened the secondary since coming to Seattle via trade in October – was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. His backup, Lano Hill, also left the game briefly in the fourth quarter.
In the end, though, it was two familiar faces who provided the boost Seattle’s banged-up defense needed to hold off the Panthers.
Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright finished with a combined three interceptions, four passes defended and 14 tackles. Wright, the team’s longest-tenured player, had two interceptions in one game for the first time in his career. That pair of interceptions also gives him a single-season career high.
Just one of those turnovers resulted in points, but all three three interceptions bailed Seattle out of some sticky situations.
The first was by Wagner, who in the final minutes of the first half leapt in front of Panthers receiver Chris Hogan to snatch an ill-timed pass from quarterback Kyle Allen just as the Panthers were in field goal range and driving for more.
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2019
The second and third interceptions, both by Wright, came on back-to-back Carolina possessions in the third quarter.
The first of Wright’s interceptions came on second-and-8 at Seattle’s 39-yard line. Allen attempted a short pass over the middle that was tipped by defensive tackle Poona Ford before it was hauled in by Wright. Seattle’s offense didn’t last long after that, though. Receiver Josh Gordon threw a pass deep down the right sideline on a trick play that was intercepted by safety Tre Boston.
But Wright was there once more to bail out the offense. Under pressure from defensive lineman Jarran Reed and deep in his own territory, Allen threw across his body toward receiver Jarius Wright. K.J. Wright jumped the route and got the interception. This time, the offense rewarded his efforts with a field goal.
Give the man his heated floors ‼️😂@KJ_WRIGHT34 comes up with another pick!
Q3: SEA 20, CAR 10 pic.twitter.com/PjRt9TLROp
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 15, 2019
Contributions from Wagner and Wright proved enough to keep the Panthers at bay. But even with his strong performance, Wright wasn’t satisfied with how the Seahawks ended the game. Six of Carolina’s 10 longest plays came in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers were able to narrow a 20-point Seattle lead to just six after a pair of touchdowns on consecutive drives. By then, Wagner had also been forced out of the game by an ankle injury.
“Yeah, it was the results of injuries, lack of communication,” Wright said of Carolina’s late touchdowns. “We’ve got to finish way better than that. It was way too close. If the offense didn’t get the first down, we had to go back out there. So definitely got to finish much better so we can feel really, really good about our win.”
Wagner also spoke with reporters postgame.
“I felt we played pretty good,” Wagner said of Sunday’s performance from a defense that was eventually sans six starters. “We had a lot of turnovers, I feel like we started the game really strong. They kind of started to move the ball with the fly sweeps and things of that nature but I felt like once we got a hold of it we did a good job. I think creating the turnovers was a big thing. We had a lot of momentum-changing turnovers where you felt like they were kind of getting into the game and it was either a pick, a sack, something that happened. And so it’s something that we can build on.”