Seahawks’ comeback attempt, playoff run fall short in 31-24 loss to Panthers

Jan 17, 2016, 1:39 PM | Updated: 9:33 pm
Luke Kuechly’s interception returned 14 yards for a touchdown put Carolina up 14-0 in the fir...
Luke Kuechly's interception returned 14 yards for a touchdown put Carolina up 14-0 in the first quarter. (AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There wasn’t enough magic this time.

Wait. That’s not quite right.

The Seahawks showed plenty of magic in coming back to score 24 straight points in the second half.

There wasn’t enough time to erase a 31-point deficit, though, Carolina’s Thomas Davis recovering Seattle’s onside kick with 76 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton took three knees, dancing after each of the final two as the Panthers dethroned the two-time defending NFC champs.

Carolina 31, Seattle 24.

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The Seahawks made it respectable. They made it interesting. They made it dramatic enough to make you wonder after Steven Hauschka’s 36-yard field goal with 1:16 remaining whether Seattle had a little more onside magic.

After all, just last season Seattle recovered an onside kick against Green Bay, enabling the Seahawks to salvage a game in which they once trailed 16-0.

Not this time, though. Not just because Seattle failed to recover the onside kick – Davis catching it cleanly – but because the hole was nearly twice as big. The Seahawks trailed 31-0 at halftime.

And after the most lopsided first half the Seahawks have played in six years, that was more than anyone could have expected from the Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

Seattle was beaten, not blown out. Defeated 31-24 in Carolina, not destroyed. Russell Wilson threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns and showed that you may beat the Seahawks, but you won’t bury them.

The Seahawks could be proud of the way they finished. There was dignity there, but this was one game they could not win in the fourth quarter. Not with how poorly they played in the first half in which nothing went right after the coin flip.

Wilson was intercepted twice in the previous eight games he had played. He was picked off twice in the first 17 minutes of Sunday’s game, one of which was returned for a touchdown and the other setting up a field goal.

Seattle’s defense had allowed an opposing offense to reach the end zone only once in the previous six road games. Carolina scored two touchdowns in the first half on drives of 76 and then 85 yards.

Seattle trailed 31-0 at halftime. The Seahawks had never come back to win a game in which they trailed by more than 21 points. Only one NFL team has ever come back to win a playoff game after trailing by more than 30 points.

And the Seahawks tried. They scored their first touchdown in the second minute of the third quarter, and they added another with rookie Tyler Lockett’s 33-yard touchdown catch less than 5 minutes later.

Seattle faked a punt and held Carolina in check, but by the time the Seahawks scored again – on Jermaine Kearse’s 3-yard touchdown catch – there was just 6:04 left in the game. Seattle forced a punt on the ensuing possession, but only after the Panthers gained a first down.

By the time Seattle got the ball back, there was 2:55 remaining and the Seahawks had only one timeout. Seattle got the ball to the Carolina 13 before the drive stalled amidst a trio of penalties for false start then delay of game and then illegal formation.

Hauschka kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:12 left making the score 31-24.

It was closer than anyone could have imagined from a first half.

Marshawn Lynch rushed six times for just 20 yards in this game, but that didn’t cost Seattle. This was about more than one player, and as much as Seattle tried to win this one in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks couldn’t erase how badly they played in the first two.

The coin flip was the last thing that went right for Seattle; Wilson called heads correctly and deferred. It was all downhill from there. The ball was falling from the tee as Hauschka kicked it. The Panthers started the first drive at their own 24 and Jonathan Stewart ran 59 yards on the first play of the game.

It was the longest rush the Seahawks had allowed since Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run for Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL. Stewart’s run was almost as impactful.

Four plays later, Stewart was in the end zone to begin the scoring binge, and Seattle was trailing 7-0.

It took two plays from Seattle’s offense for the Seahawks to officially be in a hole, Wilson being pressured as he threw a pass to Lynch, who wasn’t looking back and in fact turned away from the ball. Linebacker Luke Kuechly picked off the ball and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown.

Just like that, Carolina held a double-digit lead less than 4 minutes into the game.

In fact, the first half was such an amalgamation of misfortune that it was tough to point the finger anywhere.

Think Lynch’s return disrupted the offense to the point that Seattle gifted the Panthers 10 points? Well how do you explain the fact that Seattle’s defense allowed the Panthers to drive more than 75 yards for a touchdown on each of their first two possessions.

You say it was Seattle’s defense that was typically soft against opposing tight ends? Well, that was true with Greg Olsen catching three passes for 56 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, but Wilson was pressured into a pair of very uncharacteristic interceptions that resulted in one Carolina touchdown and set the Panthers up for a second-quarter field goal.

A more accurate version is that Seattle didn’t accomplish much of anything in the half. Not in the first quarter when the Seahawks were outgained 155 yards to 25. Not in the second quarter when their most promising possession fizzled inside the Carolina 20, Seattle getting only 4 of the 5 yards it needed on fourth down. It didn’t even go right on the final possession of the first half when Hauschka’s 55-yard field-goal attempt fell short.

At that point, the only ray of hope for Seattle was that its 31-point deficit wasn’t as great as the 32-point deficit the Buffalo Bills famously dug themselves out of against Houston back in January 1993. Of course, that’s still the only time in NFL history a team has rallied to win after trailing by 30 or more points.

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Seahawks’ comeback attempt, playoff run fall short in 31-24 loss to Panthers