In my three-plus decades of Twelving, I've never been more confident that the Seahawks would win a road playoff game than I am going into the divisional playoff at Charlotte. Before the 2012 Wild Card Game, I was jittery because we hadn't won a road playoff game since 1983. Before last week, I was anxious because of the historically terrible weather conditions.
This week? I'm not jittery or anxious. I look at a Panthers team that is perhaps the shakiest 15-1 team in NFL history and I don't feel a single twitch of fear. I see a Seattle team that will be relaxed, at full-strength, and has a SHITLOAD of recent success playing the Panthers in Charlotte. I see a stifling Seahawks defense eager to prove their meltdown in week 6 was an aberration. I see a Seattle quarterback who is surely, silently itching to show HE is the one who should be the presumptive NFL MVP.
I think we roll in a game that is less competitive than many are expecting. Seahawks 26, Panthers 14 feels about right. By Sunday evening we'll be one step closer to the restoration of the Emerald Empire...
We've played the Panthers 10 times, and won 7 of those battles... Here's a look back at the Top 5. Enjoy!
Seattle was a trendy Super Bowl pick going into the 2013 season amongst the national media, and Russell Wilson's handsome visage was splashed across the covers of The USA Today, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and (I assume) British Vogue and Art Doll Quarterly. But then, as if the national bobbleheads had come to their senses after an ether binge, it became trendy to pick the Panthers as an "upset special" over the favored Seattleites in Week 1. Hey! Seattle has trouble in season openers! Hey! They suck at winning on the east coast, particularly with kickoff at 10 a.m. pacific time! Hey! They're the Seahawks! History tells us we won't have to pay attention to them much longer. They'll inevitably disappoint. Pick Carolina!
In the sweltering North Carolina heat, the Hawks indeed got off to a sluggish start. But when Wilson fired a perfect spiral to Jermaine Kearse for a 43-yard touchdown, Seattle held a 12-7 lead with 10 minutes left. The Panthers answered with an impressive 9-play, 72-yard march down to the Seahawks' 8-yard line. Then the L.O.B. did its thing- Earl Thomas wrested the ball away from DeAngelo Will1iams' mitts and disaster was averted. With five-plus minutes left, the offense needed to play keep-away to seal the win.
The drive got off to an abysmal start when Marshawn Lynch was tackled for a 5-yard loss. But Wilson followed that up with completions to Derrick Coleman and Doug Baldwin to keep the drive alive. Wilson and Lynch teamed up on a 14-play drive than ran out the rest of the clock and started Seattle's march towards XLVIII with a hard-fought victory.
The Seahawks were 3-3 and skidding through a 2-game losing streak. This was about when ESPN was filled with stories about Russell Wilson not being "black enough," and so on. It seemed like it would all come crumbling down with one more hard shove, with one more calamitous defeat. Seattle trailed 9-6 with just over four minutes left to play, On the ensuing 10-play, 80-yard drive, Wilson would complete passes to Cooper Helfet, Kevin Norwood, and Paul Richardson before drilling a touchdown strike to Luke Willson to give Seattle a 13-9 lead with only 53 seconds remaining. Back-to-back sacks by Bruce Irvin sealed the win, and yet again the Hawks wriggled out of the noose.
Whenever I get too arrogant about my opinions related to our beloved Seahawks, remind me that I wanted Russell Wilson benched early in the 2012 season. I hadn't even wanted him to take on the starting job in the first place, and after an ugly performance/loss in St. Louis dropped Seattle to 2-2, I was more than ready to see Wilson get the hook in favor of Matt Flynn.
I'm a dumbass.
After a Charlotte pick-6 gave the Panthers the lead early in the 2nd half, I seethed with misplaced rage. Wilson actually had a solid day other than that, and found Golden Tate for the go-ahead score late in the 3rd quarter... But the story of this victory was authored by the defense, who allowed Cam Newton and the Cats to get all the way down to Seattle's 6-yard line. 1st and Goal. 18 feet from defeat.
1st down: Newton stopped after a 3-yard gain.
2nd down: DeAngelo Williams dropped for a loss of 3.
3rd down: Brandon Browner and Marcus Trufant (Yes, for reals. He was still a Hawk in 2012) stop Louis Murphy just shy of the goal line.
4th down: Less than a yard away. Instead of trying to score with their massive, agile QB, a pass is called. It falls incomplete. Seattle takes over inches from their own goal line with just 3 minutes left to play.
What followed was an odd 7-play, 17-yard drive that ended in an intentional safety. Huh? Bruce Irvin settled matters with a sack-strip-recovery 2 plays later, and I was ecstatic to be proven wrong.
Holy shit! Can you believe that the Hawks only led the 7-8-1 Panthers 14-10 going into the 4th quarter of this one? The Seahawks seemed to restore order when they built a 24-10 lead with 6 minutes left, but Charlotte promptly drove down to the Seattle 13-yard-line. Then Kam Bam'd and Bam'd...
As I wrote at the time:
Five years ago, Pete Carroll was hired as the Seahawks new head coach. He inherited a roster that was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (so to speak). One seemingly small move in Carroll's complete demolition/rebuild of the Seahawks in 2010 was the 5th round selection of a safety out of Virgina Tech: Kam Chancellor. Seattle's starting safeties in 2009 were the serviceable duo of Jordan Babineaux and Deon Grant (whose average age was 28.5). Just like at every other position, Carroll's goal was to get younger/better/cheaper in the defensive backfield. Expectations were high for first-rounder Earl Thomas from Texas, but the former high school quarterback Chancellor slid into the 5th. The move into the secondary served Kam well with the Hokies, and he'd quickly build a reputation for wanton brutality once he reached the NFL.
Bam Bam Kam has already made his mark in the league, being selected to three Pro Bowls, being named 2nd-team All-Pro twice, and surely haunting Vernon Davis' nightmares (among dozens of other offensive players). However, yesterday Chancellor delivered the best performance of his already illustrious career. He made 11 tackles, including an incredible individual effort to blow up a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams and a first down-denying hammering of sentient boulder Mike Tolbert. A bewildering flag denied him credit for an acrobatic blocked field goal at the end of the first half. With Charlotte deep in Seattle territory, and aiming to pull within 7 with six minutes left, Chancellor jumped the route and sped 90 yards for the clinching score.
A quick personal story about this one...
I was at the game, and I was unfathomably nervous and jacked-up on Red Bull beforehand. I was in Touchdown City and they had this little obstacle course set up where you'd jump over a couple of hurdles and then take down a tackling dummy. When my turn came up I SPRINTED through the course and came at the dummy so hard that I actually flew over it and ended up face-planting ala Jon Ryan last week. I got up, dazed and a bit horrified. Someone handed me a free t-shirt. I was probably concussed. I was lucky I didn't knock out my teeth or end up watching the NFC Championship from an emergency room.
Here I am after almost ruining everything:
Here's my brother and I after the Seahawks clinched their first trip to the Super Bowl.. I cried a lot.
So um... Yeah. Lots of changes since then...
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