This Divisional round matchup saw Cam Newton in a more “game-manager” type mode, doing what he needed to without the Herculean effort we’ve become accustomed to. In the first half he mixed in a plethora of solid passes to move the chains and put points on the board, including a beautiful dart to tight end Greg Olsen in the end zone. In the second half though, the offense sputtered and couldn’t manage much, and Newton finished with just 161-yards and one touchdown and was a non-factor in the run game. He did gain a few first downs on tight throws late in the second half when the Panthers needed to kill the clock and the fact that he had zero turnovers certainly made a huge difference in this one.
In his first game back after missing the previous three, Jonathan Stewart was the key cog in what was a truly dominant first half for Carolina. Stewart wasted no time getting things going as he rushed for 59-yards into the red zone on the first play from scrimmage, then three plays later rushed it in for the first of two scores. He finished with 106-yards on 19 carries and two scores and became the first player to rush for over 100-yards versus Seattle in 28 games. Mike Tolbert and Cameron Artis-Payne had just 10 carries combined for 24-yards and Artis-Payne fumbled on one which was luckily scooped up by Tolbert. In the second half, the pickings were slim but they managed enough to keep drives going on a few occasions and overall, Stewart was the big reason for the early success.
The receiving corps for Carolina was not nearly as involved as they have been as of late. With Newton’s low-production day, there wasn’t much to go around and as such, the receivers caught just six total passes between the four. Philly Brown and Jerricho Cotchery had two and three receptions, respectively and each had 22-yards and Devin Funchess caught one pass for 12-yards. Ted Ginn Jr., who many thought would be a big X-factor for Carolina, saw just one target and finished with zeros across the board. The few passes this group did catch were rather important ones though with each of them converting on at least one third down play.
Greg Olsen was expected to be a huge contributor after his Week 6 performance and while it may not have been quite as big of a day, it was still one to remember. The Panthers tight end had another big receiving day against Seattle who at times left Olsen wide open for a couple big gains. He finished with six catches for 77-yards and a score on an impressive diving grab while being tightly covered and made a number of key blocks in the run game as well. He left for a brief period of time after suffering a stinger on a big hit from Kam Chancellor but came back and should be okay moving forward. And Ed Dickson also left his mark on this one as he caught two passes for 22-yards, both coming on third down.
One of the biggest storylines from this matchup was how well the Panthers offensive line would hold up against the formidable defensive front of the Seahawks and for much if not all of this one, they did so quite nicely. The Seahawks front that includes stars like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin logged just one sack all game from rookie Frank Clark. In the first half, the offensive line played well opening up holes and giving Newton time in the pocket. In the second half, the entire offense lagged a bit but the line still help up fairly well against Seattle’s pass rush. A few times, passes were batted by defensive lineman which has been a slight issue this season but overall this group played well.
The Carolina defensive line has been bashed for its inconsistencies all season long but put in arguably their best performance of the year against Seattle. The group, led by Kawann Short who had another big day disrupting Russell Wilson, logged three of the team’s five sacks. Short and company go consistent pressure on Wilson, and did a tremendous job of flustering the normally calm and shifty quarterback in the first half. One particular pressure from Short on the first defensive drive of the game resulted in a pick-six to give Carolina an early 14-point lead. Veterans Charles Johnson and Dwan Edwards came up with a sack apiece and as a whole, the group logged 14 quarterback hits and also contributed to stuffing the Seattle run game. This unit took advantage of a weak offensive line and did what they could to help their team jump out big in the first half
In big moments, the true stars are revealed and that was very much so the case in this one as Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis both made a number of important, game-changing plays for the Panthers. Kuechly started it off and truly put momentum on Carolina’s side when he took a hurried Wilson pass in for a pick-six and put them up 14-0 early. His pick-six marked the first ever defensive score in Panthers playoff history. Kuechly finished with a team-high 11 tackles and had an incredible pass deflection in coverage against Doug Baldwin to save what would have been a big gain for Seattle. Davis had just five tackles but made the game-ending play by recovering the Seahawks’ onside kick attempt, securing the win for Carolina. They also contributed to the defense that shut down Marshawn Lynch once again as he had just 20-yards and became a complete non-factor.
The Carolina secondary started off incredibly strong in this matchup but as has happened on more than a few occasions, they crumbled in the second half and let the Seahawks get back into the game through the air. Early on, this bunch did a solid job covering the quick Seattle receivers as Cortland Finnegan recorded his first interception as a Panther while Tre Boston recorded his first career sack. In the second half though, it was an entirely different story. Wilson seemed to complete passes at will to all three of his top targets in Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett. They gave up three touchdown passes and those three combined for 22 catches and 267-yards due to some pretty soft coverage and Robert McClain was picked on frequently. Josh Norman had a sack and Roman Harper made a few nice tackles in critical moments but this group once again proved to be the weak link and couldn’t hang with Seattle late.
The Panthers special teams units had a pretty solid day across the board with a few exceptions. Graham Gano made all five of his kicks (1 FG, 4 XPs) and neutralized Lockett in the return game for the most part and Brad Nortman had multiple big punts that gave Lockett nothing to work with, including two inside the 20-yard line. The few exceptions came on one 50-yard Lockett kick return and their inability to stop the Seahawks' fake punt try.