Seahawks Crush Panthers

Poor play-calling, poor decision-making, poor execution and injury... take your pick, because all of the above are reasons why the Seattle Seahawks are headed to Detroit. The Panthers picked a bad time to play the worst game of football all season.

It got ugly in a hurry.

On the Panthers' first possession, the play that hasn't worked all season didn't work again. C'mon, you know what play I'm talking about – the draw up the middle. 3 and out. Steve Smith didn't get a look.

After holding the Seahawks on their first drive, the Panthers got the ball back. 3 and out again, and more of the same, as Carolina continued to try to run the ball up the middle – a play that has not worked perhaps ever in team history.

A shanked punt by Jason Baker then put Seattle in favorable field position. After a long completion to backup QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck found TE Jeremy Stevens for the first TD of the game. Carolina was playing zone coverage, and the TE wasn't picked up by SS Marlon McCree, leaving Stevens wide open for the score.

The Panthers gained only 4 yards on their first offensive play, when QB Jake Delhomme was intercepted by Seattle MLB Lofa Tatupu after Delhomme tried to get the ball to WR Steve Smith despite quadruple coverage. After Tatupu's INT return to the Panthers 20 yard line, the Panthers defense applied pressure to Hasselbeck and held the Seahawks to a field goal.

On the next offensive series, RB Nick Goings was blown up by Tatupu, and left the game with 1:12 left in the first quarter. After a holding call on Seattle, a pressured Jake Delhomme tried to hit a double-covered Keary Colbert to the right, but instead connected with Marquand Manuel for the second interception of the game. Seattle then scored again on a Shaun Alexander TD run to push the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter.

With 9 minutes left to go in the second quarter, Panthers WR Steve Smith returned a Tom Rouen shanked punt for a touchdown. Initially, a flag was thrown on LB Vinny Ciurciu for a block in the back, but after an official conference on the field, the flag was picked up and the Panthers TD stood.

After a steamrolling Seahawks offense drove deep into Panther territory, an illegal crack-back by WR Darrell Jackson pulled Seattle back 15 yards and caused the team to go for a field goal rather than score a TD.

With the Panthers having no running game, the Seahawks were able to tee-off on Delhomme in the pocket, pressuring him into poor, hurried throws.

The Panthers only gained 3 first downs in the entire first half, and never really got in sync offensively. Fortunately, the Panthers only trailed by 13 going into halftime.

As the second half started, Carolina continued to play zone coverage defensively, allowing Hasselbeck to shred them with intermediate passes and Shaun Alexander to burn them for 7 yards per carry. Eventually, Hasselbeck and Darrell Jackson fake-out CB Chris Gamble with a double-move for another touchdown to put the Seahawks up 27-7. It's at this point that it becomes painfully obvious that the Panthers were not prepared defensively coming into this game to play an offense as powerful as the Seahawks'. They were lucky in the first two post-season games that they played two quarterbacks who both had limited starting experience and no playoff experience. Hasselbeck, a Pro Bowl QB, made the Panthers defense look sub-standard. Seattle scored on 5 of its first 8 drives, and missed a field goal on another.

On Carolina's first possession of the second half, the Panthers were held to another 3 and out. On first down, Delhomme was sacked. On second down, Robertson ran a draw for little gain. On third down, Delhomme tried to hit Robertson for a screen pass that fell incomplete. It's at this point that it seems that Carolina and its offensive coordinator have given up, as a dejected Steve Smith takes his familiar seat on the Panther sideline.

Carolina forces Seattle to punt on their next possession, and Rouen and the Seahawks special teams pin the Panthers inside the 5 yard line. As they've already given up, Carolina goes with the runs and screen passes, and is forced to punt again. Baker's punt doesn't reach the 50, but somehow Carolina forces Seattle to pooch punt, and again pins Carolina deep in their own territory.

Just as it seemed that the Panthers were putting together a decent drive, Delhomme threw his third interception of the game. Another poor decision by Delhomme, who clearly is uncomfortable throwing to any other receiver besides #89.

Let's not forget to mention that Dan Morgan left the game with a reoccurrence of that shoulder injury – it wouldn't be a Panthers game without that.

Later in the fourth, after several futile attempts for the Panthers to score an offensive point, Seattle sustains another solid drive and Shaun Alexander put the Seahawks up 34-7.

Carolina added a long touchdown pass to Drew Carter mid-way through the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.

Steve Smith was held in check, and on the last offensive play of the season, fumbled the ball away in what seemed like a metaphor of the panthers' season.

Seattle dominated this game from the opening kickoff. They owned the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage. They did whatever they wanted to do offensively, and the Panthers had the best seat in the house. Congratulations on Seattle earning their tickets to Detroit to take on the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

Congratulations to the Panthers too, who end a remarkable season filled with ups and downs. The Pteam now will analyse their season, find out what worked and what didn't, and hopefully will add more pieces to the puzzle that came up short this season. It was an interesting ride... it just wasn't as long as they had hoped.

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