By David Rogers. November 25, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — When Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says that Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks were “over the top,” he means it.
COVER IMAGE: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson (3) spots an open receiver. All photographic images by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News.
Blown defensive pass coverages led to big gains when the Panthers could ill afford them most in a see-saw NFL battle at Bank of America Stadium. At the end, the Seahawks’ Sebastian Janikowski slotted a 31-yard field goal as the clock ticked down to zero, allowing Seattle to slip out of Charlotte with a nervous, 30-27 victory in front of an announced holiday crowd of 74,002.
On the surface, most of Seattle’s damage was done through the air. Quarterback Russell Wilson certainly had a happy homecoming. The one-time North Carolina State quarterback completed 22 of 31 passes for 339 yards and two TDs, the longest a third quarter rocket that found second year pro wide receiver David Moore racing down the right sideline for a 54-yard bomb before being run down at the Carolina 13 by defensive back Eric Reid.
Wilson followed that would two more passes “over the top” in the fourth quarter.
I just missed it.
With 3:33 remaining in the game, Wilson found Moore again on a 35-yard TD-scoring aerial to tie the game at 27-27 when Janikowski’s PAT was slotted between the goal posts.
The Panthers had an opportunity to break the tie on their subsequent possession, fashioning a 7-play drive that got the ball to the Seattle 34-yard line. But on 4th and four, placekicker Graham Gano’s 52-yard field goal attempt sailed inches wide to the right. Later, when asked by a reporter to “Take us through the missed field goal,” Gano responded succinctly, “No. There is nothing to take you through. I just missed it.”
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were given another chance to score with 1:40 left on the game clock. After an incomplete and a small gainer of a pass of five yards to Moore, Wilson found 4-year pro wide receiver Tyler Lockett over the top in the middle for a 43 yard gain to the Panthers’ 10-yard line. With a first down and 45 seconds left, Wilson burned those precious seconds off the clock with a couple of kneels and then a spiked pass to stop the clock with a mere four seconds left. It was at that point Janikowskis number was called for the game-winning chip shot of a field goal and the Seahawks’ win, 30-27.
To be sure, this was a see-saw battle that saw neither side establishing any dominance. Whoever had the ball last was likely to win. The lead changed hands six times. The largest lead was by the Panthers at 27-20 with 6:57 remaining in the fourth quarter when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton found Christian McCaffrey coming out of the backfield for a 2-yard TD catch in the end zone.
When you are in a position to make a play, you have to make a play.
Newton had a respectable day on the field for the Panthers, completing an efficient 25 of 30 passes, with two TDs offset by an interception. In fact, the former Auburn star went 14-for-14 in the first half, marking the most completions without an incomplete in a first half in franchise history. Including his two completions at the end of the Detroit game last week, Newton’s 16 consecutive completed passes breaks the franchise record of 15 held by Steve Beuerlein and set in 1999. Newton’s performance in the losing cause earned a passer rating of 110.6, the sixth straight game he has posted a passer rating of 100 or better, extending his franchise record.
McCaffrey did yeoman’s work in carrying the ball 17 times for 125 yards rushing (one TD), while also emerging as Carolina’s leading receiver with 11 catches for 112 yards, including one TD. His 237 yards from scrimmage set a new franchise record, improving on Jonathan Stewart’s previous record of 222 set in 2009. The former Stanford star also became the first ever Panther to have more than 100 yards rushing AND 100 yards receiving in a single game.
In the end, breakdowns in pass coverage that led to nine deep pass completions of 20 yards or more, as well as four turnovers (three fumbles and the INT) are what hurt the Panthers on this day.
Rivera didn’t mince words in answer to a Blowing Rock News question about what Seattle might have been doing to create the breakdowns in pass coverage. He first acknowledged that Wilson had too much time to find a receiver a couple of times, then added, “I think a big part of what has to happen is we’ve got to make sure we stay on top of the ball. We have a guy right there that has a chance to make a play and the ball comes down the chute. That happened twice. Again, it is about when you are in a position to make a play, you’ve got to make a play.”
We did a lot of good things today, but it wasn’t good enough.
Newton acknowledged afterward, “We did a lot of good things today, but it wasn’t good enough. We show a lot of flashes, but at the same time we miss a lot of layups. We just have to (shore) it up and when it clicks, it is a thing of beauty.”
McCaffrey was philosophical afterward in telling reporters, “We have playmakers all over the field. A lot of guys did an awesome job today. We just have to find a way to finish. We played fast and we stayed focused, but at the end of the game we have to find a way to win. That’s what great teams do. We can do it. It’s not a matter of whether we can or can’t. If we had gotten blown out, that’s one thing. But we are in a position where we control our own destiny. That makes it more frustrating…”
After missing the 52-yard kick that might have won the game for Carolina and broken the 27-27 tie to possibly make Seattle’s last drive more desperate, Gano admitted, “We should have won. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for me, (the team) having a perfect game up until that one 50+ yard kick. It’s really frustrating.”