CHARLOTTE — They’ve learned from their mistakes.
The Seattle Seahawks turned the agonizing pain of losing to Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoffs last season into a positive.
They want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
Paying attention to the small things during training camp paid off in the form of a grind-it-out, 12-7, victory over Carolina at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday in the season opener for both teams.
“We needed as a team to see some adversity,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I talked about it last night in the meeting; we were going to see some adversity. “Last year, we didn’t really see too much adversity until the playoffs. … I think us getting this kind of game early is going to help propel us throughout the season.”
The victory was Seattle’s first road win to start a season since defeating Detroit 9-6 in the 2006 season opener. The Seahawks are now 4-6 in road openers since 2000.
“It was hard today, really hard,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “The thing I liked about it is our guys hung tough. We made the plays when we needed to make them. We finished the game with the ball in our hands, which we always like. And we get out of our first game on the road with a win.”
Seattle played ragged at times, which is expected for the first game of the season. The Seahawks finished with nine penalties for 109 yards, and also failed to score a touchdown from inside Carolina’s 20-yard line on three occasions.
Still, when the Seahawks needed a play to turn the game around, they made it.
After the Seahawks grabbed a 3-0 lead on a Steven Hauschka 27-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, the Panthers responded with a scoring drive of their own on the following possession, marching 80 yards on 11 plays, with Cam Newton hitting Steve Smith for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Carolina’s stout defense made that lead stand until the fourth quarter. Seattle got another Hauschka field goal, this one from 40 yards, cutting the margin to 7-6 with just over two minutes left in the third. But the Seahawks finally grabbed the lead for good in the final quarter.
After Russell Wilson failed to connect with Stephen Williams on a deep ball down the right sideline, the Seattle quarterback went back to a similar route to Jermaine Kearse on the very next play. And Wilson connected with the University of Washington and Lakes High School product for a 43-yard touchdown with 10:21 left to play.
“I just kind of read that play,” Wilson said. “I went through my progressions really, to be honest with you, and he was my second read. And he just did a great job of attacking the football.”
Wilson finished 25-for-33 passing for 320 yards and the touchdown pass to Kearse. It was Wilson’s second, 300-yard performance in the pros. The other one was a 385-yard, two-touchdown performance against Atlanta in the playoffs last year.
Up 12-7, all Seattle’s defense had to do was get a stop. The Seahawks failed in similar situations last season against Arizona, Detroit, Miami and in the NFC divisional playoff game at Atlanta – all come-from-behind wins for the opposing team.
However, Sunday would be different.
Carolina put together a promising drive, quickly marching into Seattle territory. And the Panthers were on the verge of getting into the end zone when running back DeAngelo Williams burst through the middle of Seattle’s defense on a run, turning up the right sideline.
However, safety Earl Thomas chased him down and punched the ball out, with defensive tackle Tony McDaniel emerging from the pile with the loose ball at Seattle’s 8-yard line, ending Carolina’s chances for the winning score with 5:43 to play.
Williams also lost a fumble last year against the Seahawks that led Seattle’s winning score. Williams was stripped by Brandon Browner, who also recovered the fumble.
“It’s a huge play,” Carroll said. “And nobody takes more pride than Earl knocking that ball loose. It is where we live and die with taking care of the football. They got it off of us once today in a crucial situation.
“We were fortunate to get that one when we needed it most. They really had a lot of momentum going at that time. And it was just a gigantic play in this football game.”
From there, the Seahawks salted away the game with a 12-play drive to run out the clock.
At 1-0, the Seahawks are tied with San Francisco and St. Louis atop the NFC West standings; a much-anticipated matchup with the 49ers awaits next week at CenturyLink Field.
“You always want to open your season with a win,” Seattle tight end Zach Miller said. “But even more so because we’ve got a big game next week. Obviously, there will be a lot of headlines that go along with it. But we’re excited and looking forward to it.”