Kam, that was good!
What the Seahawks’ flying, strong-in-more-ways-than-one safety did to get Seattle into its second consecutive NFC Championship game was, well, almost unhuman.
“He’s a freakin’ monster,” teammate Richard Sherman said of Kam Chancellor. “He damages people’s souls.”
Chancellor spent the first half rearranging Carolina ball carriers, knocking them yards back. He finished it by leaping cleanly over the snapper and landing on both feet to charge in on the kicker on a Panthers’ field-goal try – twice.
In the second half, he finished Cam Newton and Carolina.
Chancellor stepped in front of Newton’s pass with the Panthers poised to score and ran the other way for the longest scoring play in Seahawks postseason history, 90 yards. That sealed Seattle’s 31-17 victory Saturday night in the NFC divisional playoffs at partying CenturyLink Field.
“All I saw was green,” Chancellor said with a huge grin. “And green means go.”
All the way to next Sunday’s conference title game for the Seahawks (13-4), at CenturyLink Field against the winner of this Sunday’s Dallas at Green Bay game.
Seattle has played both potential opponents. It beat Green Bay, 36-16, in its opener Sept. 4 at home, then lost at home to Dallas, 30-23, on Oct. 12.
“I would love for the Cowboys to win,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said, after disrupting his latest offensive line and backfield. “I’m from Texas.
“And they beat us.”
Russell Wilson completed 15 of 22 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He was exquisite at the biggest moments: 8 for 8 throwing for 199 yards and all three of those scores on third downs, against a Carolina defense that stacked the middle of the field to defend his and Marshawn Lynch’s runs.
His 149.2 passer rating for the game was the fifth-highest in NFL postseason history.
Wilson, already with the most wins (41) by a quarterback in the first three seasons of an NFL career, improved to 17-3 in December, January and February — including 5-1 in the playoffs.
“Sometimes,” Wilson said, “I think I am made for these situations.”
Lakewood’s Jermaine Kearse caught Wilson’s second scoring throw — a Seattle playoff-long 63 yards — during his first career 100-yard receiving day. And Seattle became the first defending Super Bowl champion since the New England Patriots in 2006 to win a playoff game.
It was a 14-10 lead for the Seahawks entering the final quarter, in which they hadn’t given up a point since Week 11 at Kansas City — their last loss. The Panthers (8-9-1) broke that streak with a late Newton touchdown pass over Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon, who got burned often as a surprise starter for Byron Maxwell. Maxwell had shortness of breath from a week-long illness, though he did play on punt teams.
But Carolina’s late score came only after Wilson’s third touchdown pass, to tight end Luke Willson for 25 yards with 10:26 left, and then Chancellor’s decisive interception had made it 31-10.
The 26-year-old Chancellor said it was his first interception returned for a score at any level, even Pee Wee football.
Wait, the thumping hitter the Seahawks call “Bam Bam” — the man who banged into Carolina’s Mike Tolbert so hard he knocked the fullback back 2 yards to deny him a first down late in the first half, just before he twice hurdled the Panthers’ line on a field-goal try and penalty re-try — was once a “Pee Wee”?
“He’s a ridiculous athlete,” Sherman said of the safety who has played through bone spurs in both ankles and a painful hip all season. “ ‘Bam Bam’ goes into dark places. You don’t bring your flashlights, you’ll get lost.”
A rollicking first half ended with the Seahawks leading 14-10, the most points Seattle had allowed in four games.
Carolina had scoring drives of 14 and 13 plays, the latter to end the first half with a field goal.
The game began as advertised, with one combined first down in the first four drives and three three-and-outs. The game’s first 18 plays by both of these defense-first teams netted a combined 49 yards.
But then Carolina began giving Newton more time to throw, partly because its offensive line began double-teaming Bennett, the Seahawks’ quick-twitch end.
The Panthers’ increased attention on Bennett began after he forced a fumble by breaking into the backfield in the first quarter. Teammate Tony McDaniel recovered at the Panthers 28.
That set up the game’s first score, Wilson’s 16-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, when the wide receiver put a stutter-stop move on rookie safety Tre Boston.
Both of Seattle’s first-half touchdowns came on targets of rookie defensive backs that didn’t start for the Panthers in the first meeting the Seahawks won 13-9 on Oct. 26 in Charlotte.
Seattle took a 14-7 lead with 4:54 left in the first half when Wilson precisely plopped a pass into the arm of Kearse over Carolina rookie cornerback Bené Benwikere. Kearse secured the one-arm catch and ran the rest of the way untouched for a 63-yard touchdown.
It was the longest completion in Seahawks’ playoff history.
“A lot of people doubt us,” said Kearse, who missed Seattle previous game, the regular-season finale Dec. 28 against St. Louis, because of a hamstring injury. “We just constantly put the work in. We just constantly prove people wrong.”
Another signature Seahawks second half — grinding offense, imposing its defensive will — ensured the end for the Panthers, who won their final four games of the regular season for the NFC South title. Carolina joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only teams to win a division with a losing record.
Newton was left looking as sad as teams usually do after playing in Seattle. The Seahawks won for the 25th time in 27 home games.
“The look on his face,” Bennett said, “was like he lost his puppy.”
The Seahawks found what they’ve expected to have since they won last season’s Super Bowl: A berth in this year’s conference title game.
“It’s exciting. The job’s not done, though,” Wilson said. “There’s still a lot more to do.
“We’re on one mission. That’s what we keep talking about: Just one mission.”