This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stood before his locker after the Seahawks dropped a humbling 13-10 decision to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon, a look of puzzlement and confusion rendered across his face.
"I don't even feel like I played a full game today," Hasselbeck said. "I feel like we should go back out there and play again."
It was that kind of day for the Seahawks at windy Bank of America Stadium, an afternoon of fits and starts and ultimately frustration because their five-game win streak ended in a rather desultory fashion.
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A Panthers team sporting an undrafted rookie quarterback, a mediocre record (6-8) and nothing substantive left to play for prevented the Seahawks from ever getting started, a meaningless touchdown with one second left to play the only thing the offense could bring back on its transcontinental flight home.
"There's not a lot to say about this game," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "We didn't play very inspired football. I don't think I am going to feel real good about how we played today."
At the very least, the Seahawks (9-5) now know that they will not have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The loss, combined with Green Bay's 33-14 victory over St. Louis, ensured that Seattle will have either the third or fourth seed and host a playoff game against a Wild Card team.
With games left against Baltimore and Atlanta, the Seahawks have the same record as Tampa Bay, which dominated the Falcons on Sunday. But Seattle owns the tiebreaker because it defeated the Buccaneers in the first week of the season.
While it appears the Seahawks do not have a great deal left to achieve in their final two games, that was not the feeling among the coaches and players after the game.
They were upset that they were not able to maintain the focus that earned them a playoff spot in the first place. They were disarmed and seemingly surprised that they were unable to execute in critical moments. And they were downright angry that on a day when the strong winds affected the passing, their running game again failed them, 44 yards on 14 carries the meager evidence of their efforts.
"We're going to fix what needs to be fixed," Hasselbeck said.
Before the game, Carolina coach John Fox decided to start Matt Moore, who played at Oregon State, rather than 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde.
Second in the NFL in sacks, the Seahawks' pass rush should have been enough to rattle Moore. But the Panthers' offensive line prohibited Moore from ever being threatened, and he eventually began to find his receivers, completing 19 of 27 passes for 208 yards.
"He is a little more mobile than Vinny," said defensive end Patrick Kerney, who leads the league in sacks with 13.5. "He is a young guy that got coached well to get rid of the ball quick. You got to give credit to him. He did a good job of staying out of pressure."
Through three quarters the game remained scoreless, until Moore led the Panthers on a 10-play drive that ended with John Kasay's 53-yard, wind-aided field goal, giving Carolina a 3-0 lead.
Seattle marched right down the field on its next possession, aided by a pass interference penalty on Richard Marshall. The drive stalled at the 4, though, allowing Josh Brown to tie the game at 3 with 8:23 remaining.
Brown then kicked a line drive into the wind on the ensuing kickoff, allowing the Panthers to start at their own 39. Ten plays later, the Panthers regained the lead on Kasay's 37-yard field goal, leaving the Seahawks with 2:59 to tie or win the game.
Hasselbeck then led a determined drive, 18 yards to Ben Obomanu, a pair of 12-yard passes to Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. An eight-yard toss to Engram set up a second-and-2 at the Panthers' 43.
But when Hasselbeck dropped back to pass, linebacker Thomas Davis blew around running back Maurice Morris on a blitz, hitting Hasselbeck from behind. The ball popped loose and was recovered by Marshall, effectively ending any threat from Seattle.
"It was one of those things where he just made a good play," Morris said. "He jumped outside and before I knew it he was on Hasselbeck. I just didn't do a good enough job to stop him."
That play was a microcosm of a game that made little sense for Seattle. The Panthers were last in the league in sacks, as a team collecting only 2 ½ more than Kerney had by himself.
But Davis's was the last of three sacks Carolina had for the afternoon, yet another slice of aberration pie the Seahawks consumed.
Having given up the fumble, the game and its chance for the second seed in the playoffs, it came as little surprise when DeAngelo Williams romped 35 yards for a touchdown with 1:17 left, putting Carolina ahead, 13-3.
Hasselbeck hit Branch with a 15-yard touchdown with one second left to complete the scoring, but it was far too little and it came much too late.
Unless they let Hasselbeck go out and play again like he wanted to.