The celebration was almost as zany as the rally.
The Seahawks jumped up and down all over the Panthers’ field. Russell Wilson jumped into big teammate Duane Brown’s arms. Sebastian Janikowski just walked off into a locker room that was bangin’ bass so loudly, you couldn’t hear the guy standing two feet from you.
Job—absolutely mammoth job—done.
Wilson’s late, improvisational pass to Tyler Lockett set up Janikowski for a field goal from 31 yards on Sunday’s final play. The 40-year-old kicker nailed it for his second last-play winner this season, and the Seahawks endured seven lead changes to pull off a huge victory and seize full control of their playoff fate, 30-27 over the stunned Carolina Panthers at silenced Bank of America Stadium.
As he walked out of that off-the-hook visitors’ locker room in downtown Charlotte, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner turned to Lockett and shouted over the noise: “Tyler, you’re the greatest!”
Wilson wasn’t bad, either.
“You saw the greatness that Russ brings,” center Justin Britt said, just about yelling to be heard inside that bonkers locker room. “It’s nothing new. We are used to it. We expect it.”
Wilson completed 11 for 15 passes for 144 yards, a trust-you touchdown on fourth down to David Moore that tied the game at 27 with 3:26 left, then the clinching third-down throw to Lockett.
Wilson’s fourth-quarter passer rating Sunday: 125.4.
“It comes down to one thing: It comes down to belief,” Wilson said, after he followed up his rally past Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay 10 days earlier with an even more dramatic comeback past Cam Newton on his and previously 6-2 Carolina’s home field.
The Panthers led 20- 17 and 27-20 in the final quarter, but Wilson and the Seahawks would not relent.
“You have to have no fear. You can’t doubt,” Wilson said. “You either look forward to the moment, or you fear it.”
The Seahawks (6-5) fear nothing right now. They control their own fate in the NFC’s playoff standings, and can win their way into the postseason. On Dec. 10 they play Minnesota (6-4-1), the fifth of six playoff seeds which they currently trail by one-half game after the Vikings’ win Sunday night over Green Bay (4-6-1).
Washington (6-5), for now the six and final playoff seed, is 0-1 since losing starting quarterback Alex Smith for the season to injury.
Five games remain in Seattle’s regular season. Four are at home. That includes next Sunday against San Francisco (2-9). The lone road game is at the 49ers, on Dec. 16.
““To see us finish like that again...we’re alive,” Carroll said.
“We’ve come a long ways.”
The Panthers (6-5) lost their third consecutive game after their Graham Gano missed a field goal from 52 yards wide right with 1:40 left. The Seahawks were celebrating as soon as Gano’s leg struck that ball.
Lockett’s thoughts as he watched Gano’s kick and Carolina’s last chance for the lead go wide: “I said, ‘Let’s go win the game.’”
Another job done.
The Panthers had won 10 straight home games. They gained 476 yards, the most allowed by Seattle this season. Cam Newton completed 25 of 30 passes, and gained 63 more yards running. Christian McCaffrey was wondrous with 125 yards on 17 carries, and 112 more and another touchdown while making catches all 11 times Newton targeted him out of the backfield. The Panthers drove inside the Seattle 19-yard line seven different times. Carolina fumbled five times, and Seattle recovered zero of them.
Yet the Seahawks still won.
Wilson, who finished 22 for 30 passing for 339 yards and two touchdowns, had no time outs from his own 42-yard line after Gano’s miss. On third and 5, for one of few times in weeks, Seattle’s offensive line gave Wison all day to throw. That gave Lockett time to stop and change his route to a scramble-drill one, deep behind flat-footed defensive back Captain Munnerlyn and Carolina’s entire defense. Wilson’s lofted pass and Lockett’s run gained 43 yards to the Carolina 10 with 1 minute left.
“Anytime we give Russ time,” left guard J.R. Sweezy said, “he’s going to make a play.”
Wilson said Lockett during the Seahawks’ final walk-through practice of this past week before Sunday’s game “was out there on the right and kind of did that same thing, stuttered (with his steps) and went (long).
“He said, ‘Hey, I’m just working on something, just in case we need it.’
“Funny thing is,” Wilson said, raising his eyes and eyebrows coyly, “we needed it.”
After two kneel-downs by Wilson, Carolina time outs and a final spike by Wilson to stop the clock with 4 seconds remaining, Janikowski walked on and drilled the winner.
Lockett said his decision to break deep came “right when I saw Russell in scramble-type of mindset. It was weird, because everything happened so fast but it seemed like it was so slow on the field. Once I saw all of our routes were dead and he was kind of looking around that’s when I was able to go deep.
“It was great that he was able (to have the time to) look back, and be able to see where I was at and still be able to throw a great ball like that.”
All that was after David Moore’s heroics. And Wilson’s trust in him.
On fourth and 3 from the Panthers 35 and 3 1/2 minutes left, Wilson put the game in Moore’s hands. Right on them, in fact. Another Panthers fill-in cornerback, Corn Elder, playing only because starter Donte Jackson got hurt on the game’s first play, grabbed and pushed Moore into the end zone.
“Yeah,” Moore deadpanned, with a grin, “he was on me.”
Yet Moore pulled Wilson’s perfect pass to him in the end zone into his chest with his lone, free left arm.
That trust in the second-year, seventh-round draft choice from tiny East Central University in Oklahoma got Seattle tied at 27 with 3:26 to go.
“He doesn’t even need two hands to catch the ball,” Lockett said, marveling.
“He’s just amazing.”
But Newton and the Panthers kept moving on a Seahawks’ defense that yielded big gains all day.
McCaffrey answered the Seahawks’ tying field goal by Sebastian Janikowski early in the fourth quarter by romping 59-yards on the first play of Carolina’s ensuing drive. up the middle and away from Seattle Wagner, who had 11 tackles.. On first down from the 1, McCaffrey leaped—and fumbled. But for the fifth time Sunday, the Seahawks didn’t recover a loose ball. Tight end Greg Olsen did for the Panthers. On third down from the 1, Newton threw to an alone McCaffrey, freed into the right flat by an inside pick, for the touchdown that put the Panthers back ahead 27-20 with 6:57 remaining.
That was after Bradley McDougald picked a perfect time to end Seattle’s team-record dry streak of three-plus games without forcing a turnover. With Carolina about to go ahead 20-10 in the third quarter, Kam Chancellor’s replacement at strong safety continued his brilliant season by tipping Newton’s pass to himself in the end zone for the interception.
The play revived the entire Seahawks roster.
Chris Carson then took off on a 15-yard run that included a ridiculous leap over standing Panther safety Eric Reid, then the running back landing on both feet and continuing to run.
Carson’s mom texted her son after the game about the play and told him “stay on the ground. You give me a heart attack.”
On third and 12, Moore juked his defender to the ground. Wilson found him with a 54-yard pass from the Seattle 33 to the Carolina 13. Then Wilson threw to Lockett inside the goal line for the receiver’s eighth touchdown catch in 11 games, extending his career high for a season. Seattle led 17-13.
The defense yielded again, but forced the third and fourth fumbles by the Panthers on the day. The Seahawks didn’t recover those either, after more completions by Newton. Rookie cornerback Tre Flowers, who played brilliantly, forced the fourth fumble. It went to teammate Tedric Thompson’s feet after Jarius Wright’s catch, but Wright recovered it at the Seattle 12 to extend Carolina’s drive.
It ended in Seattle’s end zone, McCaffrey running it in from the 1 after a pass-interference penalty in the end zone on cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who didn’t turn around as Newton’s pass arrived.
That’s how Carolina led 20-17 entering the final quarter.
The Panthers drove inside the Seahawks’ 10-yard line three times in the first 1 1/2 quarters, but had only 10 points to show for that.
Carolina’s crisp first drive ended when Newton, who had gained 22 yards sprinting on his first two rushes, walked into Seattle’s defensive line on consecutive keepers on third and fourth and 1 from the Seahawks 5. Wagner stopped him short of the line to gain on fourth down. Seattle’s defense ran off the field celebrating.
Then on the Panthers’ next drive, again inside the Seattle 5, former University of North Carolina Tar Heel Nazair Jones, a healthy inactive for five games this season, stormed into Carolina’s backfield and dropped McCaffrey for a 3-yard loss on third and 1. The Panthers settled for a field goal on that fourth down.
Carolina finally turned a drive to the red zone into a touchdown on its third try. Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin fell down before Newton threw 7 yards to Curtis Samuel for an easy touchdown. The Panthers led 10-3 midway through the second quarter.
The Seahawks’ offense finally answered with a timely, sustained drive to tie the game. On third and 4 from the Seattle 31 Wilson threw outside left to Tyler Lockett, who ran past three Panthers for a 27-yard gain down the left sideline to the Panthers 42. Wilson eluded a Carolina pass rush that sacked him twice in the half and threw on the run to open fullback Tre Madden for a 28-yard catch and run to the 1-yard line. Carson’s run up the middle on the next play tied the game at 10.
Flowers joined Wagner and Jones in making stops inside the Seahawks 10 to keep the game close in the half. Flowers came up quickly and made a brilliant, open-field tackle on McCaffrey on third down in the final seconds of the half. That stopped Carolina’s leading receiver at the Seahawks 7-yard line short of the line to gain on third down, and the Panthers settled for another field goal as the half ended.
Those three tackles kept Carolina from 21 points. Instead it was only 13-10 Panthers, despite Seattle allowing Carolina 236 yards in the half and Newton to complete all 14 of his throws, for 159 yards.
“It’s huge,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin (five catches, 39 yards on a sore groin) said. “Regardless of what anybody says, this was an important game for us. We needed to win this game, to keep our playoff hopes alive.
“This team has been resilient the entire year. We’ve had opportunities to show who we are, and we’ve been able to show that. This is no different.”