The team against which Russell Wilson issued a season-altering proclamation nearly three months ago is the one the Seahawks will play to begin their playoffs.
NFC West-champion Seattle (12-4) will host a familiar opponent in the NFC South-champion Carolina Panthers (8-8-1) at 5:15 p.m. in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Dallas’ rally from 20-7 down in the second half to beat Detroit on Sunday — with the mammoth help of a late pass-interference flag against the Cowboys picked up and waved off by officials — ensured the second meeting this season and fifth game in five seasons between Seattle and Carolina.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who we play,” Seahawks leading wide receiver Doug Baldwin said before he found out Saturday’s foe. “It’s about us in this locker room. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Third-seeded Dallas is at second-seeded Green Bay on Sunday in the other conference semifinal game.
Carolina — once considered buried after going 62 days between wins earlier this season — won its fifth consecutive game Saturday by beating Arizona, 27-14, at home in the wild-card round. The Panthers held the Cardinals and third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley to 78 total yards, the lowest total for an offense in NFL postseason history.
This will be the fifth time in five seasons the Seahawks and Panthers have played. Three of the other four times were in Charlotte, North Carolina. Seattle has beaten Carolina in each of the last three regular seasons, in defensive and mistake-filled slogs with final scores of 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9.
The last of those Seahawks escapes was in Week 8 of this season, Oct. 26 in Charlotte. The Seahawks’ defense of their Super Bowl title seemed teetering. They were 3-3 and trailed the Panthers 9-6 with less than five minutes left in that game, having turned the ball over twice.
That’s when Wilson entered the huddle and told his teammates “There is no doubt. There is no doubt.”
Wilson ran for 21 yards and completed all four of his throws for 53 yards on the ensuing drive, the only time he completed four in a row that day. His 23-yard TD pass to tight end Luke Willson with 47 seconds left rallied the Seahawks to the 13-9 victory that ended Seattle’s two-game losing streak — and turned around its season.
It was the first of nine wins in 10 games the Seahawks are carrying into Saturday night.
The Panthers gained 114 yards rushing in October against a Seattle defense that was missing injured All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and had Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor dragging a bad hip, sore groin and bone spurs in both ankles around Bank of America Field 21/2 months ago. Since Wagner returned from a broken bone in a tendon and torn ligament in his foot six games ago, Seattle is 6-0 while allowing 6.5 points and 202.1 yards per game.
The Panthers have also been winning with defense, their foundation for years. They have allowed 11.8 points per game in beating the Saints, Buccaneers, Browns, Falcons and Cardinals consecutively. Carolina’s 34-3 win at Atlanta two weeks ago in the regular-season finale made the Panthers the second team in league history to win a division with a losing record. The first was the 2010 Seahawks, who went 7-9 yet won the NFC West.
Panthers dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton has completed 59.8 percent of his throws with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions while winning his last four starts. Newton’s also been averaging 58 yards rushing per game with three scores on the ground in his last four games, all Panthers wins. But he is 0-3 with a 54 percent completion rate and only one touchdown in three career games against Seattle.
The Seahawks are 5-2 all-time against Carolina. That includes their only previous meeting in the postseason. On Jan. 22, 2006, the Seahawks beat Carolina 34-14 in Seattle to win the NFC championship and advance to their first Super Bowl.
While many Seahawks fans were missing their team playing over this past weekend, the players sure didn’t mind being off Friday through Sunday while on their first-round bye. It was their first weekend off since the last full week of September, when the NFL gave the Seahawks the league’s earliest regular-season bye following the third game.
Wilson said this past weekend was like winning a playoff game without having to play.
Linebacker Bruce Irvin responded to a Seahawks fan who tweeted Sunday “The twelves ARE ready...a week off with no Seahawks ball is miserable!!” with a tweet of his own.
“lol,” Irvin tweeted, “but our bodies appreciated it!”