If this would have come during his time as a star running back at Timberline High School, this would have been a below-average game for Jonathan Stewart.
He said about 20 of his friends and family were at CenturyLink Field — about an hour north of Lacey, where Stewart graduated from high school — on Sunday to watch him take 20 carries for a season-high 78 yards and two second-half touchdowns in the Carolina Panthers’ 27-23 comeback victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
It was only the third time that Stewart has played in Seattle — the second time in a regular-season game — in what has been an injury-plagued NFL career.
“Being here, of course, puts a little emphasis on me growing up here and your dream of playing football and the dream of playing for the Seattle Seahawks,” Stewart said. “And here I’m against them.
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“So coming back here and getting the ‘W’ — especially in that situation where we were 4-0 and we’re now 5-0 — it means a lot.”
Stewart was one of the catalysts of the Carolina comeback.
The Panthers trailed 20-7 before Stewart’s 1-yard TD run in the third quarter.
They trailed 23-14 before he plowed into the end zone — again from a yard away — with 3 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the game.
“I felt good,” Stewart said. “The offensive line did a great job of giving us opportunities to make plays, and that’s all that mattered.”
It wasn’t flashy. Not like his days at Timberline, when Stewart, The News Tribune’s 2004-05 male athlete of the year, ran for 7,755 yards, which is still the state’s career rushing record, and 95 touchdowns,
His longest carry Sunday went for 11 yards.
But his physicality set the tone — much like what Marshawn Lynch has trademarked with the Seahawks.
“Stew was playing like a mad man,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “We are going to need him to be just like that.
“The challenge, though, going forward for him is being healthy and being him. Stew runs hard and is explosive and finishes in the end zone. … We are going to need him to do the things he’s been doing. It’s nothing special. It’s just Stew being Stew.”
Stewart has missed games with knee, heel and ankle injuries since joining the Panthers as the 13th overall pick out of the University of Oregon in the 2008 draft. He has 5,123 rushing yards in eight years with the Panthers.
He ran for 92 yards and a touchdown in his first trip to Seattle in 2010. But Sunday was his first career win over his hometown team.
“We are just trying to get back to where we want to go, and that’s to make the Super Bowl,” Stewart said. “Right now, we are just going week by week.”
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