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Despite struggles, Seattle Seahawks find a way vs. Carolina

By Larry Stone
Seattle Times

You’d want it be an artistic masterpiece, and a few of those might even be coming for the Seahawks, down the road.

You’d want the execution to be pinpoint, the slip-ups minimal, and the season to open with a resounding runaway, a thorough trampling.

Or maybe you wouldn’t. Just maybe, you’d want it to start just like this, with adversity and mistakes and flaws – and still, somehow, a Seattle victory pulled right from the brink of the unthinkable.

Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant certainly sees it that way. He looks at the Seahawks’ slog of a 12-7 win over the Carolina Panthers as a thing of, well, not quite beauty, but of character. Something to build from, certainly, but also something to savor, because the Seahawks were caught in a classic trap game and escaped.

“What we’ll take away from this, we were able to go into a hostile environment, we were able to play smash-mouth football, and we were able to close the game out,” Bryant said. “We made more game-winning plays than they were able to make today, and that was the difference.

“When we’re fortunate enough to blow teams out, that’s not the norm. This is the norm. This is the National Football League. Everything you get, you’ve got to earn it.”

Championship-caliber teams win games like this, when the outlook appears grim, as it did for the Seahawks for much of the afternoon. Their running game wasn’t clicking, and neither, for a time, was quarterback Russell Wilson.

A Wilson fumble on a sack thwarted a scoring opportunity, and an intentional grounding penalty defused another drive. Cam Newton, meanwhile had mostly ditched the expected read option to run a more conventional offense, an unexpected turn that left the Seahawks on their heels at times, according to Bryant.

But facing a Carolina team that the Seahawks insist is better than anyone realizes, playing at the dreaded 10 a.m. PDT starting time, stymieing their cause with too many penalties, playing without two defensive starters, Brandon Browner and Cliff Avril, both declared inactive on game day, the Seahawks found a way.

Coach Pete Carroll contrasted that outcome with last year’s opener, when the Seahawks couldn’t close out a road comeback against Arizona, losing 20-16 as their would-be winning drive, led by Wilson in his NFL debut, died ever so close to the end zone.

“We were in a similar situation a year ago and couldn’t find a way to get it done,’’ Carroll said. “We did today. It’s a world of difference.”

This time, Wilson revived his day and came through with the play they needed, a 43-yard, fourth-quarter strike to Jermaine Kearse that put Seattle ahead to stay with just 10:13 to play.

And then they came through with a defensive game-changer, right after a facemask penalty kept the Panthers alive when they were facing a punt.

“That was as frustrating as it gets,” Carroll said.

The rejuvenated Panthers marched downfield, all the way to the Seattle 8, until the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman combined to disconnect DeAngelo Williams from the ball. Seattle never gave it back. In a flash, the Seahawks muzzled all those people ready to declare that the Seahawks had been overhyped all offseason.

“This is a quality win for us on the road, and it showed we needed all of that maturity and that togetherness that kept us going,” Carroll said.

Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice tried to sum up the day in three words. Well, actually, one word to the third power.

“Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance,” he said.

Sherman said he stood up in the team meeting on Saturday and warned players that the ride wasn’t going to be smooth, and that how they handled the rough stretches would tell the story of the Seahawk season.

“We’re going to see some adversity,” Sherman said. “Last year, we didn’t really see too much adversity until the playoffs ... I think us getting this kind of game early is going to help propel us throughout the season.”

So the takeaway message seemed to be, save those blowouts for another day. Be happy with the tension and frustration on Sunday, tests the Seahawks hope forges the appropriate mindset for a title run.

“I definitely think it’s more rewarding when you have a tough-grit game like this instead of blowing somebody out,’’ receiver Doug Baldwin said.

“Because you have to overcome those adversities, those obstacles, and you learn a lot about yourself.

“I thought we showed that wherewithal today, and definitely it will give us motivation and a boost going into the second week of the season.”

It’s a week that brings the 49ers to town for a game the entire football world has been anticipating. The last time they played, it was a shocking Seattle romp, 42-13. But as Bryant said, that’s not the norm.

Count Sunday’s victory as a blueprint for hanging tough, because you just know they’ll have to do it again. Often, and with even higher stakes.

Larry Stone is a columnist for the Seattle Times.

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