The Panthers and Seahawks have played so often in recent years that Carolina defensive tackle Dwan Edwards views Seattle almost like a division rival.
But linebacker Thomas Davis, the Panthers’ longest-tenured player, doesn’t see it that way.
“This is the NFL. We don’t worry about rivalries,” Davis said. “This ain’t college football.”
The teams will meet for the fifth time in four seasons Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle in a series the Seahawks have dominated of late.
The Panthers (4-0) have lost five in a row to Seattle (2-3), including each of the past three regular-season games in Charlotte by a total of 13 points. The Seahawks knocked Carolina out of the playoffs in the divisional round in January, en route to their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
And while the Panthers are one of five remaining undefeated teams, the Seahawks have blown three fourth-quarter leads, including coughing up a 17-point advantage last week at Cincinnati.
Despite Seattle’s sub-.500 record and meltdown against the Bengals, Panthers players said this week that the Seahawks remain one of the best teams in the NFC.
We’re 4-0 right now and we’re the worst 4-0 team in the league, to let the media tell it. But we don’t care about that. It’s all about playing the game.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis
But Davis doesn’t view Sunday’s matchup as a barometer game for the Panthers, who have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
“We’re 4-0 right now and we’re the worst 4-0 team in the league, to let the media tell it,” Davis said. “But we don’t care about that. It’s all about playing the game. Seattle is an extremely tough opponent to play in their home, and their record indicates that.”
The Seahawks are 2-0 at home and 0-3 away from their 12th Man, the fan group that claims to make CenturyLink the loudest stadium in the league.
Seattle is 75-31 at home since the stadium opened in 2002, and quarterback Russell Wilson is 24-2 as a starter at Century Link.
The Panthers’ first four opponents have combined for a .286 winning percentage. But the trip to Seattle represents the start of the Panthers’ toughest stretch of the season.
After the Seahawks, the Panthers play at home against Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay.
With the Seahawks are coming off their biggest collapse under Pete Carroll, former Seattle wide receiver Kevin Norwood believes this is a statement game for the Panthers and Seahawks.
This is going to be the game that probably determines whether they’re going to be successful or not, in my eyes.
Panthers wide receiver Kevin Norwood, on his former Seahawks teammates
“They’re looking for that one victory that can take them over the top and get them their confidence back,” said Norwood, acquired in a trade with Seattle on Sept. 1. “This is going to be the game that probably determines whether they’re going to be successful or not, in my eyes.”
The Seahawks were in a similar position last year when they came to Charlotte. The reigning Super Bowl champions were 3-3 and there were reports of locker room discord.
But Seattle rallied for a 13-9 victory when Wilson hit tight end Luke Willson on a 23-yard touchdown strike in the final minutes, and the Seahawks wound up winning nine of their final 10 regular-season games.
After beating Carolina in the divisional round, Seattle knocked out Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game before falling to New England in the Super Bowl, when Wilson was intercepted at the goal line.
Carroll said the victory at Carolina last year didn’t necessarily jump-start the Seahawks. It was more a matter of the Seahawks “getting right,” he said.
“There’s a lot that you deal with when you play in the championship game there at the end either way, when you win or when you lose. You have to deal with it, put it behind you and get going,” Carroll said. “We struggled through it at the start last year and we’re struggling through it at the start this year. I’m hoping we’ll find our stride and get going.”
We struggled through it at the start last year and we’re struggling through it at the start this year. I’m hoping we’ll find our stride and get going.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
Wilson, who began his college career at N.C. State, laughed when talking about how the Panthers-Seahawks game has become an annual matchup.
“I’m not sure if the NFL is trying to do that or what, but it seems like it,” he said. “Obviously, (we’ve been) playing them the past four years essentially in tough games that are down to the wire for the most part. They have a tremendous football team. I know a lot of the guys on that team and have a lot of respect for the guys on that team. It’s always fun playing them because you know you are going to get a great football game.”
Edwards, the Panthers defensive tackle, sees similarities between the teams. Both have elite defenses, athletic quarterbacks in Wilson and Cam Newton and offenses that like to establish the run.
And while the Panthers match up well with the Seahawks, they haven’t been good enough to beat them.
“They’ve been to where we want to go. Super Bowl champions and NFC champions last year. That’s who we’re trying to beat,” Edwards said. “They’ve been great games, close games. But we’ve got to find a way to be a play or two better to finish up the game.”
They’ll have more than one chance. The way the NFL schedule falls, the Panthers will be back in Seattle in 2016.
Several of the Panthers’ key players were not interested in revisiting their recent history with Seattle this week. Newton said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, and Davis dismissed the notion the Seahawks had become one of Carolina’s chief rivals.
Safety Roman Harper has only been with the Panthers for two of the Seattle games, the losses in the regular season and playoffs last season. But the 10-year veteran says it’s not enough to almost have beaten the team that’s represented the NFC in the Super Bowl the past two seasons.
“We’re just trying to win ball games,” Harper said. “Losing close, nobody cares.”