The Panthers and Seattle Seahawks have met so often the past four seasons, it’s almost like they’re division rivals – if not for the 2,500 miles that separate them.
Sunday’s divisional-round game at Bank of America Stadium will be the sixth time Carolina (15-1) and Seattle (11-6) have played since 2012, including the Panthers’ playoff loss at Seattle last January.
The teams will meet again next season in Seattle for a seventh time in five seasons.
The Observer looks at the recent games in one of the NFL’s more interesting – and improbable – rivalries:
Seahawks 16, Panthers 12
When: Oct 7, 2012, at Charlotte.
How the game was lost: With Carolina trailing 16-10 and facing fourth-and-goal on the 1 with just under four minutes left, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a rollout for quarterback Cam Newton, who had a run-pass option. With primary target Greg Olsen covered, Newton threw back for tight end Ben Hartsock but bounced the pass at his feet.
What it meant for the Panthers: Carolina had a bye after the Seattle loss. After losing to Dallas 19-14 to drop to 1-5 following the bye, the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney.
Telling statistic: Seahawks held Carolina to 190 total yards, the lowest total in Ron Rivera’s four-plus seasons as coach.
Quote: “Yeah, we were expecting (Newton) to jump over the top. Everybody was raring to go and when he pulled out with the football it was like, ‘Hallelujah. We got a chance.’ ” – Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on the Panthers’ fourth-down play call.
Seahawks 12, Panthers 7
When: Sept. 8, 2013, at Charlotte.
How the game was lost: The Panthers were driving for the go-ahead score with about five minutes left when DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the end of a 16-yard run at the Seahawks’ 8. Cornerback Richard Sherman hit Williams from the front, safety Earl Thomas popped the ball loose from behind, and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel recovered the fumble.
What it meant for the Panthers: The season-opening defeat was part of another tough start for Rivera, whose job security was in question after the Panthers lost three of their first four. But Rivera morphed into Riverboat Ron in a Week 6 win at Minnesota and Carolina rolled to a 12-win season and the NFC South title.
Telling statistic: Newton completed 16 for 23 passes, but he was held to 125 passing yards, a career low at the time.
Quote: “It ultimately came down to that fumble, let’s just get that out of the way. It was my fault. I’ve watched countless film on them and I know that’s what they do, they strip and go for the ball.” – Williams.
Seahawks 13, Panthers 9
When: Oct. 26, 2014, at Charlotte.
How the game was lost: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tossed a 23-yard touchdown to tight end Luke Willson with 47 seconds left to cap a nine-play, 80-yard game-winning drive. Willson got behind rookie safety Tre Boston, and held on despite a big hit by Roman Harper at the goal line.
What it meant for the Panthers: The Seattle loss came during a disastrous midseason stretch for Carolina, which went winless for two months to fall to 3-8-1. But the Panthers won their last four games to win the division for the second year in a row.
Telling statistic: Wilson, the former N.C. State star, completed 4-of-4 passes – to four receivers – for 53 yards, and ran twice for 21 yards on the game-winning drive.
Quote: “I’m telling you, it’s just the Achilles’ heel man. They keep nagging us. They end up making one more play than us, every single time.’’ – Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.
Seahawks 31, Panthers 17
When: Jan. 10, 2015, at Seattle.
How the game was lost: The Panthers trailed 24-10 and had driven to the Seattle 13 with six minutes left when Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor intercepted Newton and returned it 90 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Newton first looked toward wide receiver Brenton Bersin, but when Bersin slipped Newton came backside to tight end Ed Dickson.
What it meant for the Panthers: A week after throttling Arizona in a wild-card victory, Carolina’s season came to an end in the divisional round. The Panthers joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only teams to win their division – and a playoff game – after finishing with a losing regular-season record.
Telling statistic: Newton finished with three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) that the Seahawks turned into 14 points.
Quote: “At that point we had a chance. We were still fighting. Who knows if we score a touchdown there, but instead it goes the other way.’’ – Rivera.
Panthers 27, Seahawks 23
When: Oct. 18, 2015, at Seattle.
How the game was won: Newton found a wide-open Olsen in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left. Olsen’s score – which was aided by a mixup by the Seahawks’ famed “Legion of Boom” secondary – capped the Panthers’ fourth 80-yard touchdown drive of the game.
What it meant for the Panthers: In a season filled with big wins and pivotal moments, the victory in Seattle was arguably the biggest. Besides breaking the Seahawks’ dominance, the Panthers started the toughest part of their schedule on a high note. They went on to beat Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay at home the next three weeks.
Telling statistic: The Panthers racked up 25 first downs, compared to 14 for Seattle, and were 3-for-3 with three touchdowns in the red zone.
Quote: “It’s not really about them. It’s about us. And if we play games like this with how we played the latter part, it’ll be hard to beat us. We’re not expecting anybody to give us anything. We don’t want them to give us anything. We want to take everything. We want to earn everything.” – Newton