So it’s three seasons, three matchups between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks and three narrow Seahawks victories, all in Charlotte.
So the Seahawks must feel pretty good, maybe even complacent, about this Saturday night playoff game in Seattle, right?
“We played a really tough, rugged football game and were lucky to get away with a win,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday of a 13-9 victory Oct. 26 at Bank of America Stadium.
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That sounded like more than the polite, obligatory things coaches say about upcoming opponents. It’s clear Carroll respects the job his Panthers counterpart, Ron Rivera, did in surviving five consecutive must-win games to qualify for and advance in the playoffs.
Because of his college background at Southern California prior to joining the Seahawks, Carroll closely monitored the development of three Panthers: linebacker Luke Kuechly, running back Jonathan Stewart and particularly quarterback Cam Newton.
Carroll loves Kuechly’s athleticism and Stewart’s power. But his description of Newton was particularly illustrative: Carroll believes Newton’s combination of size, power and elusiveness is unique in a way that makes the Panthers different from the other 31 teams’ offenses.
“He’s such a dynamic football player,” said Carroll, who has a plenty dynamic quarterback in Russell Wilson. “They have the ‘Panthers offense’ with him back there. Nobody else plays like them at all.
“He has so many things that he can do so well. I don’t know about the past, but we feel like we’ve got our hands full.”
Perhaps, but the Seahawks have done quite a job of corralling Newton. In the 28 Panthers possessions in those three games, Carolina has scored one touchdown. Never have the Panthers scored more than 16 points in any of those games.
Yes, those games have all been close. They have also all been won by the Seahawks, on the road no less.
It was quite obvious Tuesday that the Seahawks have studiously monitored Newton’s evolution.
“I think he’s improved his decision-making some,” said Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman. “He’s been better at knowing when to run. Early on he was much quicker to use his legs than his arm.
“This year he used his arm to get the ball to his playmakers and even to check down. I think that, health-wise, helps him play a little longer.”
A West Coast guy, Carroll has closely watched the career of Stewart, who has become the Panthers’ featured back of late after returning from various injuries. Stewart grew up in the Seattle area before going to Oregon for his college career.
“He’s a fantastic football player,” Carroll said.
“I love the way he runs. He has such a knack for getting through tackles. A lot of guys get knocked down, and he just keeps on going. So much lower-body strength and an explosion that allows him to get through tacklers.
“And he has good enough speed to make big plays. That’s the first guy we talked about; getting him on the ground. It’s going to take a really great effort of consistent team tackling to do that.”
Carroll was no less complimentary toward Kuechly. He compared Kuechly with Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
“They’re both really good athletes who run like crazy,” Carroll said. “We love the way Bobby plays. They are similar in that they’re very active, very good athletes who can run with any of the running backs.”