All week, we wrote about the noise. In no NFL stadium do fans make as much noise as fans do at CenturyLink Field.
We anticipated the noise. Coaches did, players did and everybody else did, too. But the sound we didn’t anticipate was the one we heard after the Carolina Panthers scored the winning touchdown with 30 seconds remaining. We heard silence.
How, you might ask, do you hear silence? All afternoon 69,020 fans, a record CenturyLink crowd, had spent the afternoon yelling. When they weren’t yelling, they were screaming.
Suddenly, they had nothing to say. If you had been in CenturyLink Field Sunday, you would have heard the silence, too.
Carolina tight end Greg Olsen ran a seam route and, amazingly, he was free. Seattle probably has the best safeties in the league. And there was Olsen on the right side, alone. Cam Newton lobbed a perfect pass, Olsen caught it in the end zone, and the extra point pushed the Panthers’ lead to 27-23. That would be the final score.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had been 24-2 in home games, the greatest start of any quarterback in NFL history playing at home. Wilson now is 24-3.
We just finally got over the hump and made one more play than they did.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman
The Panthers are 5-0, and don’t they feel more undefeated than they did a week ago?
A fire alarm went off at the team’s hotel Sunday morning at about 5:40 a.m. For the first time all season the Panthers were underdogs. The Seahawks’ biggest lead was 13, and they led by nine in the fourth quarter. And Seattle had beaten Carolina five straight and seven out of eight.
Carolina won anyway.
“One play is going to beat them,” cornerback Josh Norman says. “One play is going to beat that team. We just finally got over the hump and made one more play than they did.”
“Because we’re resilient,” Norman says. “We kept pounding. We believed to the end. Even a 5 a.m wake up call – that’s cool. Even when we were down by 10, 13 – that’s cool. We kept pounding. Keep pounding is the epitome of this team.”
Most of the afternoon, this looked like Seattle-Carolina Part V. The Panthers did go so far as to take a 7-3 lead. They would not lead again until 32 seconds remained.
All afternoon the Seahawks played as if they were going to win again, the same way they always do. Some teams just beat other teams. There’s no way to explain it.
And then the Panthers made the game theirs. Down 23-14 in the fourth quarter, they drove 80 yards for a touchdown. Against a defense as talented as Seattle’s, they moved quietly. They picked up 12 yards, 4 yards, 7 yards, 11 yards, 5 yards and 8 yards.
Tired of the slow torture, Seattle’s defense was susceptible to a big play. Carolina made it. Newton hit Olsen for 32 yards. The Panthers scored on the next play but missed the extra point. So, with 3:55 to play, they were down by 3.
The Seahawks failed to pick up a first down and the Panthers began their final drive at their 20. They had one timeout and two minutes 20 seconds to work with.
Cam Newton has critics. Sometimes after a first down he goes so far as to point. After he scored Carolina’s first touchdown Sunday, he danced in front of fans, several of whom invited him to join them in the bleachers.
But give Newton this. When he had to be good, he was good. When the plays that win games had to be made, he made them.
He completed passes short and long and repeatedly put the ball where it needed to be. After driving the Panthers to the Seattle 26, he put it in Olsen’s hands near the back of the end zone.
“It’s not really about them,” Newton says about the Seahawks. “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.”
Some victories count more than other victories. Sunday’s victory was one of those victories that especially count. It’s as if a team has something to say, and they go out and say it.
As the game concluded, that was the only sound you heard.