Scott Fowler

Carolina Panthers fail, again, to find a way vs. Seattle

It was deja boo all over again. The same old song. Russell Wilson doing what he does, against a Carolina Panthers team that every year serves up another helping of home-cooked heartbreak.

The Panthers lost 13-9 on Sunday in their latest quixotic battle against Seattle. If that doesn’t remind you of the past two years, you haven’t been paying attention.

All three Carolina-Seattle games over the past three years have been played in Charlotte. All three times the Panthers defense has mostly played well enough to win except for an enormous, Wilson-led exception late in the game.

And all three times the Panthers offense has been pretty awful when it really counts. In the three games – Carolina also lost 16-12 in 2012 and 12-7 in 2013 to Seattle – the Panthers have only scored one total offensive touchdown.

Quarterback Cam Newton has started all three of those games and directed an offense that has started 28 drives over those 12 quarters. It has scored a touchdown only once, in 2013, on a Newton pass to Steve Smith.

Sunday, the Panthers moved the ball well early and ended up running 13 plays at or inside Seattle’s 20 in the first half.

None of them ended in a touchdown, even the one when Carolina had a first-and-goal at the Seattle 3 and a third-and-goal at the Seattle 1.

“When you get inside the 5, you scratch, claw, spit, grit – find a way,” Newton said.

But the Panthers didn’t, and that was the main reason they wasted the best defensive performance of the month. They are 1-4-1 over their past six games, with a huge Thursday night home game looming against division rival New Orleans.

Newton heaped the blame on himself for Sunday’s loss, and it’s true this was his worst game of the season. He gave up the ball twice on bad turnovers – a fumble inside the Seattle 20 and a backhanded shovel pass gone wrong that ended up being intercepted.

“I have to be better,” he said. “I will be better.”

But it wasn’t just Newton. He threw what should have been a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin, who dropped it. He somehow got out of a Seattle near-sack that would have been a safety. And the quarterback also got the ball to Benjamin on a spectacular 51-yard heave that set up a go-ahead fourth-quarter field goal.

That’s when the Panthers defense, which had been playing almost all day like it was 2013 and it was the No. 2 defense in the NFL – reset itself to the present with nasty results. Carolina hadn’t allowed a TD all day and had harried Wilson into a couple of bad turnovers himself.

But Wilson, the former N.C. State star, was great when it counted – and ultimately better than Newton. Getting the ball back one last time with 4:37 to go, Wilson made it look easy. Seattle didn’t face a single third down, much less a fourth, on an 80-yard march that had an air of inevitability.

“Even in the fourth quarter, it just felt like we were going to win this game eventually,” said Seattle’s Luke Willson, who beat Carolina rookie safety Tre Boston for the 23-yard touchdown pass that sealed the game.

Carolina still had 42 seconds and two timeouts left after that when it started its last drive on its own 23, but why would you expect a touchdown there if the Panthers hadn’t gotten one yet? First-and-10 soon morphed into a fourth-and-25 after two sacks of Newton allowed by an offensive line that struggled much of the day. Then came an “I give up” fourth-down screen pass from the Panthers that fell incomplete, prompting a number of boos from the fans who remained.

It was a sad ending for home fans who sat through an unseasonably warm and sunny day on which the Panthers never trailed in the first 59 minutes. But those missed red-zone opportunities killed Carolina.

“I feel like we left 21 points out there,” Panthers left tackle Byron Bell said.

“When you continue to kick field goals like that and continue to give No. 3 (Wilson) over there opportunity after opportunity, he’s going to get the job done,” Panthers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “And that’s what happened.”

Wilson said in the final huddle he “kind of laughed and smiled” and told his teammates, ‘Hey man, we’ve been here for two years in a row. Just like this.’”

It was almost like he knew what was coming.