The defense gets it done, again

Posted Oct 7, 2012

The Seahawks found a way to get a win on the road for the first time this season, and push their record to 3-2, on Sunday with a 16-12 decision over the Panthers.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With the game on the line, Brandon Browner drew a line on the turf.

Not once, but twice in the Seahawks’ 16-12 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

After the Panthers had taken a 10-6 lead in the third quarter, Browner, the Seahawks’ 6-foot-4 Pro Bowl cornerback, stripped the ball from running back DeAngelo Williams and recovered the fumble at the Carolina 27-yard line. Five plays later, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate to give the Seahawks a 13-10 lead.

After the Seahawks had taken a 16-10 lead in the fourth quarter on Steven Hauschka’s third field goal of the game, the Panthers drove to the doorstep of Seahawks’ goal line with less than five minutes to play. But on a third-and-6 play, nickel back Marcus Trufant got wide receiver Louis Wright around the legs and Browner delivered a smack-down shot to his mug, stopping him just short of the end zone.

When Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth down – rather than leaping over the top of the line, as the defense was expecting – the Seahawks had made a major withdrawal at Bank of America Stadium: Their first road victory of the season, and one that lifted their record to 3-2.

“It was just a game of inches and, man, he was just inches away from the goal line. So I just stuck my head in there and happened to make a play,” Browner said in a locker room that was filled with a mixture of smiles and sighs of relief when asked about the third-and-goal stop he and Trufant made.

“Great team defense, baby,” is the way Trufant put it.

But on the forced fumble/fumble recovery play, Browner was on an island and mano-a-mano with Williams.

“I knew it was an option play, and I wanted him to pitch the ball,” Browner said. “Once he pitched it, I just made the play and landed on the ball.”

A man a few words, but oh-so-big plays. That’s Brandon Browner.

This was a game where the Seahawks made enough mistakes to hand the outcome to the Panthers. But it turned out to be just another resilient effort that was powered by a defense that has not allowed a touchdown in the past two games and a 221-yard passing performance by a rookie QB who had spent the week having his every twitch scrutinized to the point of ridiculousness.

“I use it as fire,” Wilson said of the negative external chatter that made its way through his “ignore the noise” filter. “I ignore the noise all the time, but at the same time I know that I have to get better.”

And that’s exactly what Wilson did against the Panthers, completing 12 of 13 in the first half and finishing with 19 completions in 25 attempts for 221 yards and the TD pass to Tate.

“I’m a self-motivator,” Wilson said. “That’s the way I’ve always been. I trust in what I’m doing. I trust the steps I’m taking every single day – to get there early, to watch tons of film and take tons of notes; all that attention to detail to be good at what you do. I can never let that waver.”

An ugly win? No way. Not for a team that was 5-13 on the road in 2¼ seasons under Carroll entering this one.

“We’re reminded again how difficult it is to win football games in this league, and how much goes into every single week,” Carroll said. “This was really hard, and we made it so hard on ourselves. That’s truly the theme of this game for us. We just kept taking things away from ourselves.”

He was referring to a 56-yard pass play to Tate and 20-yard run by Lynch that were erased because of holding penalties on tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung, among other miscues.

But the Seahawks won this one – a big one – because the defense limited the Panthers to 190 total yards and a 2-of-11 performance on third downs; forced a quintet of three-and-outs; sacked the 6-5, 245-pound Newton four times; and defused Carolina’s read-option plays that had ignited so many explosive plays by using Browner and fellow cornerback Richard Sherman to take the pitch man, leaving the linemen and linebacker to clog Newton’s escape gaps.

“It was an extraordinary job by the D today,” Carroll said. “Because that is the most explosive team that we’ve faced. So a defensive effort like that is really, really a statement by our guys.”

The offense was able to overcome Wilson throwing a pick-six and another interception that went off usually vice-handed running back Marshawn Lynch by converting 7 of 14 third-down situations as Wilson was 9 of 10 passing on the pivotal down for 73 yards; getting 85 very tough rushing yards from Lynch, including an 11-yarder on third-and-7 when they were pinned against their end zone after the goal-line stand; and big catch after big catch from tight end Zach Miller (three for 59 yards) and wide receiver Sidney Rice (five for 67).

The sum of all these numbers – and all those efforts that produced them – added up to one satisfying victory in a game the Seahawks could not afford to lose if they wanted to keep pace in the competitive NFC West. Not with the Cardinals and 49ers at 4-1 and the Rams at 3-2. Not with the New England Patriots coming to CenturyLink Field next Sunday, followed by a short week to prepare for the 49ers in San Francisco in a Thursday night game.

“To come out and get a win on the road, it was big for us mentally,” Trufant said. “It’s always been a thing in Seattle that we can’t come to the East Coast and we can’t come on the road. So that’s something we’ve always been trying to overcome.

“But we’ve got a great team and we’ve just got to keep playing as hard as we did today and just bring it on the road.”