CHARLOTTE --If the Carolina Panthers win their first NFL championship, they can credit the lesson they learned from the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Playoff games are never truly over until that final gun.
Emphatically backing up their superb regular season with one of the most dominating halves in football history, the Panthers then hung on in the face of a furious Seahawks rally before surviving 31-24.
The Panthers have won 12 straight home games, and next Sunday, Carolina (16-1) hosts Arizona (14-3) for a trip to the Super Bowl. The teams are meeting for the first time since the Panthers beat the Cardinals 27-16 in a 2014 wild-card game. Carolina opened as a 3-point favorite at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Jonathan Stewart, returning from a foot injury, scored two touchdowns after jump-starting the Panthers with a 59-yard sprint on their first play. Cam Newton threw for a touchdown, and fellow All-Pro Luke Kuechly ran in an early interception for a score as Carolina built a 31-0 lead.
Seattle (11-7), showing its pedigree as two-time NFC champs, climbed back within seven points.
The Seahawks got two touchdowns in the first 7:20 of the third quarter. Finally with time to throw, Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 13-yard score and rookie Tyler Lockett for 33 yards, making it 31-14 -- and making the full house at Bank of America Stadium unnerved.
When the Seahawks succeeded on a fake punt from their 23, an epic comeback seemed possible. That drive stalled, but with Carolina's offense sputtering, Seattle later got closer on Kearse's 3-yard catch of a jump ball against All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
With Newton waving the crowd into frenzied cheers on the sideline, the Panthers defense couldn't stop a 60-yard drive capped by Steven Hauschka's 36-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining.
At 31-24, All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis hauled in Hauschka's onside kick -- and Charlotte could breathe again.
This will be the Panthers' fourth trip to the NFC Championship Game, and their first time as host. They are 1-2 in their previous appearances.
They came from all over the country and the 12s have converged to Charlotte, N.C. to support the Seahawks in their NFC Divisional playoff game against the Carolina Panthers.