CHARLOTTE - After an eight-game absence, Marshawn Lynch returned to work for the Seahawks in Sunday's divisional round playoff against the Carolina Panthers, the running back's first action since undergoing abdominal surgery in late November.
But any shot at Lynch recording a vintage "Beast Mode" performance was put in doubt as the Panthers jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes, extended it to 24-0 to start the second quarter, and pushed it to 31-0 at halftime. By then, the thought that Lynch could build on a successful playoff career that had seen him rush for 917 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 postseason games seemed out of reach, as the Seahawks were forced to rely on Russell Wilson's arm in the second half in an effort to quickly put points on the board and make up for their slow start.
"He didn't get much of a chance," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of Lynch, who finished with just six carries for 20 yards and added 15 yards receiving on two catches. "He didn't get the opportunities at all to get going.
"Even the first run we cut a guy loose in the backfield," Carroll added of Lynch's initial touch that went for a 3-yard loss on Seattle's first play from scrimmage. "He didn't even have a shot. He tried hard."
Though Seattle's rush attempts were limited because of the early lopsided score, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said stopping Lynch and the rest of Seattle's backfield was a focal point for a Panthers defense that finished the regular season ranked fourth against the run (88.4 yards per game). The Seahawks, who averaged 141.8 rushing yards per game in the regular season (3rd NFL), finished the game with 78 yards on the ground, 32 of which came from quarterback Russell Wilson and 17 of which came on a run by cornerback DeShawn Shead on a fake punt in the third quarter.
"I will say this, we really do respect their running game," Rivera said. "We really do. It's one of those things that we emphasize and work on. Our intention was he was going to play all along. We were going to be prepared for what they do."
In the second half, with Lynch mostly limited to helping out in pass protection, the Seahawks still nearly mounted a comeback, scoring 24 unanswered points before running out of time in a 31-24 defeat.
"Marshawn did great tonight in terms of him just being in it," said Wilson, who rebounded from a pair of first-half turnovers, including one pick-six, to throw three second-half touchdowns and finish with 366 yards passing, the second-most of his career (385 vs Atlanta Falcons in 2012 playoffs). "Obviously, him coming back was a tough situation physically, but he stepped up to the challenge. We're grateful for that."
The Seahawks postseason run comes to an end in Charlotte with the 31-24 loss to the Panthers who advance to the NFC Championship.