Had the Seahawks played anybody but the Carolina Panthers Sunday, they would probably have returned to Seattle 2-3 and facing the grim prospect of a 2-5 start with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers due up on the schedule. Instead, the Seahawks used a series of big defensive plays, the best pass of Russell Wilson's NFL career, and a planned safety in the final minute to edge Carolina 16-12 in Charlotte.
Cornerback Brandon Browner made two of the three biggest defensive stops. With Carolina at the Seattle 27-yard line in the third quarter, Browner stripped the ball from DeAngelo Williams, giving the Seahawks a chance to take the lead after they had fallen behind 10-6 on Wilson's worst pass of the season.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Wilson threw behind intended receiver Anthony McCoy, and Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn snatched the ball and raced 33 yards for a touchdown that put the Panthers ahead 10-6 after the Seahawks led 6-3 at halftime.
But after Browner stripped Williams, and following three runs by Marshawn Lynch, who gained 85 yards, Wilson, on a third-and-eight from the Carolina 13, rocketed a slant pass to Golden Tate for a touchdown. It was just Seattle's fourth touchdown of the season in 14 trips to the red zone. Wilson, who entered the game with a 45.5 passer rating on third down, has never thrown a better NFL pass.
In the fourth quarter trailing 16-10, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, shackled most of the day by the Seahawks, directed a drive that reached the Seattle six-yard line with five minutes remaining. On third-and-six, Newton threw to Lance Murphy for five yards. Murphy would have had six if Browner hadn't stepped up and kept him out of the end zone.
On fourth-and-one, the Seahawks forced Newton to throw a bad ball into the end zone turf to end what could have been the game-winning drive.
The Seahawks manage one first down before taking a planned safety to milk the clock,. When the Panthers launched their last drive at the Carolina 31 with 53 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Seattle's No. 1 pick, Bruce Irvin, promptly ruined it by stripping Newton of the ballm which Seattle recovered.
"I live for those type of situations," said Irvin. "It was a passing situation and in situations like that I just pin my ears back and go. Fortunately, I came up with a strip sack that ended the game."
"We just did a fantastic job defensively," said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "We did a lot of really good stuff. That goal line stand was awesome. It was really a fantastic effort defensively, just a fantastic game by our corners (Browner and Richard Sherman). Brandon's play on the strip was great and then he made a terrific tackle at the goal line."
Wilson, who threw three interceptions last week at St. Louis, leading many to call for his benching in favor of veteran Matt Flynn, had his best game, completing 19 of 25 for a career-high 225 yards and a passer rating of 82.3. Only one of his passes, the one he intended for McCoy that Munnerlyn returned for a TD, was a bad one.
"Wilson, I thought, had a fantastic game," said Carroll. "It was a huge improvement for us. He's a stud competitor, he has so much belief in himself and he doesn't let stuff phase him when he makes a mistake. He has an extraordinary belief in himself and it was great to see that. He just hung tough."
Newton completed just 12 of 29 passes for 141 yards after starting the game 2-for-16. The Seahawks sacked him three times and hit him a dozen more.
"We didn't do a lot of fancy stuff," said Carroll. "We did what we usually do, we just adapted it to them. This was just an all-out disciplined effort by our coaches and players. We needed to finish a road game and get it done, and we did."
The Seahawks overcame a lot to escape with a four-point victory, most glaringly seven penalties for 65 yards, turnovers on the first three possessions of the second half (including a fumble by Leon Washington after a 47-yard kickoff return), and a mis-read by Wilson that forced Seattle to take a field goal when the play could have been a touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin.
Two of the penalties went to right tackle Breno Giacomini. He was flagged for holding, wiping out a 50-yard gain on a pass play, and also committed his third personal foul in two weeks, which resulted in a brief benching.
"We just have a lot of stuff we have to fix," said Carroll. "We just have to get out of our own way."
"It was a big win for us," said Tate. "It's good we got a win on the road. It shows that we can do it."
The Seahawks got on the scoreboard at the 3:33 mark of the first quarter when Steven Haushka booted a 22-yard field goal and tacked on three more with 6:58 to play in the second on a 36-yard field goal.
Justin Medlock hit a 32-yard field goal just before halftime to slice Seattle's lead to 6-3, and Munnerlyn's 33-yard interception return at the 12:16 mark of the third quarter gave Carolina its only lead of the game.
The Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field Sunday against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.