COMMENTARY | It wasn't pretty, and through three quarters it was downright worrisome, but the Seattle Seahawks escaped Week 1 with a 12-7 road victory over Carolina.
The popular assumption heading into the season opener was that this was a dangerous game for the Seahawks, who would be looking past the Panthers to next week's showdown with a certain Bay Area rival.
For most of the game, the popular assumption was right.
Seattle's offense came out flat. The team -- facing a 10 a.m., Seattle time start and hot, muggy conditions -- found itself down 7-3 at halftime and going nowhere for much of the third quarter.
But leave it to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' defense to wake up and realize what one of this year's favorites to make to the Super Bowl needed for a win. There are plenty of things to work out before Week 2 against San Francisco, but the Seahawks are simply happy to be flying home with a win.
Here are five things we learned from Seattle's Week 1 victory against Carolina:
1. Seattle's Secondary Is Already in Midseason Form
With the Panthers driving and threatening to recapture the lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Seahawks secondary came up with the play of the game when Earl Thomas knocked the ball from DeAngelo Williams and Seattle recovered on its own 8 yard line.
While that play crushed any Carolina hopes, Seattle's defensive backfield held the dangerous Cam Newton in check for most of the game. He had only 125 yards through the air, and no Panther had more than 56 yards receiving.
Seattle's secondary play is as much a testament to its depth and experience playing with each other more than anything. Already without the lanky Brandon Browner, the athletic Walter Thurmond stepped right in, and Seattle never missed a beat. Thomas stated his case as the best safety in the league, and Richard Sherman never truly got beat deep.
This secondary is playing at a high level, one that kept the Seahawks in the game until the offense produced its own big play.
2. It's Hard To Get Russell Wilson To Crack
Under siege and being knocked around for most of the game, Wilson appeared to be on the verge of drifting toward the entrance of Underwhelming Start Land.
The Seahawks had found themselves in the Red Zone three times and had come away with only six points. They tried to get Wilson to roll out, but a suffocating Carolina front four had him turning and pivoting away from pressure more so than usual.
Then, Wilson did what Seahawk Nation has become accustomed to seeing him do: Make a big play under pressure to bring his team out of the doldrums. A play after Stephen Williams dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball inside Carolina's 5-yard-line, Wilson again attacked the right side of the Panthers' secondary. This time, University of Washington product and Lakewood, Wash. native Jermaine Kearse displayed his sure hands and came down with the first touchdown of his career and Seattle's only touchdown of the day. (Side note: I think everyone and their mother now knows about Kearse and his Lasik eye surgery. Please, no more segments on it. Please.)
In the end, it was a remarkable Week 1 stat line for Wilson: 25-for-33 with 320 yards, a touchdown pass, no interceptions and 115.7 quarterback rating. It might have been one of the quietest 300-yard passing games in Seattle history, but it shows how well Wilson reacts under pressure.
3. The Offensive Line Needs Lots of Improvement Before Week 2
Seattle could muster only 70 total yards on the ground against the Panthers.
For a team that's built around the run, that's abysmal. Marshawn Lynch had only 43 yards on 17 carries, and 14 of those yards came late in the fourth quarter as Seattle was trying to run down the clock. No Seahawk runner found the end zone.
Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable will have a lot of homework for his guys leading up to next week. There was too much penetration by the Panthers that stifled the run game. It wasn't a matter of Carolina bringing extra pressure, either. The offensive line simply got pushed around too many times. Wilson can't be expected to escape would-be tacklers every time, like the prayer he threw up on 3rd and 8 that Doug Baldwin miraculously caught without stepping out of bounds.
Heading into Week 1, it was injuries on the Seahawks' defensive line that produced the questions. Now, those questions are on the other side of the ball.
4. Seattle Needs To Cut Down On Its Penalties
Yes, it is only Week 1.
Yes, both teams had questionable calls go against them.
Yes, Seattle was able to fight off those bad calls.
Still, Seattle was penalized nine times for 99 yards, and many came at less-than-ideal junctures of the game.
In the third quarter, the Seahawks found themselves in the red zone after Wilson found Zach Miller on an 18-yard pass that brought them to the Carolina 17. But on the ensuing play, the offensive line again collapsed and Wilson was forced back almost 20 yards before heaving the ball.
Seattle fans will argue that Wilson went so far back that he technically was out of the pocket, but the referees didn't see it that way. He was flagged for intentional grounding, which meant a loss of downs and the ball on the 35 yard line rather than the 17 yard line. The Seahawks settled for a field goal.
In the fourth quarter, after Seattle took the lead, Carolina faced a 3-and-7 from its own 23. On the ensuing play, Michael Bennett was called for a face mask penalty on Cam Newtown. (Again, questionable call but the refs didn't see it that way.) Next play, Kam Chancellor was called for a late hit.
The Seahawks spotted Carolina 30 yards in consecutive plays. Newton was able to drive down the field. Were it not for Williams' fumble, those two penalties could have cost Seattle the game.
Coach Pete Carroll knows that too.
5. Maybe There Is Something To The Whole, "Playing on The East Coast" Thing
I've never believed in the notion that road games are especially difficult for the Seahawks when they play East Coast games.
Games are games. Winning on the road is difficult anywhere in the NFL, so it doesn't really matter in which timezone you play, right? At least that was my thought.
But what Sunday's game at Carolina indicated is that travel can have an effect. So can weather. The Seahawks started the game looking out of their comfort zones. Whether it was first-game jitters or a product of something else is still up in the air.
We'll find out later this season, as this was the first of five East Coast road games with a 10 a.m., start Seattle time. The Seahawks won't be playing against mediocre teams, either: Texas (Week 4), Indianapolis (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 10) and the New York Giants (Week 15).
The idea of Seattle being at a disadvantage could be something manufactured by East Coast types who think Washington borders Colorado, but only time will tell.
In any case, the Seahawks won't have to worry about that this week. They play in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.
And yes, finally, they can start looking forward to playing San Francisco.
Brent Champaco is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered professional, college and high school athletics in the Northwest. He has worked for several newspapers, including The News Tribune in Tacoma, and was a Senior Local Editor at Patch.com. He lives just outside of Seattle with his wife and two daughters.
Follow him on Twitter at @Champacoblog
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