Seahawks-Panthers Preview

The Associated Press

Cam Newton is apologizing for a mistake that likely cost the Carolina Panthers a victory last weekend, but there is no quarterback controversy for coach Ron Rivera's team.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll could be faced with one soon if rookie Russell Wilson can't limit his errors.

Newton and the Panthers will try to avoid a third consecutive loss when the Seahawks go for their first win in Charlotte in three tries Sunday.

Needing two yards for a game-clinching first down last Sunday at Atlanta, Newton fumbled on a third-down run that was recovered by teammate Mike Tolbert. Rivera decided to punt with 1:09 left instead of giving Newton another chance, and the Falcons responded with a 77-yard scoring drive that dropped Carolina (1-3) three games back of Atlanta for the NFC South lead.

"You have to protect the football," Newton said following the 30-28 defeat. "That was a key focus going into this game, and I fumbled. There's a lot of guys that are trusting the ball carrier, and I was the ball carrier that particular play to get the job done. And I dropped the ball."

Newton is definitely off to a slow start, but Rivera's best option is to keep giving the ball to the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Carroll said earlier this week that Wilson is the best option for the Seahawks (2-2), but after the third-round pick was intercepted a season-high three times in last Sunday's 19-13 loss at St. Louis, there have been questions about the availability of newcomer Matt Flynn, who was nursing a sore elbow during the preseason when he lost the job to Wilson.

"Matt's ready to play. We just don't know what's going to happen when he gets a lot of work. He might be all right, we don't know that, but we have not taken him there yet," Carroll said. "But no, he's ready to play in every game and he's ready to go in the very next play if we need him."

That might come sooner rather than later if Wilson doesn't improve on third down and in the red zone. The Seahawks are already limiting his attempts - their 100 are the fewest in the NFL - so it's critical that Wilson make the most out of each one. He has a 45.4 passer rating on third down, and he's 8 for 19 with a touchdown in the red zone.

Seattle, whose 523 passing yards are the fewest in the league, is last in the NFL in red zone TD efficiency at 27.3 percent.

"This is a very hard part of the game for all young quarterbacks, this red zone and third down," Carroll, whose team is 14 of 50 on third down, told the Seahawks' official website. "It always has been. That's where it gets most difficult and we need to get better in both those areas."

Carolina, meanwhile, has reached the end zone a league-best 72.7 percent of the time when it reaches the red zone, with six of those eight TDs coming on the ground.

The Panthers' running attack - Newton and DeAngelo Williams lead the team with 167 yards apiece - racked up 199 last Sunday, but Carolina will face a Seattle rush defense that's second in the NFL giving up 62.8 yards per game.

If Carolina can't get anything from the running game, Newton might not have much time to find wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen as the Seahawks have 10 sacks in the last two games.

The Panthers had a franchise-record seven sacks last Sunday, but their secondary has struggled of late. Rivera is contemplating a switch at free safety after Haruki Nakamura was involved in all three of Atlanta's touchdowns last week as well as a 59-yard pass that set up the Falcons' winning field goal.

"We're going to evaluate different combinations and what those possibilities can be," Rivera said.

Whoever starts in the Panthers' secondary should be prepared to help with run support as Seahawks back Marshawn Lynch is the NFL leader with 423 yards.

Seattle is the league's only team with more rushing yards (603) than passing.

Lynch ran for 83 yards and three scores the last time these teams met, a 31-14 Seattle win Dec. 5, 2010. Carolina posted a 13-10 victory in the Seahawks' last visit Dec. 16, 2007.

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