On a day when the Seahawks defense was already banged up and left the game even more so, the team needed its top offensive players to come through in a big way.
Russell Wilson, Chris Carson and Tyler Lockett carried Seattle to a 30-24 victory against the Carolina Panthers as the Seahawks improved to 11-3 on the season. Carson and Lockett each topped 100 yards in their respective categories and scored touchdowns as the offense came out firing against Carolina on Sunday.
Wilson completed 20 of 26 passes for 286 yards with touchdowns to Lockett and DK Metcalf. Seattle scored on each of its first three possessions of the game in building a 21-7 advantage through the early stages of the second quarter.
The defense forced three interceptions from Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen as well despite the number of injuries to that side of the ball. However, the lack of front-line players ultimately caught up to the unit in the fourth quarter as more players were sidelined with injuries.
The unit was down at least six starters by the end of the afternoon as Carolina furiously rallied to make it a one-score game in the closing minutes. But Carson and Lockett would again step to the fore as Carson runs kept the clock moving and a third-and-11 completion to Lockett provided the final major first down needed with just over two minutes left to play.
The Seahawks continue to close in on prime playoff positioning as only the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers stand in their way over the next two weeks. If Seattle wins out, they will get at least a first-round bye and possibly the top overall seed in the NFC.
But first, here are the takeaways from the win over the Panthers:
-- Seahawks down four defensive starters, get more banged up against Panthers.
Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Mychal Kendricks and Shaquill Griffin were all inactive for Sunday's game in Carolina due to injuries.
Clowney remained in Seattle after throwing up at practice on Friday due to a bad case of the flu. Ansah continues to get strength back in his shoulder after a stinger sustained two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings. Kendricks and Griffin both missed the game due to hamstring strains that were not ready to go on Sunday.
Even without those four players, Seattle's defense played a strong game against the Panthers with Bobby Wagner intercepting Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen once and K.J. Wright intercepted Allen twice in building a 30-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
However, Wagner would go down with an ankle injury that looked like it could be quite significant in the moment. Free safety Quandre Diggs would also leave the game with an ankle injury after getting his right leg caught under him on a tackle of D.J. Moore. Diggs' replacement, Lano Hill, would also leave for a short period of time as well.
As the defense took more punishment, it began to springs more cracks. Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel would score touchdowns on consecutive drives for Carolina as they pulled within six with just 3:14 left to play. But Seattle's offense would put together a drive to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Wagner said after the game that he thought he would be fine.
"I definitely was scared. But I’m good," he said.
Diggs' ankle injury is more of a concern, per head coach Pete Carroll.
“(Diggs) looks a little more serious than Bobby did,” Carroll said. “We’ll see. That would be a big loss if we can’t get him to get back next week. He has been playing great football for us.”
Carroll said that Ansah, Kendricks and tight end Luke Willson (hamstring) all could return next week against the Arizona Cardinals. Clowney would presumably have a good chance too should his illness subside. With a huge game against the 49ers in Week 17 looming regardless of next week's result, the healthy of the defense will be an important piece of the puzzle.
-- Offense needed to carry the load with defense banged up and responded beautifully.
With the defense as depleted as it was, this was a day the offense had to carry the burden and it did so terrifically for large portions of the afternoon.
Carson rushed for a career-high 133 yards on 24 carries to carry Seattle's rushing attack in its first game with Rashaad Penny as a reserve option. It's the 12th 100-yard rushing game of his career.
Carson scored on a 16-yard run to cap Seattle's opening eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead. An eight-play, 80-yard drive would follow as Wilson and Metcalf would connect on a 19-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 13-0 following a missed extra point. After the Panthers got on the board, Lockett would score on a 19-yard pass from Wilson.
It was the first time since 2015 that Seattle had scored on its first three possessions of a game. The momentum wasn't carried throughout the entire game. The offense did begin to sputter through the second and third quarters, but they continued to maintain a lead of at least 10 points until late in the fourth quarter.
Josh Gordon would make a stellar diving 58-yard catch on a bomb from Wilson and Carson would add a second touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the offense racked up 428 yards of offense and 154 yards rushing against the Panthers.
It was the performance the team needed with the defense at far less than full strength.
-- C.J. Prosise's first chance to replace Rashaad Penny was nearly disastrous.
C.J. Prosise can thank Bruce Irvin for negating what would have been a massive error by the new Seahawks backup running back.
With 1:41 left in the first half, the Seahawks tried to get the Panthers to use their final time out of the half by running the ball backed up against their own end zone on third-and-long. Prosise tripped over himself and fell to the ground before losing control of the ball. The fumble was recovered by Tre Boston at the Seattle 15-yard line as the Panthers appeared set to get a ripe chance to make it a one-score game before halftime.
However, replay showed that Irvin, a former Seahawk, got just the slightest bit of a touch on Prosise's foot as he fell to the ground to make him down by contact before the football came loose. It allowed Seattle to punt the ball away instead. Following a Carolina penalty on the play, the touch by Irvin resulted in a net gain of 45 yards of field position. Bobby Wagner's interception of Kyle Allen before the half kept the Panthers off the board altogether, which would have been unlikely given the gifted field position on Prosise's fumble.
Prosise would not touch the ball again in the second half as Chris Carson handles almost all of the team's running back duties. Travis Homer did get a chance to pick up two carries for seven yards in the fourth quarter.
While Carson's fumbling issue has been a problem at times this season, he also has the equity built up to have the benefit of the doubt. That same benefit likely will not extend to Prosise, which could give Homer the chance to step into the backup role instead. Prosise had just five carries for 15 yards and one catch for 10 yards against the Panthers.
-- Tyler Lockett is back.
Over his last four games, Lockett had caught a total of eight passes for 107 yards and no touchdowns.
Sunday in Charlotte, Lockett caught eight passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Lockett had not been himself over the last month. A severe shin bruise required a hospital stay following the team's win over the San Francisco 49edrs. Lockett then became one of the players hardest hit by the flu bug that has hit a number of players in the team's locker room, including Clowney, David Moore, Tre Flowers and others.
Carroll said on Friday that it looked as though Lockett was beginning to look like he was back in form and he certainly looked like himself once again against the Panthers.
"I was really excited to see Tyler Lockett get back in action and really be a factor," Carroll said. "You can see how Russ maneuvers and makes stuff happen because he and Tyler are just phenomenal together. It's been a while and Tyler has been working his way back and you could see it. We saw it during the week and we were hoping it would come through."
Lockett's ability to make plays downfield just opens up the rest of Seattle's offense. It's an element that had been lacking as Lockett battled illness and injury. Lockett is now just six yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He would become just the eighth different player and first since Doug Baldwin in 2016 to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in a season in franchise history. It would be the 23rd different time a player has accomplished the feat.
Photo Credit: CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 15: Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson #32 runs the ball against Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)