By Danny O'Neil
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Any thought that the Seahawks would pick up where they left off evaporated near the end of the second quarter on Sunday in the middle of an afternoon where the air was thick and the defense was sticky.
After a December marked by blowouts, Seattle began this year with a nailbiter at Carolina, and this was a 12-7 victory that the Seahawks didn't savor so much as they survived. They didn't dominate the game so much as they escaped it.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas combined to force a fumble from DeAngelo Williams, turning the ball over to the Seahawks, whose offense consumed the final 5 minutes, 25 seconds of their season-opening win.
Seattle escaped Carolina with a 12-7 win despite Marshawn Lynch rushing for only 43 yards, his lowest output since Week 6 of last year. (AP) | More photos | Stats | Interviews
"These are the types of games you have to win in the National Football League in order to be a good team," said Red Bryant, the team's defensive captain. "So we've got a lot to work on, we all know that. But to be able to get this type of win, under these types of circumstances was big for this ballclub."
There's going to be a lot of time spent over these next few days talking about how underrated Carolina's defensive front is, and that may be true. That Panthers' line was impressive on Sunday. And there's also going to be plenty of people who say that this is the kind of game Seattle lost to open last season.
But here's the most significant takeaway from Sunday: Seattle won without playing its best, and that's no small thing. Not in this league.
It won in spite of nine penalties, including two critical ones in the fourth quarter. It won despite failing to score a touchdown on any of its first three drives inside the Carolina 20. It won on an afternoon when Marshawn Lynch rushed for only 43 yards – his lowest single-game total since last October – and even that sum was deceiving seeing that 14 of those yards came on his final, game-icing carry just before the 2-minute warning.
There are a lot of teams that can win when they play their best. The Seahawks showed last December when they beat their five opponents by a combined total of 193-60.
But it's the teams that can win an ugly one like Seattle did on Sunday that have a chance to play at home in January.
"It was hard today," coach Pete Carroll said. "It was really hard. The thing I love about it is our guys hung tough. We made the plays when we needed to make them."
Seattle gave up a first-half lead, allowing an 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed nearly half the second quarter and culminated with Cam Newton's 3-yard scoring pass to Steve Smith. Then the Seahawks blew a chance to retake the lead before halftime, quarterback Russell Wilson getting sacked from behind, fumbling away the ball and the chance to take a halftime lead at the Carolina 19.
Seattle's running game never found traction and Wilson was constantly under siege, yet Seattle won in spite of that with an efficient fourth quarter and a defense that came up with the timeliest of turnovers. Sherman hit Carolina's Williams with a hard shoulder and then Thomas completed the strip, causing a fumble that stopped Carolina's final drive 8 yards short of what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.
"It was a great finish," Carroll said, "and we needed it."
The Seahawks not only won on the road in September for the first time under Carroll, but they beat a Carolina team that finished last season with five wins in its final six games. Not to mention the Panthers played pretty darn good football on Sunday.
Not great, mind you. Newton didn't complete a pass longer than 27 yards and finished with a career-low 125, but the Panthers stood toe-to-toe against Seattle and had a chance to win at the end.
That the Panthers didn't was a credit to Seattle.
"That relentless nature," Wilson said, "that's what we need to have. You never know what the score is going to be. You never know if you're coming from behind by 20 or if you're ahead by 20, you just have to keep playing one play at a time and that's what we did."
Seattle begins this season with Super Bowl ambitions, but it's not going to be a parade. Anyone who thought otherwise received a wake-up call in Charlotte's humidity, but the fact this was a close game won't be nearly as important as the fact Seattle found a way to win it.