SEATTLE – Behind Thomas Rawls bouncing off and through tacklers and a big-play punch from Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks rediscovered their offensive star power on Sunday night.
It came at a significant cost to their defense.
Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.
The victory was clouded by the loss of standout safety Earl Thomas for the rest of the regular season at least to a broken tibia in the first half. While coach Pete Carroll did not have a time line, he expected the injury to be six weeks at the minimum.
“Earl’s been a fixture here for a long time. He’s missed two games in his life playing football in the last couple of weeks. We’re going to miss him enormously,” Carroll said.
Another prime-time game in Seattle was provided with odd story lines right from the outset when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was benched for the first play, only to watch backup Derek Anderson throw an interception. It was the start of miserable night for Carolina (4-8) and a laugher that moved Seattle (8-3-1) one step closer to the NFC West title.
“I think there was a lack of communication on my part. I think I have to be accountable to know certain things,” Newton said.
Rawls and the run game set the tone for Seattle, gashing the second-best run defense in the NFL for 240 yards. Carolina entered the week giving up less than 80 yards per game on the ground.
Rawls finished with 106 yards on 15 carries, though was quiet in the second half after briefly being checked for a concussion. He was just the second 100-yard rusher for the Seahawks, who have struggled on the ground this season. Rawls’ 8-yard run gave Seattle an early 10-0 lead and his 45-yard sprint early in the second quarter pushed it to 17-7.
“I have to let it come to me and then take it after I get past those big boys,” Rawls said. “The guys up front did a tremendous job. They were phenomenal.”
Russell Wilson was 26 of 36 for 277 yards and a 1-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Graham in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks rolled up a season-high 534 yards and kept a three-game lead over Arizona in the division with four games remaining.
Thomas broke the bone in a first-half collision with teammate Kam Chancellor while trying to intercept Newton’s pass. Thomas hobbled off, putting no weight on the leg, and X-rays revealed the fracture.
“You can’t really tell where people are. We were both trying to make a play,” Chancellor said. “It’s hard to see your brother go down like that.”
On the play after Thomas’ injury, Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. on a 55-yard touchdown pass to pull the Panthers to 10-7. It would be the only highlight for Carolina.
Rawls immediately answered, darting through the Carolina defense for a 45-yard touchdown run and a 17-7 lead. Steven Hauschka added two more field goals before halftime and Lockett raced 75 yards on a reverse on the first play of the second half. In less than 10 minutes of game time, Seattle extended the lead to 30-7.
“I think I finally got to hit that extra gear that I’ve been waiting on,” Lockett said.
Newton’s benching was for a dress code violation – he did not have a necktie for the team flight – and the single play he missed could not have gone worse. Anderson rolled out to throw a pass to Mike Tolbert. It bounced off Tolbert’s hands and into the arms of Mike Morgan, a disastrous result for that only added to questions about coach Ron Rivera’s intention with the punishment.
Newton finished 14 of 32 for 182 yards.
“I treat him like I do all the other players on the team and he didn’t start,” Rivera said.
It was seventh meeting in the past five years between the Seahawks and Panthers, playoffs included. It was the first time of the seven the game was decided by more than 14 points. Five of the previous six were decided by seven points or fewer. The biggest win during the stretch was Seattle’s 31-17 win in the 2014 playoffs.
Carolina’s injury list grew again.
The Panthers were already without starters Kurt Coleman and Luke Kuechly (concussions) and defensive end Mario Addison (foot) on defense, and right tackle Daryl Williams (ankle) on offense. Carolina then lost cornerback Daryl Worley and linebacker David Mayo to concussions against the Seahawks.
One of the most emotional players on Seattle’s roster, Thomas hinted at retirement in a tweet sent just before halftime.
“This game has been so good to me no regrets. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers,” Thomas tweeted from the Seattle locker room.
Thomas missed the first game of his career last week at Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury.
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