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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Seahawks focused on Carolina, not making history

Panthers enter Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff on five game win streak, averaging 197 rushing yards per game over that span

Seahawks TE Luke Willson, center, celebrates his winning touchdown in Seattle's 13-9 victory over Carolina in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 26. (AP)
Seahawks TE Luke Willson, center, celebrates his winning touchdown in Seattle's 13-9 victory over Carolina in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 26. (AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

Further cementing a legacy? Taking another step into NFL history?

All the Seahawks say they want to do Saturday is win a football game against the Carolina Panthers when the two meet in an NFC divisional playoff contest Saturday at 5:15 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.

“Carolina’s in the sights this week, and hopefully we’ll play well in this game, and after that we’ll see what happens,” cornerback Richard Sherman said this week. “But we really don’t focus on legacies. We leave it up to everybody else in that regard.”

Simply beating the Panthers, though, would set the Seahawks apart from many of their Super Bowl-champion brethren.

No defending Super Bowl champ since the 2005 New England Patriots has won a playoff game the next season. In fact, more than half of the other defending Super Bowl champs (26 of 47) did not win a playoff game the next year.

A win Saturday would put Seattle in some rarefied air as just one of 18 Super Bowl champs to return to the conference title game the next season. From there, 11 made it back to the Super Bowl, and eight won it.

That’s for later, though.

Saturday is about beating a Carolina team that comes in as one of the bigger underdogs in recent NFL playoff history. Seattle is favored by 11 points, but the Seahawks know the Panthers could present a tough challenge based on their three matchups the past three seasons, all of which were decided in the final minutes.

Seattle won all three games – all played in Charlotte, North Carolina – allowing just one touchdown in 28 drives against the Carolina offense.

But the Seahawks needed to make big plays down the stretch to win each one.

That includes a 13-9 Seattle victory Oct. 26 in which the Seahawks did not lead until quarterback Russell Wilson hit tight end Luke Willson with a 23-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left for what proved to be the winning points.

“I believe it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter again,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said.

Each team, though, cautioned people not to read too much into that game, as each side has changed significantly.

Seattle was a reeling 3-3 team entering the game, having lost two in a row and still shaking off the shock of the Percy Harvin trade nine days prior.

Carolina, meanwhile, was in the midst of a seven-game winless streak that saw the team fall to 3-8-1. The Panthers appeared to be on the way to a disastrous season after winning the NFC South in 2013 at 12-4.

But each team rallied in the final month. The Seahawks won the last six to go from being out of the playoffs to the No. 1 NFC seed. The Panthers won the last four regular-season games to take the NFC South and defeated the Arizona Cardinals in a wild-card game last week.

Since the Oct. 26 game, the Seahawks mostly have gotten healthy – the Carolina game was one of five in which middle linebacker Bobby Wagner didn’t play. The Panthers, meanwhile, made some significant lineup changes, including the insertion of two rookies into their secondary (safety Tre Boston and cornerback Bene’ Benwikere).

“They have done a similar turnaround that we feel like we did by midyear time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We know there is a lot of value in that and the motivation that comes from playing like that and performing like that.”

Not only was the turnaround similar for each team, but so was the style, each leaning on its defense and running game. Seattle and Carolina were 1-2 in total defense in the NFL in December. And while the Panthers were averaging 197 rushing yards per game in the last five, the Seahawks were at 179.2.

Carolina, though, also is attempting to buck history. Consider that the Panthers are just the sixth NFL team to win a playoff game after entering the postseason with a record of .500 or worse. Each lost its next game by an average of 20 points (a list that includes the 2010 Seahawks, who beat the New Orleans Saints and then lost 35-24 at the Chicago Bears).

“We’ve just got to be physical on these guys,” Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “I don’t think they are as physical as we like to be. So we’ve just got to impose our will and make them feel us.”

And worry about history later.

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