Rawls, Seahawks romp past Panthers in costly victory

In a game that will be remembered more for what occurred off the field, the Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) ran all over the Carolina Panthers (4-8) in an assured 40-7 win at CenturyLink Field in Week 13. Here's what we learned:

  1. Seattle's offense is coming into its own as the Seahawks begin their march toward a first-round bye. After the unit's worst outing of the season against Tampa Bay, Seattle rolled through a Luke Kuechly-less Carolina defense for 534 yards, thanks to breakout nights from Thomas Rawls and Tyler Lockett. Rawls cut sharply through the Panthers' front and bounced off tackles on strong runs en route to a 106-yard, two-touchdown evening, his best performance since returning from injury in Week 11. Lockett was a force out of the backfield, playing the role of C.J. Prosise and displaying his extraordinary speed on a 75-yard sweep to open the second half.
  1. The shame of this season is the inability of the Seahawks' defense to stay healthy. There has been nary a game during which Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas have all been on the field at the same time for the whole 60 minutes. The return of Bennett on Sunday night was supposed to launch the Legion of Boom into playoff form, but those hopes were dashed when Thomas left the game in the second quarter with what appeared to be a season-ending leg injury. Carolina immediately exposed backup safety Steven Terrell on an ensuing 55-yard touchdown pass.

While the Seahawks secondary regained its composure in the second half, the absence of Thomas, often considered the quarterback of this Seattle defense, is a grave concern heading into the postseason with dynamic offenses like the Falcons, Cowboys and Redskins looming. Tweets sent out by Thomas suggesting he is considering retirement are even more alarming.

  1. The reigning MVP had an, um, interesting night. In a perplexing move, Cam Newton was benched to start the game in favor of Derek Anderson, who threw an interception on the very first play, only to return to the huddle on the next drive. Reports later surfaced that coach Ron Rivera had briefly sidelined Newton due to a "dress code violation," an odd offense given the QB's propensity for flamboyant postgame podium get-ups. Aside from one fantastic TD toss to Ted Ginn, Newton was pedestrian when he returned under center, completing less than 45 percent of his passes and throwing off his back foot with little accuracy. There's more to unpack here, but it will likely be done with more ferocity on hawt-take talk shows on Monday.
  1. Russell Wilson's most understated performance of the season, given all that transpired around him, is a sign of things to come. Off the injury report for the first time this season, Wilson looked completely healthy and in control, completing 72 percent of his passes and divvying up at least five receptions and 63 yards to four different receivers (Lockett, Jimmy Graham, Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin). Bouncing back from his terrible time in Tampa, Wilson looks January-ready.
  1. With the win, Seattle stays lodged in the second seed, half a game ahead of Detroit. The Seahawks' final non-divisional, intraconference game looms next week at Lambeau before Seattle finishes with a trio of underperforming NFC West opponents. A win at playoff-hungry Green Bay would nearly assure the Seahawks of a first-round bye.
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