Congrats to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday's fantastic statement victory, beating the Seahawks in Seattle in comeback fashion. It was gutsy and impressive, avenging the playoff loss Carolina suffered in Seattle last January.
Newton, the epitome of toughness, rallied his team from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the game's final eight minutes. With little talent around him at the skill positions and on the offensive line, Newton carved up Seattle's vaunted defense in the game's definitive stanza, eventually delivering a 26-yard strike to his one true weapon (tight end Greg Olsen) for a pulsating touchdown with 32 second left.
In the game's most hostile road environment today, the Panthers clawed back to remain perfect (5-0) on the season. Flat-out outstanding. They deserve so much credit.
In a related story, Seattle deserves so much heat and blame. Again.
This isn't a column intended to bury the Seahawks. It is, however, a column to question them. Who are they? What's the identity of this team? Some continue to cling to the glory of back-to-back Super Bowl trips, but here's a serious question: Are there actual football reasons to believe Seattle is going to get right in 2015?
We are all stubborn, all creatures of habit. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else. But through the first six weeks of the season -- a pretty decent sample size -- the 2-4 Seahawks have been a bad football team with a knack for finding ways to lose games.
The 'Hawks, who have held second-half leads in every game this season, have been outscored 61-27 in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's cause for concern. That's bad football.
Remember when nobody could pass on the "Legion of Boom," when Seattle had the best defense in the NFL, bar none? Over the last two weeks, the unit has given up 30 fourth-quarter points. Andy Dalton's had an earned rep for not playing big in big games. He carved up Seattle when it mattered two Sundays ago. This past Sunday, Newton did whatever he wanted, throwing to the likes of rookie Devin Funchess and well-traveled veteran Jerricho Cotchery. Newton was 12 for 15 for 162 yards in the fourth quarter.
The defense has been a letdown, particularly in the biggest moments, but that unit certainly isn't alone in the blame department.
Russell Wilson has been surprisingly inconsistent. So has the run game, with Marshawn Lynch hobbled. Of course, both of these problems point to issues up front. The offensive line is spotty and clearly misses Max Unger, who was traded to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham deal. Full disclosure: I loved that transaction when it happened. I gave Seahawks general manager John Schneider plenty of praise. Unfortunately, maligned offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Wilson haven't been able get Graham consistently involved. He had his best game as a Seahawk on Sunday -- by far -- with eight catches for 140 yards. Yet after the game, the always-classy Thomas Davis didn't offer a glowing review of the Pro Bowl tight end's general demeanor.
"I don't even know what to call him. He was out there talking trash," Davis said, via the Charlotte Observer. "He's probably one of those guys who is excited about his production and not really worried about his team losing the game."
Ah, good times.
Nothing new for the 2015 Seahawks, though. Ever since Malcolm Butler broke hearts across Seattle last February, the Seahawks have been dealing with a lot of ... "stuff," if you will. The Super Bowl-loss hangover many of us predicted is real. The Seahawks never stopped talking about the ill-fated goal-line pass that kept Seattle from claiming back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. Additionally, from Chancellor's holdout to Lynch's mom blasting Bevell on Facebook to Graham's discontent, this team has faced a lot of peripheral drama. And the injury bug's unwelcome encroachment definitely hasn't helped the product on the field, either.
Look, the Seahawks aren't dead. Over the next two weeks, they face a pair of sub-.500 teams (San Francisco and Dallas) before a Week 9 bye that could allow them to get healthier. But with the way the Panthers and Falcons have stockpiled wins, with the way the Vikings have looked, a wild-card spot isn't a cinch.
Yes, on Sunday, the Cardinals had a wretched loss to a third-string quarterback in Pittsburgh. But the Cards are a better overall team than Seattle -- they're just more well-rounded. St. Louis can be maddening, but the Rams should be better in the second half of the season, with the continued emergence of Todd Gurley.
I won't write their epitaph. That would be foolish. After all, the 'Hawks are 21-4 in November/December games going back to the 2012 season.