For an entire week the Seahawks and heard story after story, hypothetical after hypothetical of how they couldn’t defend the league’s best receiver, Steve Smith. “He was going to get his yards,” the experts would say, so the best chance the Hawks had to win was to play solid on offense – i.e. play keep-away from the ever dangerous Smith – and stuff the running game, hoping to offset the gifted wideout from Carolina.
The Seahawks did that and more, holding the ball for almost 42 minutes, limiting the Panthers to 212 total yards (36 on the ground) and holding Smith in check (5 catches for 33 yards).
From the outset of the game, the Seahawks defense showed what their plan was. Allow their front-four to control the line of scrimmage, blitz Panthers QB Jake Delhomme as little as possible and jam Smith every time he came off the line.
"I got my hands on him a few times. I almost knocked him down a few times," Seahawks linebacker Kevin Bentley said. "It was great. My whole job was to beat him up."
Smith wasn’t the only player that got pushed around on Sunday.
On successive plays, fill-in Panthers RB Nick Goings slammed into the line only to be stuffed by Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu and the rest of the Seahawks defense. Tatupu finished the game with three tackles, but also posted an interception on the Panthers’ third drive setting up a Seattle field-goal and generally did a good job as the “quarterback” for the defense getting the team lined up properly.
Goings left the game with a concussion late in the first quarter after a near head-on collision with Tatupu.
On the Seahawks’ second offensive drive of the day, it became apparent that RB Shaun Alexander was not suffering any residual effects from the concussion he suffered against the Washington Redskins last week in the first quarter. He took a handoff over right tackle and put his head down for six yards and two plays later bulled forward for another three up the middle on third-and-one.
Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren opened things up a little bit on the fourth play of the drive when backup quarterback Seneca Wallace lined up wide left and, after a pump-fake by QB Matt Hasselbeck, made a beautiful catch over his outside shoulder for a 28-yard gain.
"It was a tough catch," Wallace said. "I had to adjust my body to make sure that I got my hands on it."
Following another Delhomme interception, this time by FS Marquand Manuel, the Seahawks took over at the Carolina 17 and a short Alexander run later, the Hawks were in the lead 17-0 only four seconds into the second quarter.
Alexander quieted his detractors, those who said he was “soft” and couldn’t hand the pressure of the playoffs, toting the ball 34 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
Hasselbeck continued on his impressive post season completing 20 of 28 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns.
"Part of me wants to enjoy (the win), and part of me knows we have a game coming up," Hasselbeck said. "Raising that trophy in front of our fans was a dream come true."
TE Jerramy Stevens and WR Darrell Jackson led the Hawks with six receptions apiece and both had touchdown grabs – Stevens a well-designed 17 yard pass down the middle of the filed and Jackson a 20-yard dart from Hasselbeck.
"No one is going to give us anything," Stevens said. "We haven't done anything in the past. But we've been out here taking it (respect) this year, that's for sure."
Harassing Delhomme all day was DT Rocky Bernard, who posted two sacks and numerous hurries. Bernard and his linemates bludgeoned the Panthers offensive line and backs relentlessly and it showed in the way the game was played.
"Today was a long day because they were killing us out there," Panthers safety Mike Minter said. "They were dictating the tempo and flow of the whole game on offense and defense."
Now that the Seahawks have exorcised the demons of 29 years of futility, they have one last goal – a Super Bowl win in “The Motor City” against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.