Seahawks roll over Panthers to reach NFC title game
(Reuters) - The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Saturday, putting them one win away from a return trip to the NFL's championship game.
The top-seeded Seahawks, who are trying to become the NFL's first repeat champion in 10 years, used a suffocating defense and explosive fourth quarter to put what had been a close game out of reach.
"The guys played really hard tonight and played a really good tough, physical game," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll told reporters. "Our guys hung in there tough and kept the score down and allowed for some guys to make things happen."
With the victory, Seattle are the first defending Super Bowl champion to win a post-season game the following season since the 2005 New England Patriots.
Seattle will next host the winner of Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 18.
The Seahawks' Russell Wilson completed 15-of-22 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, including a team post-season record 63-yard scoring pass to Jermaine Kearse in the second quarter.
Kearse made a spectacular one-handed catch before out-running the Panthers defense and diving for the pylon at the left corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead before Carolina responded with a field goal on the final play of the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter the teams looked headed for a tense finish until Seattle erupted for 17 consecutive points in a nine-minute span.
After a Steven Hauschka field goal early, the Seahawks added to their lead when Wilson, facing a third-and-10 at the Carolina 25-yard line, connected with Luke Willson for a touchdown to build a 14-point lead. Continued...