SEATTLE (AP) — Pete Carroll was really thrown for a loop when the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule last season.
“In my mind, I’m going to be in the fourth quarter when we get to next week. We are not there yet,” Seattle’s veteran head coach said.
But the Seahawks are clearly in the important quarter of the season with a potentially defining two-game span beginning Sunday when Seattle hosts Carolina.
That’s followed by a quick turnaround and a divisional showdown with San Francisco next Thursday. It’s a five-day span that will likely decide if Seattle (7-5) has a chance at winning the NFC West or if it will be fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the NFC.
Before worrying about their division foe, the Seahawks can’t overlook the Panthers.
“This game is enormous for us right now, so we have to go get it and do whatever it takes to get that done,” Carroll said.
Two weeks ago, the Panthers did Seattle a favor with their victory over Denver, which only improved the Seahawks’ draft position as owners of the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2023, thanks to the Russell Wilson trade.
The Panthers (4-8) should be healthy and well rested coming off their bye week. It’ll be the second straight start for Sam Darnold at quarterback, but it’s the Panthers’ run game that has taken off in their past two wins. Carolina rushed for 232 yards in beating Atlanta and had 185 yards in the win over Denver. That’s where Seattle has struggled of late, allowing at least 160 yards rushing in each of its past three games.
And while the Panthers are tied for the fourth-worst record in the NFC, they’re only two games out of first place in the NFC South. But getting a win in Seattle means Carolina solving its road woes, going 0-5 away from home so far this season.
“It’s going to be a tough task in Seattle,” Carolina interim coach Steve Wilks said. “The 12th man, loud crowd and definitely a different atmosphere.”
Seattle has a significant depth question in its offensive backfield. Running backs Kenneth Walker III and DeeJay Dallas both injured ankles last week against the Rams. Travis Homer could return after missing last week, but the only fully healthy option might be Tony Jones Jr., who had seven carries against the Rams.
It’s a cloudy situation for Seattle made more challenging by the quick turnaround to next week.
Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said he has a new goal — eclipsing the team’s single-season sack record.
Burns has five sacks in the last four games, giving him a career-high 10 for the season. The team record is shared by Hall of Famer Kevin Greene and Greg Hardy, who each had 15.
“That’s my goal is to beat the record,” Burns said. “I need 5½ or six sacks, and that would be awesome.”
Burns said he didn’t know about the team record until someone told him about it this week.
Geno Smith’s season for Seattle has generated a significant amount of worthy recognition. He can put his name in the NFL record books with another solid outing against the Panthers. Smith has posted at least a 60% completion percentage and a passer rating of 80 or higher in the first 12 games of this season. It’s tied for the longest streak to begin a season along with Peyton Manning (2009) and Aaron Rodgers (2011).
Smith can take over the top spot this week with another solid game. Smith has posted a passer rating of 100 or higher in eight of the past nine games and his lowest completion percentage is 64%.
“Phenomenal. MVP caliber. Go with the second one, MVP caliber,” Seattle WR DK Metcalf said.
Darnold is sporting a red beard, one he started growing out before leading the Panthers to a 23-10 win over the Denver Broncos in his first start of the season before the bye week.
“I’m obviously going to keep it as long as we keep winning games,” Darnold said.
Wilks named Darnold the starter immediately after the Denver win, and the team waived Baker Mayfield on Monday. P.J. Walker will serve as the team’s No. 2 quarterback on Sunday.
“Baker was nothing but the best to me and all of the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff, a total class act,” Darnold said. “He was such a great teammate to have in the locker room. It’s a tough business.”
For a while, Seattle and Carolina were matching up as though they were division foes. The teams faced off in the regular season every year between 2012-16 and again in 2018-19. That stretch also included playoff meetings in the 2014 and 2015 playoffs.
The Seahawks have won the last three regular-season games played in the series, including a 40-7 romp in 2016, the last time the teams met in Seattle.
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