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What We Learned: Panthers vs. Seahawks

Posted Jan 17, 2016

Linebacker Thomas Davis shows why he's on the hands team; running back Jonathan Stewart sets the tone in his return.

1. TD ON HANDS TEAM FOR A REASON: Thomas Davis’ participation on the hands team often draws laughter from teammates at practice.

A linebacker being put in position to catch on onside kick? Not exactly typical.

"They like to make fun of me and joke all the time like, ‘Why is TD out there?’" Davis said.

Davis proved why he’s out there on Sunday. He launched himself high into the air to secure the onside kick attempt from Seattle and seal Carolina’s 31-24 victory in the NFC Divisional Playoff.

"Just know that when the game is on the line and I have to get it, I am going to do what I can to come away with it," Davis said proudly.

2. STEW SETS TONE IN RETURN: Jonathan Stewart missed out on a 1,000-yard rushing season by 11 yards after missing the last three games with a foot injury, but he achieved a different rare round number Sunday.

Stewart became the first player to rush for 100 yards against Seattle in the last 27 games, going for 106 on 19 carries with two touchdowns. Back in Week 11 of the 2014 season, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles gained 159 yards against the Seahawks.

"Credit to my offensive line. They did a good job of blocking up front and pretty much got me that – especially on that first run," said Stewart, who broke off a 59-yard run on Carolina’s first play and his first touch since Dec. 13. "We pride ourselves on being a physical team, and I feel like we did our job today."

The offensive line loves blocking for Stewart.

"Stew was a tone-setter for us. He set it on the first play," guard Trai Turner said. "Just get a hat on a hat and let 28 run. That’s what he did."

3. TOLBERT ON THE SPOT: It’s impossible to say now, but looking back, just how critical was fullback Mike Tolbert’s fumble recovery on the second play of the game?

Stewart had just ripped off a 59-yard run on the first play of the game. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne then entered the game and ran into defensive end Michael Bennett, who forced the ball out. If Seattle recovers that ball and keeps the game scoreless, who knows how the first half unfolds.

Instead, Tolbert grabbed it and the Panthers finished the game-opening drive with a touchdown.

"I didn’t know what happened. I blocked my guy, and I looked down and the ball was rolling at my feet, so I picked it up," Tolbert said.

Artis-Payne flashed an appreciative smile after hearing Tolbert’s description of the recovery. He knows as well as anyone how big that play was.

4. NORMAN HONORED A LOST FRIEND: Cornerback Josh Norman dedicated Sunday’s game to his best friend Andre, who passed away recently after a battle with cancer.

"I just wanted to come out and earn anything I could for him and his family," Norman said. "He left behind a sweet little baby girl that I’m going to be watching over. He’s got a friend in me. I know he is looking down smiling upon us."

The Seahawks didn’t throw Norman’s way often, but quarterback Russell Wilson managed to get one pass by him. On third-and-goal midway through the fourth quarter, Wilson retreated away from pressure and tossed a hopeful pass off his back foot that soared just out of Norman’s reach and into the hands of wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for the touchdown.

"He just threw the ball up in the end zone, and ten times out of ten I come down with that," Norman said. "I just felt like I was hanging up there forever. Something just pushed it over my hand and it was a touchdown. I was like, ‘Man, that’s that magic stuff (from Wilson) I’ve been talking about!’"

Norman didn’t leave the game empty-handed, however. In the third quarter, he notched his first career sack. Norman took matters into his own hands, instinctively rushing the passer and dropping Wilson for a 14-yard loss.

"You know at some point in time you’ve just got to be relentless," Norman said. "Just go rogue one time for the heck of it. I was so happy it worked out for me."

5. FAN-TASTIC SUPPORT: A couple of times during Sunday’s game, there were tremors in the press box from fans up above going crazy, something one long-time employee of the team had never experienced.

"That’s our edge. Coming into the playoffs, we knew the best things we had going for us were the fans at Bank of America Stadium," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We’ve been to a lot of places, and at the end of the day nothing compares. Fans are giving us every single thing they have, and it pays off."

Tight end Greg Olsen also appreciated the support and was glad the team could reward fans by making possible the first NFC Championship ever held at the stadium.

"What a great feeling for our team to host playoff games back-to-back years, and now the Super Bowl goes through us. Our fans deserve that," Olsen said. "Our fans should be excited. I don't know how much is going to get accomplished over the next week around Charlotte. It’s special. We’re one home game away from the Super Bowl. Every single team would sign up for that before the season started."

Staff writer Max Henson and senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.