CHARLOTTE – Over the past six weeks, the Panthers haven't forced many turnovers. Two to be exact.
That's why there was cause for celebration in the second quarter on Sunday when defensive linemen Stacy McGee and Bruce Irvin combined to take down Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and force a fumble. The ball popped out and defensive end Mario Addison scooped it up to set the Panthers up with a first-and-10 at their own 27-yard line.
Trailing 13-7 and with the Seahawks threatening to extend their lead, the takeaway couldn't have come at a better time. Only… it didn't.
After the celebration subsided, it revealed a penalty flag on the field – defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had been called offside. The takeaway was nullified, and the Panthers defense found itself back on the field.
"We had some opportunities to get some turnovers," interim head coach Perry Fewell said. "We made some mistakes and gave them opportunities to score early in the ball game."
That's exactly what Wilson and the Seahawks did. Two plays after the would-be strip sack, Wilson connected with wide receiver Tyler Lockett for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, the Panthers went from stealing a possession – and the game's momentum – to trailing by two scores.
But that wasn't the only takeaway taken away for the Panthers.
Just before halftime with Seattle pinned all the way back to its own 3-yard line on third-and-17, Seahawks running back C.J. Prosise took a handoff around the right side. As Prosise made a cut, he slipped and fell to the turf seemingly untouched. When he hit the grass, the ball popped out and into the hands of Panthers safety Tre Boston at the Seattle 15-yard line.
With 1:41 left in the half and facing a 20-7 deficit, the Panthers looked primed to punch it in one more time before the break. At the very least, three points seemed like a lock.
Until Prosise was ruled down by contact prior to the fumble, once again saving Seattle from a costly turnover.
"Those are almost like missed opportunities in the game when it comes to momentum," Boston said. "When you think you have the ball, then the next thing you know, you don't. It's pretty much like a missed op, and we've got to find a way to win the series."
The Panthers defense was still able to win that series, forcing a Seahawks punt on the next play, but now the offense was starting at its own 40-yard line instead of already inside the red zone.
It's hard to feel too upset when the ruling is out of your control, as it was on the second overturned turnover, but the sense of false hope is still just as painful.
"That's just part of the game," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "You've got to make the plays and sometimes stuff happens. You know, we were there, and we had an opportunity, we've just got to make the play."
View photos from Week 15 as Carolina hosts Seattle.