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Run-first "DNA" makes a statement in Seattle

Raheem Blackshear

SEATTLE – Chuba Hubbard crouched by his locker at Lumen Field, wearing brand-named sunglasses and a satisfied smirk on his face.

Sunday's game had a certain style, and allowed the Panthers to smile on the way home for a change.

Hubbard and the entire backfield played a pivotal role in helping Carolina seal a 30-24 win over Seattle for its first road win of the year to improve to 5-8.

Hubbard had a season-high 74 of the Panthers' 223 rushing total, as they put a stamp on a run-first identity that interim coach Steve Wilks called "demoralizing" to opposing defenses. With D'Onta Foreman adding 74 yards on 21 attempts, and Raheem Blackshear chipping in 32 yards on four carries, the Panthers leaned on the Seahawks throughout the night.

When opponents start to show a certain weakness, Hubbard said it's tough for him and his fellow running backs to miss. So when asked about noticing that feeling, he couldn't help but grin.

"I can feel it," Hubbard said. "(D'Onta Foreman) could feel it. Raheem (Blackshear) could feel it. The O-line could feel it; everybody on the sideline did. That's what we pride ourselves on once we get into that game. … (Their) defense is going to be tired. They don't want to tackle anymore."

It's simple math. The Panthers have leaned on a dominant ground game in their five wins this season. They've averaged 191.6 rushing yards those wins, compared to 83.3 in their eight losses.

Emphasizing the run has allowed them to get into position, where games are starting to have potential playoff implications.

Wilks' smash-mouth approach to running the ball and winning the line of scrimmage is how the Panthers have spelled success and pieced together wins. And in a road win over Seattle, Wilks said Carolina made a statement.

"Just the mentality of really finishing upfront and running the football," Wilks said. "As a defensive coach, again, there's nothing more demoralizing than having the ball run on you in the fourth quarter – not being able to stop it. So offensive line, running backs, those guys did a tremendous job."

The Panthers are committing to their personality. They ran 46 times in Seattle, tied for the third-highest number of attempts in a game since 2009.

Before this year's Thursday night game against the Falcons, the Panthers had rushed 40 or more times just twice since 2014. But since that game, they've done it three times – in wins over Atlanta (47), Denver (46), and Seattle.

That dedication to running the ball has worked out recently, as Carolina has rushed for 200-plus yards twice in its past four games – the first time since 2018 they've hit that number multiple times in a season.

"I just felt like we had momentum," Hubbard said. "O-line was dominating. (The Seahawks) were tired. You could just see it; the O-line was just wearing on them. Everybody was just wearing on them, and we're just pounding them. That's what we pride ourselves on. That's our DNA – running the ball, being tough, and finishing. We did that today."

Hubbard and Blackshear paired up for one of the decisive moments in the fourth quarter. The two combined for 66 yards on a 74-yard touchdown drive to put the Panthers up by 10, capped off by Blackshear's 8-yard touchdown.

Foreman wasn't involved in that drive, though Wilks said it wasn't necessarily because of the foot injury that limited him in practice last week. Asked about his foot, Foreman replied: "It's good. A little sore. But it was cool."

Wilks said he was choosing to go with Hubbard in "rhythm" on that drive. Foreman, a veteran presence for the second-year Hubbard and rookie Blackshear, expressed nothing but confidence in his teammates.

"Every time they go into games, I feel like they're always going to make a play," Foreman said. "When they go out there and do it, it's like, 'Let's keep going, let's keep going.'"

Center Bradley Bozeman said he felt like Sunday was "our day" before the game, citing a solid week of practice before the trip.

"I feel like we just played like us today, just all around," Bozeman said. "We ran the ball well. We threw the ball when we had to. We executed well."

Foreman would agree. He said the Panthers' playoff mentality, which Wilks and the team have locked in on since the bye week, starts up front. And he saw it established again versus the Seahawks.

But the Panthers don't see that stopping in Seattle. With a two-week homestand against the Steelers and Lions on the horizon to close out regular season matchups at Bank of America Stadium, Foreman and Co. look to continue working toward stacking good days and good wins.

"We're building something over here, and I'm excited about it," Foreman said. "You've got to keep striving, keep going, keep finishing, stay focused – one game at a time. (We've) got to go back home and protect the Bank."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

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