CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers were marching downfield for a potentially game-winning touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks late in the fourth quarter.
Running back DeAngelo Williams charged into the Seattle secondary for a 16-yard gain, lowering his shoulder at the Seahawk's 8-yard line. That's when safety Earl Thomas jarred the ball loose and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel recovered it with 5:25 remaining.
From there, the Seahawks ran out the clock for a 12-7 victory in the season opener Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
"We got down in the red zone and, unfortunately, we turned it over," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We can't have that, especially in the situation we were in. We were driving down, had the chance to take the lead."
Williams knew how costly his miscue was.
"It ultimately came down to that fumble, let's just get that out of the way," said Williams, who had 17 carries for 86 yards. "It was my fault."
Of course, there were other opportunities the Panthers failed to take advantage of – like forcing Seattle to punt on the ensuing drive. But a defense that had performed admirably throughout the day was unable get the ball back to its offense for a final comeback attempt.
"We had an opportunity at the end of the game on defense to get a quick three-and-out and get the offense back on the field, so it goes hand in hand," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We've got to make a play."
Much like last year's meeting between these two teams (a 16-12 win for Seattle), Sunday's contest was a defensive battle.
After a scoreless first quarter, Steven Hauschka's 27-yard field goal gave the Seahawks a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
After wide receiver Steve Smith slipped a tackle for an 8-yard gain on third-and-seven, Newton found Smith over the middle for a 3-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers a 7-3 lead with 3:13 left in the first half.
Seattle reached midfield by the two-minute warning, and on second-and-seven from the Carolina 42, safety Charles Godfrey burst into the pocket on a blitz to sack Russell Wilson for a 13-yard loss.
But after the play, defensive end Frank Alexander got into an altercation with Seahawks tackle Breno Giacomini, drawing a personal foul which led to his disqualification.
Three plays later, Wilson took a first down snap from the Carolina 12. Defensive end Charles Johnson engulfed Wilson for a sack and forced a fumble that he then recovered to allow the Panthers to maintain their lead at halftime.
Hauschka cut the Carolina lead to 7-6 with a 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter. On their next possession, the Seahawks produced the game-winning score.
One play after Seattle wide receiver Stephen Williams dropped a wide-open pass a few yards from the right pylon, Wilson launched a deep pass for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who beat cornerback Josh Thomas for the 43-yard touchdown reception at 10:13 of the fourth quarter.
Seattle's two-point pass attempt fell incomplete, but it proved to be inconsequential.
"I take full responsibility," Thomas said. "I made that play a million times in practice.
"This is just going to be a speed bump."
That's a sentiment shared team-wide one game into the 2013 season.
"We had the opportunity to beat a team that people are crowning right now," Rivera said. "We can play with anybody and we are most certainly capable and we are going to be winning some football games."