SEATTLE – When running back Mike Goodson ripped through a hole on the right side and sprinted to a short touchdown, the Panthers looked like they might be on their way.
When Goodson accelerated through an opening down the right sideline and galloped the entire length of the field for another touchdown, that's when the Panthers actually began to realize things weren't going to go their way on this day.
"I had no idea – until I got to the end zone. I had thrown it in gear and didn't look back," said Goodson, whose 99-yard kickoff return was nullified by two penalties during a disastrous third quarter in the Panthers' 31-14 loss at Seattle. "It was disappointing. They had scored, but we came right back and scored.
"You're feeling great, and then when you see the flag, it's like, 'Oh, man.'"
The Panthers' first-half thrills gave way to total agony in the second half. Carolina headed to the locker room at notoriously loud Qwest Field with a 14-3 lead, but the boos that dotted the first half quickly changed to cheers as the Seahawks outscored the Panthers 28-0 in the second half – including 21 points in a five-minute span midway through the third quarter.
"It turned fast," said Panthers safety Charles Godfrey, who picked up his team-best fifth interception in the defeat. "They went in at halftime and made adjustments, and we just didn't play as well as we did in the first half. They just executed better than we did, plain and simple."
Carolina (1-11) scored the game's first 14 points, but the Seahawks (6-6) were even more dominant the rest of the way.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Seahawks marched 96 yards with little resistance, highlighted by a 26-yard pass to third-string tight end Cameron Morrah and a 31-yard run by second-string running back Justin Forsett.
Three plays later, they were ahead. Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who seemingly could do no wrong in the first half, threw a screen pass behind fullback Tony Fiammetta, and linebacker Lofa Tatupu stepped in front of it and dashed 26 yards untouched for a touchdown.
Just like that, the Seahawks led 17-14.
"I saw Tony in the flat, and I just threw it behind him," said Clausen, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 169 yards. "If I throw it in front of him, he probably catches it and gets a first down.
"It's tough to play as well as we did in the first half and then to come out so slow in the second half. We just couldn't ever get back on track."
The Seahawks, on the other hand, kept trucking. Carolina couldn't move the ball on its next possession, and on the resulting punt, Seattle running back Leon Washington took off through the middle for an 84-yard return, stopped just short of the end zone on a diving tackle by punter J.J. Jansen.
Baker's hustle play, however, only delayed the inevitable, as Marshawn Lynch crashed over from 1 yard to push the Seahawks' lead to 24-14.
The Panthers got one more chance to turn the tide, when Goodson took the ensuing kickoff the distance – only to have it wiped out by two flags.
"They made some big plays early in the third quarter, both on special teams and on defense. That was a large part of our undoing," Panthers coach John Fox said. "That run they had there in the third quarter kind of put us on our heels."
The Seahawks remained the aggressor the rest of the game: Before Clausen led the Panthers on a near-touchdown drive in the waning seconds, Carolina had mustered just one second-half first down.
"They made some good adjustments defensively and started pressuring us quite a bit more," Fox said. "It was a little bit too much for us to handle."
The Panthers were too hot to handle in the first half, playing the best football they had played all season. They found the end zone on the game's opening drive, highlighted by impressive third-down conversions featuring Clausen to Cam Newton and a Christian McCaffrey 11-yard run. Goodson capped it with a 6-yard scamper.
They struck again midway through the second quarter. Clausen connected with Cam Newton on a 39-yard beauty down the sideline, and Stewart (21 carries, 92 yards) ripped off several nice runs, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0.
At that point, the Panthers had 14 first downs to just one for the Seahawks and held a 197-28 edge in total yardage, but from there, the Seahawks flipped the script – and then some.
Seattle came all the way back to claim a sizable edge in yardage (371-283), first downs (25-18) and -- most importantly – on the scoreboard.
"I felt like I was in control of everything," Clausen said. "The offensive line did a great job of protecting, and the receivers, tight ends and running backs did a great job. We were hitting on all cylinders.
"Then they dialed up some pressure early in the second half. It was just a tough second half."