What to watch: Panthers at Seahawks

When it comes to inexperience in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers are tough to beat.

Because of that, the Panthers have found it tough to win.

But while the team's young players still need more time to develop, the time to learn from victories rather than losses may be arriving.

"We have a young team, but this young team has played 11 games now, so we're not young anymore," fullback Tony Fiammetta said. "That can't be an excuse for us. We really just need to man up and get it done."

Since getting blown out by the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints on Nov. 7, the Panthers have kept it close the last three games. They'll get another chance to try to earn an actual victory rather than a moral victory Sunday, when they visit the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks aren't world-beaters this season either, but they have everything in the world to play for. Despite losing four of their last five games to fall to 5-6, they're tied for first place in the NFC West.

The Panthers (1-10) won't be going to the playoffs this season, but this game marks the first of multiple chances to impact the playoffs down the stretch. They still have two games against the Atlanta Falcons and one against the Pittsburgh Steelers – teams that lead their division but that could slip onto the playoff bubble with a loss to Carolina.

For now, though, the Panthers are focused squarely on Seattle and trying to earn a victory. Here's a look at what it will take.

DEAD RED: Carolina's offense has made steady progress over the last few weeks, but the Panthers have lost their steadiness once they get in scoring position.

Any way you slice it, Carolina has the least efficient red-zone offense in the NFL. The Panthers have penetrated the opponent's 20-yard line less than any other team (20) and they've scored fewer touchdowns once there than any other team (five). They've turned red-zone chances into touchdowns just 25 percent of the time, also last in the NFL.

"One of the biggest things we took away from the game on Sunday is that when we get down there, three points aren't going to win close games," said quarterback Jimmy Clausen, referring back to last Sunday's 24-23 loss at Cleveland. "We've got to score touchdowns. That's the big emphasis when we get into or close to the red zone."

Tight end Jeff King believes that success is just around the corner, that the progress the offense has shown between the 20s soon should show up inside the 20 as well.

"We're getting some momentum building on offense," King said. "We've stopped the turnover barrage. We've started to move the ball a little bit better – which always helps – and Jimmy is playing better.

"We'll continue working toward that this week."


CRISP SEATTLE AIR: The Seahawks rank last in the NFL in rushing offense but are a respectable 17th in passing.

Led by veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and re-emerging wide receiver Mike Williams – who hadn't played an NFL game since 2007 before catching on with Seattle – the Seahawks can be tough to ground.

"They like to throw the ball, and they've got some pretty good receivers," Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "They're big and physical, and they like to stretch the field and throw the ball down the field. We need to contain those guys and make a couple of plays on the ball."

The Panthers rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense but have shown some vulnerability over the last few weeks.


CHALLENGING QWEST: The Panthers are yet to win a road game this season, and Qwest Field isn't exactly the easiest place to start.

The stadium is notoriously loud, and the Seahawks often give their fans reason to make noise. Since the stadium opened in 2002, the Seahawks are 45-24 at home while recording a 27-41 road record over the same time frame.

There is, however, a silver lining to the raincloud that so often hangs over visitors to Seattle: Since winning their first three home games, the Seahawks have dropped their last two -- by a combined score of 83-21.


SPECIAL MOMENTS: This time last week, kicker John Kasay had a chance to give the Panthers their first road victory of the season, but his 42-yard field goal as time expired banged off the upright.

This week, Kasay returns to the city where he started his 20-year NFL career, Kasay is an original Panthers, but he played four seasons with the Seahawks before the Panthers even existed.

If this Sunday's game again comes down to a field goal, count on Kasay coming through – not because he once played in Seattle but because he is a 20-year vet.

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