During a late revival that salvaged the Carolina Panthers’ season, coach Ron Rivera became a huge fan of the Seattle Seahawks.
The 2010 Seahawks.
That team, coach Pete Carroll’s first in Seattle, is forever the flag-bearer for the competitive procrastinators, the late-bloomers, the representatives of derelict divisions.
They were the first club (in a non-strike season) to advance to the postseason with a losing record. Their 7-9 mark that season was good enough to win the NFC West and earn them a home game in the wild card round.
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Oh, the outrage around the country. The lamentable Seahawks got to host a playoff game. The league will never be the same.
But with the opportunity, in a seismic upset, the Hawks scored a 41-36 win over the New Orleans Saints, which happened to be the defending Super Bowl champions.
Rivera has been telling his team about this feat for some time, and on Saturday, a Panthers team that won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 regular-season record travels to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl champs.
“Oh, yeah, that’s been part of the conversation,” Rivera said Wednesday. “People have talked about it. I said, ‘The truth is that it doesn’t matter, guys, how you get in, just get in and see what happens.’ ”
The Panthers not only got in but defeated the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals in the wild card round last week.
“It’s what happened to Seattle a few years back,” Rivera said. “They got hot and won a game, and that’s kind of the way we looked at it. We got hot and won a home playoff game and we just go from there.”
Rivera has been on the coaching hot seat much of the season, and in the span between Sept. 14 to Dec. 7, won just one game, lost eight and tied one. At that point, they were 3-8-1.
In the way that the Seahawks revived from a 3-3 start after a team meeting that brought about a serious refocusing by the players, the Panthers had a few similar moments leading to their current five-game winning streak, Rivera said.
“We got back after the Green Bay game (an Oct. 19 loss) and the defense got together and said, ‘Hey, look, this isn’t us, this isn’t the way we play.’ ”
An offensive awakening, he said, came after the Nov. 30 at Minnesota, when a reshuffled offensive line started gelling. It led to wins over New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta.
None of those teams had a winning record, and none was higher than 23rd in the NFL in total defense.
The Seahawks, however, led the league in total defense and scoring defense. That, in large part, is why the Panthers are an 11-point underdog, even though they lost to the Hawks by a slim 13-9 margin in Carolina on Oct. 26.
Rivera has had a tough week, as his house caught on fire Sunday. He said no one was hurt, and, because it happened on a day off, it didn’t hamper his preparations for facing the Seahawks.
He knows it’s a challenge to face the Seattle defense, as well as having to try to stop running back Marshawn Lynch. He further thinks that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson should be drawing serious consideration for the league MVP award.
Carroll said the Panthers’ “turnaround” is similar to the one the Seahawks executed.
“Their numbers in the last five weeks are off the charts and show what kind of team they are,” Carroll said. “We know there is a lot of value in that, and the motivation that comes from playing like that, so it’s a very exciting matchup and a very big chance for us to play a game here at home.”
Rivera expressed excitement, too. “We’ve got a lot of respect for who they are,” he said. “We have every opportunity to win, but you have to show up and play.”
It’s a lesson he learned from the 2010 Seahawks.