Perhaps the most impressive part about the Seattle Seahawks' 2015 season was that they had led at some point in the fourth quarter in 16 of their first 17 games.
Not everything went their way. They blew some leads early in the year. But the one thing coach Pete Carroll demands is that his players compete regardless of the situation.
Today, in the first half against the Carolina Panthers, they simply weren't competitive. With the stakes as high as they've been all season, the Seahawks turned in their worst 30-minute stretch of the year. Seattle went into halftime trailing 31-0, and despite a valiant comeback bid in the second half, fell to Carolina 31-24.
What went wrong? How could a team that had won seven of its last eight struggle so badly out of the gate?
As is often the case, it started up front. When the Seahawks got off to a 2-4 start this season, many of the issues they had were on the offensive line. On the second play Sunday, left guard Justin Britt got beaten by Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short. Russell Wilson was under pressure, tried to get rid of the ball and was picked off by linebacker Luke Kuechly, who took it 14 yards to the end zone.
Later in the quarter, Carolina's Mario Addison got past left tackle Russell Okung and pressured Wilson into throwing a second interception that led to a Panthers field goal. Marshawn Lynch, playing in his first game since Nov. 15, totaled just 20 yards on six carries. He had nowhere to go early on, and then the Seahawks had no choice but to stray from their game plan and pass on virtually every down.
The offensive line issues were somewhat predictable. The Panthers' front seven won that battle back in Week 6 when Carolina came back for a 27-23 victory in Seattle.
What was most surprising about today's first half was the way the Seahawks' defense got pushed around. Jonathan Stewart began the game with a 59-yard run, the longest gain Seattle has allowed on the ground all season long. Stewart (19 carries, 106 yards) became the first opposing rusher to notch a 100-yard game against the Seahawks this season.
The Panthers scored on their first four offensive possessions. On three of those drives, they went 50-plus yards.
The Seahawks did not fold in the second half. They cut the lead to seven. Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a pair of touchdowns and also connected with Tyler Lockett for a 33-yard score. The defense shut out the Panthers in the final two quarters.
The loss was not as heartbreaking as the one that closed out last season. But the season ended earlier than Carroll and Wilson expected. And the focus will now shift to what went wrong in Carolina and how to get this team back in position to make a Super Bowl run in 2016.
Game ball: It has to go to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who finished with 11 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Kearse is not a high-profile player, but he has been a key contributor for the Seahawks. He's scheduled to be a free agent this offseason.