Seattle Seahawks

Healed, more-rested Wilson and re-loaded Seahawks host Panthers

Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt, left, talks with offensive guard Mark Glowinski, center, and offensive tackle George Fant on the bench during the first half against Tampa Bay this past Sunday. Britt returns to center against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.
Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt, left, talks with offensive guard Mark Glowinski, center, and offensive tackle George Fant on the bench during the first half against Tampa Bay this past Sunday. Britt returns to center against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night. The Associated Press

Yes, Russell Wilson got sacked a half-dozen times.

But this past week he also got something he hadn’t been getting in more than two months.

Uninterrupted sleep.

Wilson said these past two weeks have been the first ones since before he sustained a high-ankle sprain in the Seahawks’ opening game Sept. 11 that he hasn’t had a trainer getting him up in the middle of the night for treatments. Those stretches of icings and flexings at 3 a.m. continued through his sprained medial collateral ligament he suffered Sept. 25 against San Francisco, which doctors told him should sideline him for four weeks.

Now, after last week’s season-high 80 yards rushing on eight carries — mostly sprinting away from a troubling Buccaneers’ defense that besieged him and the Seahawks’ offensive line at Tampa Bay — Wilson enters Sunday night’s game between Seattle (7-3-1) and Carolina (4-7) at CenturyLink Field healthy again.

And much more rested.

“Pretty much,” Wilson said Thursday. “Not as much crazy hours. Not every hour and a half waking up. Pretty much constantly through the night, all the way up until I go to bed, just icing and rehabbing and all that stuff.

“I’m feeling really good right now. I’m feeling strong.”

Now about his offensive line.

The Seahawks had been rolling on a three-game winning streak. They had apparently “turned a corner,” in the words of coach Pete Carroll, as they almost always do in November through December. Then they lost an inexplicable dud at Tampa Bay.

They also lost the continuity it had on its offensive line, one of the positives that iffy unit had in November. Center Justin Britt, the line’s most consistent blocker this season, missed his first game with a sprained ankle. The Seahawks allowed the Buccaneers, the league’s 26th-ranked defense, to sack Wilson six times. Then on Wednesday, Carroll announced the Seahawks were benching Garry Gilliam, the right tackle for the first 11 games, and replacing him with Bradley Sowell for Sunday night’s game against the Panthers.

What does the man being protected — or not — by that line think of it lacking continuity entering December?

“I think there’s pros and cons to it,” Wilson said. “Obviously, you want to have the five guys that are always playing, I think that’s always critical and crucial.

“At the same time, it’s also positive because we’ve had a bunch of guys play a lot of football within this past year. Guys have played right tackle, left tackle. Guys have been inside. Joey Hunt stepped up last week (for Britt) and did a great job. You have so many different guys that can step in the game, that gives you comfort in that for sure. I have all the confidence in the world.

“We got beat last week, that was last week. That’s old news. We’re focusing on this week and coming back and getting ready to play a very good football team in the Panthers.”

Carolina’s continuity? That’s long gone.

The team that stormed through the NFC with a 15-1 record last season, then swamped Seattle 31-0 in the first half of the divisional-playoff game en route to Super Bowl 50 is closer to high draft-pick status this spring than next month’s playoffs. The Panthers are three games out of the NFC South lead with five games remaining.

Quarterback Cam Newton has gone from the NFL’s most valuable player to a 55.8-percent passer in 11 months. Cleveland’s Josh McCown and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick are the only starters with a lower completion rate. Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles are the only starting quarterbacks with a lower rating than Newton’s 81.4. Newton is on pace for career lows in percentage and rating for a season.

He’s been sacked 27 times in 10 games; he was sacked 33 times all last season.

But you think the Seahawks’ O-line has problems?

The Panthers have put both starting center Ryan Kalil and his backup, Gino Gradkowski, on injured reserve. They are likely to start Tyler Larsen, a practice-squad guy, at center against Seattle.

Left tackle Michael Oher is out for the year because of a concussion. Right tackle Mike Remmers, who got steamrolled by Denver’s Von Miller in the Super Bowl in February, is now playing left tackle for Oher. Remmers’ replacement at right tackle, Daryl Williams, walked out of the loss at the Raiders in a walking boot and missed practices this past week.

Carolina ended last weekend’s loss at Oakland with only one starting blocker from the beginning of the season still healthy enough to be playing in the spot he’s supposed to be: left guard Andrew Norwell.

Coach Ron Rivera told Carolina reporters this past week his offensive-line situation was not just bad but a “catastrophe.”

So, yes Seattle, it could be worse up front.

And in the back. The Panthers are 29th in the NFL in pass defense. They haven’t been the same there since rescinding their franchise-tag contract on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman in April. That freed Norman to strike a free-agent deal with Washington. Now Carolina is starting two rookies at cornerback. The Panthers will be missing All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and starting safety Kurt Coleman from their middle of their defense Sunday night. Both are out with concussions.

“Disappointing” is how Rivera characterized the Panthers’ season via conference call on Wednesday. “You look at some of the things that have happened, some of the injuries we’ve had to deal with, those types of circumstances, things you can’t control. There’s some other things that we could have done better, obviously. We’ve lost five games by three points or less.

“We had opportunities to win football games down the stretch and didn’t do it. Those are things that unfortunately we just didn’t do. We did it last year. And that’s probably the hard pill to swallow.”

It started from the first night of the NFL season, in early September. Graham Gano missed a field goal with 5 seconds remaining that would have won the Super Bowl 50 rematch at Denver, but the Broncos won 21-20 instead.

The Panthers’ season has gone downhill from there.

“There’s a couple others where we pretty much have lost it at the last play of the game,” Rivera said. “We’ve been in games — the thing you try to get the guys to understand is that you’re a good football team. You’ve been in games, put yourself in that position, unfortunately you just haven’t won them.

“If it goes the other way, it’s one of those things, you’re looking at being a 9-2 team. You can’t change it, so you are what your record says.

“You’re 4-7.”

More bad news for Carolina: The Seahawks are getting back five starters from injuries: three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas from a strained hamstring; Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett from arthroscopic knee surgery; center Justin Britt from a sprained ankle; starting cornerback DeShawn Shead from a hamstring injury; and Mike Morgan as Seattle’s designated player to return from injured reserve this season.

All missed Seattle’s loss to the Bucs. It cut the Seahawks’ edge for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs to a half game over NFC South leader Atlanta and NFC North-leading Detroit.

But it didn’t cut at all into the Seahawks’ lead atop the NFC West. They lead by three games with five remaining.

“We had a terrific week. We had a championship week of preparation,” Carroll said Friday. “We know what that feels like, and every day guys came out to make the statement that they’re focused and tuned into it...

“They answered the call and we put together a week that gives us a chance to play very well.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

Seahawks gameday

CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-7) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-3-1)

5:30 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field, Seattle

TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: This is the sixth meeting in four-plus years, including two playoff games. The Panthers took a stunning 31-0 lead in the first half in the divisional playoffs this past January in Charlotte and ended Seattle’s 2015 season with a 31-24 win. That was on Carolina’s way to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers won in Seattle last October with a late touchdown while confusing the Seahawks’ secondary on the winning pass. Before that, the Seahawks had won the previous five meetings going back to 2010. The Seahawks lead the all-time regular-season series 5-3.

Line: Seahawks by 7.

SEATTLE’S KEYS

It’s all about No. 1: As in, the jersey number for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. He’s on pace for career lows in completion percentage and passer rating for a season. He’s already been sacked almost as many times as all of last season thanks to being behind a decimated offensive line that has only one man still standing in the same spot since the season started. Yet Newton remains the most dangerously multidimensional quarterback Seattle will face this season. This game is likely the last stand of the season for Newton, and he’s likely going to try and win the game largely by himself. The Seahawks have mostly been ready for that in the past; they are 4-2 against him.

Get Thomas Rawls going: The coaches keep saying this is like the third preseason game for Thomas Rawls because of the two months he missed with a cracked fibula. But now it’s December. Time for real performances, and a real return to the running game. Carolina is first in the league in yards allowed per carry, but will be missing All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and starting safety Kurt Coleman up the middle. Both are out with concussions. The numbers say Seattle should pass; Carolina is 29th in pass defense with two rookies starting at cornerback. But the Seahawks need to show not only an ability but a willingness to stick with running plays throughout drives and quarters. Their excuse has been Rawls has been too banged up to completely rely upon. Now is the month for fewer excuses and more results for the league’s 27th-ranked rushing offense.

Find some continuity up front: This is no time to be making lineup switches for performance, but that’s what the Seahawks are doing benching Garry Gilliam after 11 starts and putting Bradley Sowell at right tackle. Justin Britt’s return to center after missing last weekend’s dud at Tampa Bay will help re-establish the line’s continuity and chemistry. At least it better. Seattle has no other moves to make on its O-line.

The pick: Because of the return of five starters from injury, this is a different team than the one that crashed and burned at Tampa Bay last Sunday. The night will show it’s a better team than that one, too. Seahawks 21, Panthers 13.

PRIME NUMBERS

SEATTLE

29 — Earl Thomas, FS (5-10, 202, seventh season): Was at Buffalo Wild Wings last Sunday watching his first missed game due to injury. Likely to be a crazy man in his return.

34 — Thomas Rawls, RB (5-9, 215, second season): Coaches say he’s in his third “preseason” game after injuries. Needs to get in playoff-ready mode pronto.

72 — Michael Bennett, DE (6-4, 274, eighth season): Back after missing 5 games (knee surgery). His rush big reason Seattle’s won 4 of 6 versus Newton.

CAROLINA

1 — Cam Newton, QB (6-5, 244, sixth season): Still “The Show” in passing and running. But the NFL MVP of 2015 is on pace for a career-low in passing percentage. .

28 — Jonathan Stewart, RB (5-10, 235, ninth season): Timberline grad still leading Panthers in rushing. Is sixth in the NFL in rushing TDs.

69 — Tyler Larsen, C (6-4, 313, first season): Practice-squad import is Plan C at center. Plans A and B are on injured reserve.

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