- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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As advertised: The defensive front seven might be better than advertised. It held running back Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries and the ground game to 70 yards. Rookie tackle Star Lotulelei showed star potential with four tackles and good inside pressure. The secondary remains a question as advertised. Cornerback Josh Thomas lost containment on consecutive deep passes, the second resulting in a game-winning 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Russell Wilson completed a gaudy 75 percent of his passes for 320 yards -- his first 300-yard passing game -- for a rating of 115.7. Holding the Seahawks to 12 points was solid overall, but not enough to overcome a worse-than-advertised offense.
Deep trouble? Quarterback Cam Newton attempted only four passes beyond 10 yards, the second-lowest total of his career. He finished with a career-low 125 yards passing. Perhaps the play calling was conservative going against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Newton said the offense pretty much stuck to its game plan, but if this is the game plan of new offensive coordinator Mike Shula all season, the Panthers might be in deep trouble. They might be anyway with Steve Smith and the untouchables (only one player touched a pass outside of Smith) at wide receiver. Brandon LaFell, who was supposed to emerge as the second receiver, didn't catch a pass. He was targeted only once, and there was a hold on that play. Newton said Shula "did an unbelievable job calling plays," and the Panthers took what was given to them. He also said, "we have to be more aggressive and take the bull by its horns and go." The good news is they won't face many defenses as tough as Seattle's.
Close not good enough: There's no such thing as a moral victory because you played arguably the best team in the NFC to within five points. Not when your record was 1-7 in games decided by seven or fewer points a season ago and when your head coach is 2-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Losing close games breeds more close losses. If this trend isn't reversed, it leads to a coaching search.
Missed opportunities and silly mistakes: Marginal teams can't afford to miss opportunities or make silly mistakes. The Panthers, a marginal team, had both contribute to the loss. The most-glaring missed opportunity was DeAngelo Williams' fumble at the Seattle 8-yard line with the Panthers trailing 12-7 in the fourth quarter.
The silly mistakes? Backup defensive end Frank Alexander was disqualified for swinging at an offensive lineman after coach Ron Rivera warned his players the Seahawks get "chipper," his word for doing things to get you out of your game. Thomas had a punt go off his leg after Ted Ginn Jr. had called for a fair catch, which resulted in a turnover. Armond Smith was penalized twice -- yes twice -- for illegally going out of bounds and returning to the field on punt coverage. It all adds up to a loss if you're a marginal team.