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Seahawks comeback falls short as Jonathan Stewart-led Panthers head to NFC title game with 31-24 win



TRIBUNE PHOTO: MICHAEL WORKMAN - Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers goes over the top of the Seattle defense to score in Sunday's NFL playoff game.On the first offensive play of the game, former University of Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart burst through the Seattle defense for a 59-yard gain.

A few plays later, Stewart reached the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run that give his Carolina Panthers an early lead in Sunday’s NFC playoff football game in Charlotte, N.C.

It would be the start of a dominant first half for Carolina that ended with the scoreless Seahawks trailing by 31 points.

But Seattle – the two-time reigning NFC champions – weren’t about to give up their conference bragging rights without a considerable fight.

The Seahawks’ defense held the Cam Newton-led Panthers offense scoreless over the final two quarters and the Seattle offense finally found some rhythm – and the end zone.

But as commendable as the comeback attempt was, it still fell short and ended the Seahawks’ season with a 31-24 loss to Carolina.

The Panthers advance to play the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game next weekend. The Seahawks head home thinking about how different the game could have been with a more respectable showing in the first half.

After Stewart’s first touchdown run, the Panthers took a 14-0 lead on linebacker Luke Kuechly’s 14-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Stewart then made it 21-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and Newton later capped the first-half scoring with a 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Greg Olsen.

Stewart finished with 106 yards on 19 carries, becoming the first opposing running back to rush for over 100 yards against Seattle all season.

The Seahawks’ comeback attempt began when quarterback Russell Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for a 13-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.

It would be the first of three touchdown passes for Wilson in the second half. He also had a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Lockett in the third quarter that made it 31-14 and a 3-yard scoring toss to Kearse in the fourth quarter that made it 31-21 with 3:28 to play.

Seattle still had hope after Steven Hauschka drilled a 36-yard field goal to cut the Panthers’ lead to 31-24 with 1:37 left in the game.

But Carolina’s Thomas Davis recovered the ensuing Seattle onside kick attempt to help seal the Panthers’ victory.

Former University of Oregon tight end Ed Dickson had two catches for 22 yards for Carolina.