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Panthers survive Seattle’s comeback bid

CHARLOTTE -- Running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back from a foot injury as the Carolina Panthers built a huge early lead in a 31-24 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional pl...

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Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen scores a touchdown over the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter of the NFC Divisional round playoff game at Bank of America Stadium. (Photo by John David Mercer / USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE - Running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back from a foot injury as the Carolina Panthers built a huge early lead in a 31-24 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers (16-1) will be home next Sunday night against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game. Carolina holds a 12-game homefield winning streak.
Quarterback Cam Newton was 16 for 22 passing for 161 yards and a touchdown and Stewart had 19 carries in becoming the first running back this season to top 100 yards against Seattle’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense.
Carolina scored the first 31 points before Seattle rallied in the second half. The Panthers did not score in the second half.
The Seahawks (11-7), who are the two-time defending NFC champions, were unable to overcome a rough start from quarterback Russell Wilson. After his second pass of the game was returned by linebacker Luke Kuechly for a touchdown, Wilson finished 31 of 48 for 366 yards with two interceptions and three second-half touchdown throws.
Wilson’s 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse pulled the Seahawks to within 31-21 with 6 minutes, 4 seconds left. Steven Hauschka’s 36-yard field goal with 1:12 to go kept Seattle’s hopes alive.
Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Kuechly and cornerback Cortland Finnegan collected interceptions on two of Wilson’s first four passes as part of the early plethora of big plays that went Carolina’s way.
Carolina built a 21-0 by the second play of the second quarter, with Stewart leaping into the end zone from 1 yard away.
Finnegan’s pick set up Graham Gano’s 48-yard field goal and a 24-0 lead.
Tight end Greg Olsen’s diving catch in the end zone completed a 19-yard pass play from Newton, pushing the margin to 31-0 with 6:26 to go in the second quarter.
The half ended with Hauschka’s 55-yard field goal attempt falling short.
The Seahawks began the second half with better fortune, scoring in less than two minutes. Wilson threw 13 yards to Kearse for Seattle’s first points.
Wilson hit wide receiver Tyler Lockett for a 33-yard score on the Seahawks’ next possession, so it was 31-14 midway through the third quarter.
With a chance to pull closer, Seattle pulled off a fake punt and moved into Carolina territory before a sack of Wilson thwarted the threat. The Panthers got the ball back with 26 seconds to go in the third quarter and consumed more than 5 1/2 minutes.
The Panthers led 14-0 less than 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
Stewart ran 59 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, he scored from 4 yards out.
On Seattle’s second snap, Kuechly intercepted Wilson’s hurried pass and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who had been out since Week 10 and underwent abdominal surgery Nov. 25, didn’t make much of an impact in his return. He had six carries for 20 yards and two catches for 15 yards.

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