The NFC Championship game on January 22, 2006 featured the Seattle Seahawks, winners of the NFC West and top-seeded team in the conference, hosting the Carolina Panthers, a Wild Card team that finished second in the NFC South.
The Seahawks were coached by Mike Holmgren, who had previously guided the Packers to a NFL Championship, and posted a 13-3 record during the 2005 regular season. RB Shaun Alexander (pictured above) topped the league in rushing (1880 yards) and scoring (168 points) while setting a new NFL record for touchdowns (28, which was broken the next year) and QB Matt Hasselbeck achieved career highs in completion percentage (65.5), yards per attempt (7.7), and passer rating (98.2). The defense was unspectacular but effective and benefited from the addition of rookie MLB Lofa Tatupu. Seattle, which was in the playoffs for the third consecutive year, defeated the Redskins in the Divisional round to advance to its first conference title game since 1983, when the Seahawks were in the AFC (they moved to the NFC as part of the 2002 reorganization). If there was a major concern coming into the game, it was that Alexander had suffered a concussion the previous week.
Carolina, coached by John Fox, was two years removed from a losing Super Bowl appearance and, after dipping to 7-9 in 2004, had bounced back to 11-5 in ’05. Key players on offense were Pro Bowl QB Jake Delhomme and WR Steve Smith, who was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection after catching 103 passes for 1563 yards (15.2 avg.) and 12 TDs. However, the running game struggled due to injuries and RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster were both out for the NFC title contest. The defense had trouble against the run, having lost DT Kris Jenkins to injury for virtually the entire season, although there were capable pass rushers in ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. The Panthers shut out the Giants in the Wild Card playoff round and then defeated the Bears at the Divisional level.
There were 67,837 fans in attendance at Qwest Field. The teams traded punts until the Seahawks, gaining the advantage in field position, put together a 57-yard drive in five plays. The last two were the biggest as Matt Hasselbeck threw to QB/WR Seneca Wallace for 28 yards and then connected with a wide-open TE Jerramy Stevens for a 17-yard touchdown. Josh Brown added the extra point.
Seattle got the ball back on the next series when Lofa Tatupu intercepted a Jake Delhomme pass that was thrown into coverage and returned it 21 yards to the Carolina 20. The Seahawks weren’t able to reach the end zone again, but Brown kicked a 24-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0.
With time running down in the opening period, the Seahawks again took advantage of a turnover as FS Marquand Manuel picked off a throw by Delhomme and ran it back 32 yards to the Carolina 17. Shaun Alexander had a 15-yard run on the last play of the first quarter and, two plays later it was Alexander running for a one-yard TD. Brown’s conversion put the home team up by 17-0.
The Panthers, who had lost yet another running back in Nick Goings during the first quarter, fought back as Delhomme completed a pass to WR Drew Carter for 41 yards to the Seattle 26, but a holding penalty backed the visitors up and a sack by DT Rocky Bernard took them out of field goal range, forcing a punt. A short Seattle possession also resulted in a punt and Steve Smith returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. While a penalty flag was thrown during the return, a conference by the officials led to no infraction being called and, when John Kasay kicked the point after, the Seahawks’ lead was narrowed to 17-7.
Seattle responded by advancing to another score. Hasselbeck (pictured below) completed three passes, all to WR Darrell Jackson, and Alexander had back-to-back carries of 11 and 18 yards. A 15-yard penalty for an illegal crackback block blunted the drive, but Brown booted a 39-yard field goal to make it a 20-7 game. Following a punt by the Panthers, the Seahawks had an opportunity to add to their margin with 33 seconds remaining in the first half, but Brown missed a field goal try from 49 yards. Thus far the Seahawks had been dominant on defense, holding Carolina to three first downs and 62 total yards in the first thirty minutes.
Seattle took the second half kickoff and drove 65 yards in eight plays, essentially putting the game out of reach for Carolina. Alexander again ran effectively, with a 16-yard gain along the way, and Hasselbeck had three completions, the last to Jackson for a 20-yard TD. Brown’s extra point had the Seahawks up by an imposing 27-7.
Seattle’s defense kept the Panthers in check as their next two possessions went three-and-out, resulting in punts, and the third ended with a Delhomme pass being intercepted by SS Michael Boulware. An exchange of punts led to the last score for the Seahawks on a one-yard carry by Alexander. Carolina responded with one last hurrah, a Delhomme throw to WR Drew Carter for a 47-yard touchdown, but with six minutes remaining in the contest, the outcome was not in doubt. The Seahawks won convincingly by a final score of 34-14.
The statistics reflected Seattle’s dominance. The Seahawks had big leads in total yards (393 to 212), first downs (27 to 11), and time of possession (41:51 to 18:09). In addition, Carolina turned the ball over four times, to none suffered by Seattle.
Matt Hasselbeck completed 20 of 28 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns with none intercepted. Shaun Alexander, showing no ill effects from his concussion the week before, rushed for 132 yards on 34 carries that included the two short TDs. Darrell Jackson and Jerramy Stevens each accounted for a team-leading six pass receptions, for 75 and 66 yards, respectively, and scored a touchdown apiece. On defense, Rocky Bernard was credited with both of Seattle’s sacks.
For the Panthers, Jake Delhomme was successful on only 15 of 35 throws for 196 yards and a TD while giving up three interceptions. RB Jamal Robertson, forced into action due to the attrition at running back, led the club in pass receiving with 37 yards on five catches and in rushing with only 19 yards on four attempts. Steve Smith, who was well bottled up by the defense, also had five pass receptions, gaining 33 yards, but he provided one of Carolina’s few highlights with his lone punt return for a 59-yard TD.
“I don’t know if we ran out of gas,” said Carolina’s Coach Fox from the losing team’s perspective. “I’m not too sure what the problem was. Their defense played tremendous. We know we’d have our hands full with their offense.”
The Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. They topped the NFC West with a lesser record in 2006 but lost in overtime to the Bears at the Divisional level in the postseason. Carolina dropped to 8-8 and missed the playoffs in ’06, next appearing in the postseason in 2008.