Thomas Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Tyler Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seattle Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.
Another prime-time game in Seattle was clouded with odd story lines right from the outset when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was benched for the first play, only to watch backup Derek Anderson throw an interception . It was the start of miserable night for Carolina (4-8) and a laugher that moved Seattle (8-3-1) one step closer to the NFC West title.
Rawls and the run game set the tone for Seattle, gashing the second-best run defense in the NFL for 240 yards. Carolina entered the week giving up less than 80 yards per game on the ground.
Rawls finished with 106 yards on 15 carries, quiet in the second half after briefly being checked for a concussion. He was just the second 100-yard rusher for a run game that has lagged most of the season. Rawls' 8-yard run gave Seattle an early 10-0 lead and his 45-yard sprint early in the second quarter pushed it to 17-7.
Russell Wilson was 26 of 36 for 277 yards and a 1-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Graham in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks rolled up a season-high 534 yards and kept a three-game lead over Arizona in the division with four remaining.
Seattle safety Earl Thomas broke a bone in his lower left leg during a first-half collision with teammate Kam Chancellor while trying to intercept Newton's pass. Thomas hobbled off the field putting no weight on the leg and X-rays revealed a "cracked tibia," coach Pete Carroll told Seattle's radio broadcast.
On the play after Thomas' injury, Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. on a 55-yard touchdown pass to pull the Panthers to 10-7. It would be the only highlight for Carolina.
Rawls immediately answered, darting through the Carolina defense for the 45-yard touchdown run and a 17-7 lead. Steven Hauschka added two more field goals before halftime and Lockett raced 75 yards on a reverse on the first play of the second half. In less than 10 minutes of game time, Seattle extended the lead to 30-7.
Newton's benching was for a dress code violation, according to the NBC broadcast and the single play he missed could not have gone worse. Anderson rolled out to throw a pass to Mike Tolbert. It bounced off Tolbert's hands and into the arms of Mike Morgan, a disastrous result for that only added to questions about coach Ron Rivera's intention with the punishment.
Newton finished 14 of 32 for 182 yards.
It was seventh meeting in the past five years between the Seahawks and Panthers, playoffs included. It was the first time of the seven the game was decided by more than 14 points. Five of the previous six were decided by seven points or less. The biggest win during the stretch was Seattle's 31-17 win in the 2014 playoffs.
Carolina's injury list grew again.
The Panthers were already without starters Kurt Coleman and Luke Kuechly (concussions), and defensive end Mario Addison (foot) on defense, and right tackle Daryl Williams (ankle) on offense. Carolina then lost cornerback Daryl Worley and linebacker David Mayo to concussions against the Seahawks.
One of the most emotional players on Seattle's roster, Thomas hinted at retirement in a tweet sent just before halftime.
"This game has been so good to me no regrets. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers," Thomas tweeted from the Seattle locker room.
Thomas missed the first game of his career last week at Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury.
Panthers: Carolina returns home and hosts San Diego.
Seahawks: Seattle travels to Green Bay.