Seahawks leave no doubt with 40-7 win over Panthers

The competitive aspect of Sunday night’s contest was all but over with the first play of the second half, when Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett sped around right end for a 75-yard touchdown run that gave his team a three-score lead.

The Seahawks were left to hope that a fractured leg suffered by safety Earl Thomas early in the second quarter won’t end up as the evening’s more important development.

Seattle hammered the Carolina Panthers, 40-7, in a matchup of the two teams that, combined, earned the NFC’s past three bids to the Super Bowl. Seattle running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, part of 240 total rushing yards against a Carolina defense that began the night as the NFL’s second-best unit against the run, allowing fewer than 80 yards per game.

But another potential playoff run for the Seahawks (8-3-1) may have been imperiled with the injury to Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who had missed his team’s previous game with a hamstring injury. He collided with teammate Kam Chancellor while breaking up a pass early in the second quarter and was carted off the field. Back in the locker room for an X-ray, Thomas tweeted shortly before halftime that “A lot is running through my mind including retirement.”

Seattle put the exclamation point on its dominant victory early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard toss from Russell Wilson to Jimmy Graham that stretched the lead to 30 points. Carolina had marched into the red zone on its previous possession, but a failed attempt to convert on fourth down turned the ball back over to the Seahawks.

Cam Newton was benched to start the game, reportedly due to disciplinary reasons. In his absence, backup Derek Anderson got things off to an inauspicious start.

On the first snap of the game, an Anderson pass into the flat ricocheted off the arms of intended target Mike Tolbert and into the hands of Seattle linebacker Mike Morgan, who returned the interception to the 8-yard line. Seattle’s ensuing possession resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka to take a 3-0 lead.

Seattle scored again on its next trip, too, when Thomas Rawls capped a 92-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown scamper to make it 10-0.

The two teams exchanged long touchdowns early in the second quarter, with Carolina converting a 55-yard bomb from Newton to Ted Ginn Jr., on a third-and-17 and Seattle responding shortly thereafter with a 45-yard run by Rawls, his second score of the first half. Rawls left the game later in the half and entered the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Both teams also suffered major defensive losses during the second quarter with Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson leaving the game with a hamstring injury and Thomas carted off with the lower leg fracture.

Seattle tacked on two more field goals in the final two minutes to make it a 23-7 game at halftime.

NOTES: Four defensive starters returned to action for Seattle after missing the Seahawks’ previous game against Tampa Bay with various injuries: DE Michael Bennett, LB Michael Morgan, CB DeShawn Shead and S Earl Thomas. … Former Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette, who retired after a neck injury suffered last season in a game at Dallas, raised Seattle’s 12th Man flag before the game. … Carolina LB Luke Kuechly missed his third consecutive game due to a concussion. … QB Derek Anderson made his second start of the season for Carolina; he was also under center for the Panthers’ 17-14 loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 10. … Seahawks LT George Fant left the game with an injury early in the second quarter and was replaced by fellow rookie Rees Odhiambo.