A devastating first-half points blitz saw Carolina race into a 31-0 lead with quarterback Cam Newton excelling as the Seahawks vaunted defense was run ragged in the NFL Divisional round playoff game in Charlotte.
The Seahawks, however, staged a superb second half rally with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for three touchdowns and finishing with 366 yards.
Seattle ultimately fell short, and when Carolina safely recovered an onside kick with just over a minute to play, the contest was effectively over.
The Panthers will play the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.
Larry Fitzgerald scored the winning touchdown in overtime to send the Cardinals to the penultimate game after a 26-20 win over Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 41-yard Hail Mary pass with just five seconds to go in the fourth quarter saw Jeff Janis out-jump Arizona defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson for a touchdown to take the game to overtime.
On the first play of overtime Fitzgerald was not covered and made a 75-yard gain to the five-yard line and Carson Palmer then flipped it to Fitzgerald to claim the game-winning touchdown.
“We’re a resilient team and we believe,” said Fitzgerald, who finished the game with eight catches for 176 yards.
“We found a way to win. We’re glad to get this one behind us. We have to keep on fighting next week.”
Rodgers’ miracle throw at the end of the fourth quarter was reminiscent of his Week 13 Hail Mary winning pass against the Detroit Lions. The Green Bay QB scrambled and flung a bomb that found the arms of leaping Janis.
“Most teams would’ve probably played prevent (defense on the last drive). I said ‘hell no, blitz him,’” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.
“And he made a great throw. I loved the way our guys responded.” The Cardinals had not won a playoff game since the 2009 season.
New England Patriots ended Kansas City Chiefs’ 11-game winning streak to advance to a fifth straight AFC Championship game with a 27-20 win. Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns to the returning Rob Gronkowski. Alex Smith completed 29 of 50 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown for Kansas City.