Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Seahawks cage Panthers

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS Shaun Alexander ran for 132 yards and two TDs and Seattle's defense held back Carolina stars Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith

AP , SEATTLE, WASHINGTONAND DENVER, COLORADO

Seahawks Shaun Alexander, center, rushes against the Panthers defense during the second quarter of the their NFC championship game in Seattle, Washington, on Sunday. Seattle defeated Carolina 34-14 to advance to Super Bowl XL.

PHOTO: AP

Fans chanted "Super Bowl, Super Bowl" as Shaun Alexander carried the NFC championship trophy down the field at Qwest Stadium, a joyous trip that was 30 years in the making.

Alexander, a killer defense and playing on a field where they didn't lose this season, all combined perfectly on Sunday to help the Seahawks rout the Carolina Panthers 34-14 in the NFC title game.

"I think we got people excited about football again here in the Pacific Northwest," coach Mike Holmgren said. "They're all coming to Detroit with us, everybody in the stadium's coming. They were great for us all year. Home-field advantage in this place means everything."

In this case, it means the Seahawks (15-3) will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-17 winners over Denver in the AFC, in the Super Bowl. That game will be played in Detroit on Feb. 5 and the Steelers already are favored by 3 1/2 points.

Alexander, the league's MVP, came back from last week's concussion to rush for a team playoff-record 132 yards and two touchdowns, and Seattle pressured Carolina stars Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith into oblivion.

"We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable group of fans," Alexander said. "Prayer works. I get knocked out and guys step up. One guy goes down and another guy steps up."

The Seahawks picked off three passes in winning their 12th straight home game and shattering the fifth-seeded Panthers' stunning postseason road run.

"We're not done yet," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was a precise 20-for-28 for 219 yards and two scores. "We've got another game we've got to go win."

A game the Seahawks only approached once before, losing the AFC championship game to Oakland in 1984. A dozen years later, then-owner Ken Behring was planning a move to Los Angeles.

But current owner Paul Allen stepped in, eventually getting Qwest Field built. And Holmgren, now the fifth coach to take two franchises to the Super Bowl, put together the NFC's best team.

"We've come a long way, it's taken five years to put this group together," Alexander said. "Now we are one of the elite teams."

The focus in these playoffs has been on the spectacular success of the road teams, with Pittsburgh becoming the first sixth seed to make a Super Bowl. Carolina (13-6) had beaten the Giants and Bears on the road, and an all wild-card Super Bowl appeared very possible.

Until about 16 minutes into the NFC championship game, when Seattle led 17-0.

"I don't know if we ran out of gas," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I'm not sure what the problem was. Their defense played tremendous. We knew we'd have our hands full with their offense.

"We didn't play well enough in all three phases to win," he said.

While Alexander paced the ball-control offense, it was the defense that really carried the Seahawks. It yielded only 62 yards, three first downs and no real threats in the first half.

Then, with Carolina desperate, Seattle allowed virtually nothing until it had a 20-point lead.

Holmgren, who won the Super Bowl in 1997 and lost in 1998 with Green Bay, praised his defense last week for the enormous pressure it applied to opponents all season. That defense was always in Delhomme's face, helping force two first-half interceptions that were decisive.

"We've always got a chip on our shoulder, they always say the offense has to pull us through," defensive tackle Chuck Darby said. "But in order to win games in the playoffs, we knew our defense had to step up."

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