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Monday, January 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:31 AM

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Seahawks

Tough Seattle defense sends Hawks to first Super Bowl

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Three words: Super Bowl Seahawks.

Say it again just to make sure it's for real. Or say it because you like the sound of it.

Because it is for real. The Seahawks are going to Detroit for Super Bowl XL as NFC champions after their 34-14 win over the Carolina Panthers today at Qwest Field.

The Seahawks will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 (Channel 4). The Steelers, the AFC's sixth seed, won their third straight road game in the playoffs, beating Denver 34-17 today.

Thirty years into franchise history, Seattle is playing for the NFL championship for the first time. The Seahawks earned their place in much the same way they have won games all season: A balanced offense with a tempo that threw off and tired out the opponent, and a big-play defense that once again was stout in defending the run.

The Seahawks defense, particularly cornerback Marcus Trufant and linebacker Kevin Bentley, was also effective in shutting down Panthers star Steve Smith in pass coverage. And Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, the league's Most Valuable Player, finally had a big performance in a postseason game.

It all added up to party time in the Emerald City, especially for the 67,837 in attendance.

The closest the Seahawks had come to the Super Bowl in their first 29 years was after the 1983 season, winning two playoff games before losing to the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Championship game.

The Seahawks opened the scoring in the first quarter today, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to tight end Jerramy Stevens with 5:31 left.

The touchdown was set up by some trickery that worked one play earlier.

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Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace lined up as a receiver to the far left side on a first-down play, and Hasselbeck threw to him. Wallace, who was in at receiver for the first time this season, made a fine catch over his right shoulder behind two defenders, including former Seahawk Ken Lucas, and gained 28 yards.

The Seahawks took advantage of two thrown interceptions by Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme in the first half. The first came on a third-down play, as Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu stepped in front of a pass intended for star receiver Steve Smith and ran it back 21 yards.

The Seahawks moved the ball only 14 yards, but Josh Brown kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. On the third play of the next possession, Delhomme had Smith open down the middle. But he opted to throw for Keary Colbert, and Seahawks safety Marquand Manuel was right on the top of the route for an interception.

Manuel ran this one back 32 yards to set up the Seahawks at the Panthers' 17-yard line. After two Alexander runs and an incomplete pass, Alexander punched it in from the 1 for a 17-0 Seahawks lead. It looked as if the Seahawks couldn't be stopped.

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The Panthers rallied, briefly, getting help from what appeared to be a missed call by the officials. Smith ran a low punt back 59 yards for a touchdown, even though replays showed what looked like a block in the back by Carolina's Vinny Ciurciu on the Seahawks' Joe Tafoya during the return.

A flag was thrown on the block, but officials huddled and waved off the penalty. So the touchdown stood, and the Panthers had cut the lead to 17-7.

The score momentarily took some life out of a Qwest Field crowd that roared from start to finish. The Seahawks came back with a 10-play, 57-yard drive for a second field goal by Brown, and had a chance to add points in the final minute of the first half. But Brown came up just short from 49 yards out.

Hasselbeck torched the Panthers with 14 completions on 19 attempts in the half, while the Seahawks defense held running back Nick Goings to 2 total rushing yards on five carries, and Delhomme to 4-of-15 passing for 58 yards.

Delhomme got 41 of those yards on one play.

Hasselbeck continued his roll into the second half, capping a 65-yard drive to open the half with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson for a 27-7 lead.

Jackson made the catch at the Carolina 3, shed a tackle attempt by safety Marlon McCree, and jogged into the end zone.

Hasselbeck finished 20 of 28 for 219 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Panthers' best drive of the third quarter ended in another interception, this one by safety Michael Boulware. With the chants of "Su-per Bowl! Su-per Bowl!" ringing from the rafters, the Seahawks added another score for good measure with six minutes to play, another 1-yard run by Alexander.

Alexander, whose previous playoff best was 45 yards, gained 132 yards and scored twice. Carolina scored a late touchdown on a 47-yard pass from Delhomme to Drew Carter.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren became the fifth head coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl. The list also includes, Dan Reeves, Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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