Kam Chancellor Defines Legion of Boom in Playoff Win over Panthers

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystJanuary 11, 2015

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Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor made plays that counted during his team's 31-17 divisional-round win over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

He finished with 11 tackles, and he showed keen instincts while reading Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's eyes, intercepting a red-zone pass and returning it 90 yards to secure the win.

But his most impressive display of athleticism came on two plays that didn’t count. He did something that really shouldn’t be possible...twice.

Bleacher Report NFL @BR_NFL

Kam Chancellor jumped over the line TWICE, but it didn’t stand as the Panthers added a FG. (vine via @gifdsports) http://t.co/RslstYwwy7

Yes, that’s a 232-pound safety hurdling an entire offensive line filled with other hulking bodies during a field-goal attempt. He did it once and somehow narrowly missed blocking a Graham Gano kick at the end of the first half.

When that play was nullified due to a false start and Gano was moved back five yards, Chancellor unloaded from his starting blocks again. Once more he launched over a mass of large men, all of whom serve one purpose: to block him. But blocking an airborne safety is not an easy task.

The second time Chancellor treated NFL offensive linemen like Olympic hurdles ended in a kick that was nearly blocked (again), though it was still successfully disrupted when Gano sailed it wide left and well short.

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 10:   Bruce Irvin #51 and Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate a defensive play against the Carolina Panthers during the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game at CenturyLink Field on January 10, 2015 in Seattle, Washington
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

But as NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino told the Internet, running into the kicker after not touching the ball is frowned upon by the rulebook. That still applies if you do something superhuman to even reach the kicker:

Dean Blandino @DeanBlandino

On FGs Chancellor jumped from off the LOS directly over center which is legal. Never touched the ball so running into kicker still applies.

So once again, those who are fans of both football and great human tricks were denied. But Chancellor didn't stop there.

The field-goal sequence to end the first half was the coolest thing in the NFL this season that will be reflected in box scores as pure nothingness and two penalties. Yet we only need to flip back one play earlier to see Chancellor’s quite literal impact.

The score was 14-7 at the time, with the first half winding down and Carolina moving the ball surprisingly well on the ground. With 18 seconds left, the Panthers lined up just shy of red-zone territory (Seattle’s 24-yard line) on 3rd-and-8.

Naturally, the Panthers defaulted to an offensive setting they feel quite comfortable with: power running.

The ball was handed to 245-pound lumbering brute Mike Tolbert, a short-yardage running back who was sidelined with a knee injury for much of this season but scored seven touchdowns on only 128 touches in 2013.

Chris Burke @ChrisBurkeNFL

Still the best Kam Chancellor play from yesterday, if you ask me. https://t.co/Vq0jcAp0TG

The yardage he was asked to gain this time was longer and downright distant for a back who’s averaged 3.8 yards per carry throughout his career. But there he was, bounding ahead for seven yards.

He needed only that one more yard for the first down. With a timeout available, the Panthers would have had the chance for a shot at the end zone. If they converted to tie the game, the dynamic of the second half could have changed.

Then Chancellor charged, hit and won. One massive body impeded the progress of another, and Tolbert was stopped, denied that final yard in a critical moment.

New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro offered his respect from afar. He’s a little off with the weight, though, in fairness, Tolbert might seem like he's 270 pounds at full speed in the open field (to normal people, Tolbert would be roughly 400 pounds in that situation):

Kenny Dwayne Vaccaro @KennyVaccaro4

Everyone juiced about that FG block, but no one understands the explosion it takes to drop a 270 pound back in the open field. #respect Kam

Chancellor finished tied for third among all safeties during the regular season with 28 run stops, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He did that despite missing two games with a groin injury and being limited in others.

A healthy Chancellor can both swing his mighty hammer and make game-changing reads in coverage. In addition to delivering numerous bone-rattling whacks during the 2014 playoffs (most notably on Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during the Super Bowl), Chancellor also recorded six passes defensed.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02:  Strong safety Kam Chancellor #31 and cornerback Walter Thurmond #28 of the Seattle Seahawks tackle tight end Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in Eas
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He’s more than just a heavy hitter and always has been. Chancellor allowed only 231 passing yards in coverage over 14 regular-season games this year, per PFF. His fourth-quarter interception Saturday wasn’t the first key ball-stealing play during the win-or-go-home times of January. Chancellor has now recorded an interception in three straight playoff games.

Though as ESPN Stats & Info notes, it was his first touchdown and one of the longest interception returns in NFL playoff history:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Kam Chancellor's 90-yard Int return TD was tied for the 5th-longest in NFL postseason history. Longest since James Harrison in SB XLIII.

Later during his postgame press conference, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had high praise.

"I don't think a strong safety can have a better game than Kam Chancellor did tonight," he said.

This win wasn’t without incident or concern for the Seahawks defensively. A unit that allowed an average of 81.5 rushing yards per game throughout the regular season was weak at times while the Panthers chugged for 132 yards on the ground. Although Chancellor’s field-goal leaping and tackle on Tolbert will be remembered, both of those plays came during a drive that started on Carolina’s own 21-yard line.

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 10:  Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks runs a 90 yard touchdown off of an interception in the fourth quarter thrown by Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers during the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game at CenturyLink Field o
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

It was the second straight drive beginning from that exact spot, and Newton was able to march down the field for points each time. He threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin earlier in the second quarter, a quarter when the Seahawks offense ran only five plays (it helped when one of those plays was a 63-yard touchdown pass).

Flawless football is a mirage, and now heading into their second straight NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks will make the necessary adjustments. Or tweaks, rather, because a defense that’s allowed only three touchdowns and 36 points over its last four games is as close to perfection as possible.

The Seahawks are also one game closer to another championship and becoming the first team to successfully defend a title since the 2005 New England Patriots.