Seahawks' depleted defense keeps NFC West title hopes alive

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Seattle Seahawks entered Sunday's game down four defensive starters plus a key rotational player. By the end of it, they had lost two more to injuries.

Under those circumstances, they should be happy about getting a win against a five-win team with a backup quarterback and an interim head coach.

The Seahawks' 30-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers gives them the most road victories (seven) they've had in one season in franchise history. And it means they won't lose any ground in the NFC playoff race this weekend.

The Seahawks (11-3) still hold the No. 5 seed. With the 49ers (11-2) playing Atlanta on Sunday, the Seahawks in all likelihood need to win their final two games -- including Week 17 against San Francisco -- to win the division and claim one of the conference's top two seeds.

To do that, they'll likely need their defense to be healthier than it was Sunday, when the Seahawks played without Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, Shaquill Griffin and Mychal Kendricks. Quandre Diggs and Bobby Wagner didn't finish the game.

Pivotal play: Wagner was reminiscing earlier in the week about his glory days as a high school tight end. He's still got a good pair of hands. That was evident when he picked off an over-the-middle throw from Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen late in the first half, thwarting what looked like a promising scoring chance for Carolina. It was an All-Pro play made by the highest-paid middle linebacker in football.

QB breakdown: Wilson led the Seahawks on touchdown drives on their first three possessions. That's the first time they've done that since Week 11 of the 2015 season against San Francisco, which was the only other time they've done it under Wilson. Wilson's two TD passes came on those drives. He finished 20-of-26 for 286 yards and didn't throw an interception after throwing one in each of the previous four games. He missed a would-be TD to Tyler Lockett and overthrew another pass to DK Metcalf for his only real blemishes.

Another pivotal play: Late in the third quarter, Jarran Reed pressured Allen into an errant throw that K.J. Wright picked off for his second interception of the game. The first came on Carolina's previous possession. The second extended Seattle's lead to 13 points. The Seahawks finished with one sack and only three official hits, but that was partly a function of a lot of screens and short throws that got the ball out of Allen's hands quickly.

Promising trend: Lockett appears to be back. Slowed by a shin bruise then sick with the flu, the Seahawks' No. 1 receiver went his previous four games with under 50 receiving yards and was held without a catch in one of them. He busted out of that slump with eight catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. He had another improbable catch in traffic for 44 yards, the type of play he and Russell Wilson were connecting on with regularity before Lockett got hurt.