Russell Wilson finished 25-of-33 for 320 yards and that 43-yard strike to Kearse for the Seahawks (1-0), who finished 11-5 a season ago and lost in the second round to Atlanta.
Doug Baldwin totaled 91 yards on seven grabs, Marshawn Lynch led the ground attack with 43 yards on 17 carries and Steven Hauschka converted a pair of field goals in the victory.
Cam Newton was 16-of-23 for 125 yards and a touchdown, adding 38 yards on five carries for the Panthers (0-1), who are looking to improve upon a 7-9 mark in 2012.
Steve Smith ended with 51 yards on six receptions, while DeAngelo Williams recorded 76 yards on 16 attempts, but coughed up the ball on a key late possession.
Seattle picked up the first points of the final quarter, as Kearse made a leaping grab of a Wilson heave and fell into the end zone for a 43-yard score. The conversion pass was incomplete and it was 12-7 for the visitors with 10:13 to play.
Carolina neared the red zone with 5:25 remaining, but on a 2nd-and-2 from the Seattle 24-yard line, Earl Thomas' hit pried the ball loose from Williams after a gain of 16 yards and Tony McDaniel recovered at the Seahawks' 8-yard line.
Wilson led his club 56 yards to the Carolina 36 just ahead of the two-minute warning, then took a knee on three consecutive downs to whittle away what remained of the clock.
Hauschka was true from 22 yards away and Seattle hit the scoreboard with 9:36 to play in the first half. It capped a methodical 74-yard, 15-play drive which began late in a scoreless opening quarter.
Carolina responded on its next possession, taking a 7-3 lead as Newton found Smith from three yards out to cap an 80-yard, 11-play series.
The Seahawks advanced deep in Carolina territory inside the final minute of the half, but Wilson was sacked by Charles Johnson, who recovered the ball at his own 19.
Seattle crept within 7-6 as 2:22 remained on the third-quarter clock, after Hauschka made a 40-yard attempt to finish off his club's third series of the second half.
Seattle has won five of seven all-time meetings against Carolina, splitting four matchups in Charlotte ... Smith extended his franchise-record streak to 92 straight games with at least one reception ... Golden Tate ended with 51 yards on four catches for Seattle, while Greg Olsen led Carolina receivers with 56 yards on five grabs ... The Seahawks outgained the Panthers by a 370-243 margin.
09/08 16:56:57 ET