By Dave Thomas
If the Seattle Seahawks expected another blowout victory over the Minnesota Vikings following a 38-7 win back in December, they sure got a different game this time around.
That said, Seattle (11-6) still found a way to leave a bitterly cold Minnesota with a 10-9 NFC Wild Card victory, thereby punching their ticket to the second round of the playoffs, meaning a date next Sunday on the road yet again with the top-seeded Carolina Panthers.
After trailing for much of the game, Seattle got a Russell Wilson touchdown pass and a game-winning Steven Hauschka 46-yard field goal to ice the victory, at least so it thought.
What transpired with less than :30 remaining in the game proved to be one of the most disappointing moments in Minnesota’s NFL history, as Blair Walsh was wide left on a 27-yard field goal, sending the Seahawks to North Carolina next weekend.
On a day that was better suited for polar bears and penguins, the Seahawks managed just enough offense to come away with the victory. Not getting on the board until the fourth quarter, Seattle wound up its day with 226 total yards and only 12 first downs.
Wilson, who did a few Houdini tricks during the afternoon to keep drives alive, ended his effort by going 13-of-26 for 142 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin. Wilson’s biggest play of the afternoon came in the second half when he missed the snap from center, managed to recover the ball, then completed a pass downfield to Tyler Lockett to not only keep the drive going, but also put the Seahawks in the red zone.
With starting running back Marshawn Lynch still back home recovering from abdominal surgery, the ground game got 70 yards on 21 carries from youngster Christine Michael. Through the air, Baldwin led the efforts with 42 yards on five receptions, including the game’s only touchdown. While the weather will likely not be as cold in Charlotte come next Sunday, it is imperative that Seattle gets much more out of its offense in order to have a chance to beat Cam Newton and the Panthers.
While Seattle’s defense did bend a few times, it certainly did not break despite the weather. The Vikings provided the NFL’s top rusher in Adrian Peterson, yet the three-time rushing champ was limited to 45 yards on 23 carries. In the fourth quarter, Peterson coughed up the ball, giving the Vikings one nail in their yet-to-be-closed coffin.
Minnesota’s passing game was not much better on the day, as QB Teddy Bridgewater ended up with decent numbers, 17-of-24 (146 yards), but no touchdowns. With Newton and the Panthers in wait, Seattle’s defense will need another solid, even more dominating, performance in a week. Leading the Seattle attack included Bobby Wagner (eight total tackles, one sack), K.J. Wright (five solo stops) and Richard Sherman (six total, six solo tackles).
Special Teams: (B+)
Kicking on a brutally cold afternoon is never easy, just ask Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan. With that said, the duo still managed to get their respective jobs done. Ryan looked like he may not even make it through the day after bobbling a low snap in the first quarter, then taking off running instead of trying to punt the ball. The end result was Seattle turning the ball over on downs and Ryan getting a bloody nose. For his day, Ryan had five punts for a 35.4 average, while Hauschka was good on the kick that mattered most, the 46-yard game-winner.
Playing in unfriendly conditions, not to mention having to go it yet again (seven games now) without Lynch, Seattle’s Pete Carroll still found a way to come out smiling when all was said and done. Seattle’s game plan to not allow Peterson to defeat the Seahawks worked for the second time this season. Getting a nice performance from Michael with the rushing attack also made Carroll and Co. look good.
The task at hand becomes all the more difficult next Sunday against top-seeded Carolina, but you can bet that Carroll and his staff will dissect every second of film from the team’s loss earlier this season at home to the Panthers. While Carolina is the top seed in the NFC, getting a dangerous Seattle team at home in the second round of the playoffs is not exactly a reward for finishing the regular season on top.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.