The Minnesota Vikings were about to take the lead in the waning seconds of a defensive grinder in the bitter cold, lining up for a 27-yard field goal — shorter than an extra point — that almost certainly would have delivered them a win. But kicker Blair Walsh, who had made all three of his field-goal tries in the game to that point, botched the kick. TV replays showed that for the second try of the game, the ball’s laces were facing toward the kicker, held by Jeff Locke, which is a no-no.
The first one earlier in the game didn’t hurt. This one did, and the Seahawks escaped with an improbable 10-9 victory. Walsh had been 33 of 34 in his career on tries shorter than 30 yards prior to this kick.
The game turned in a little less than two minutes in the fourth quarter after the Vikings had dominated most of the game and were sitting on a 9-0 lead. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who had played relatively poorly to that point, made a heroic recovery of a bad snap and hit receiver Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard gain that set up the only touchdown of the game.
On the ensuing possession, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fumbled, giving the ball back to the Seahawks, who took the lead midway through the fourth quarter on a Steven Hauschka field goal that would provide the winning margin.
That didn’t look to be the case when the Vikings took over in the final 102 seconds, driving from their own 19-yard line to the Seahawks’ 9. But then Walsh badly missed to the left on the poorly held kick, and the Seahawks advanced. They’ll face the Carolina Panthers, a team they lost to earlier this season in the final minute, in the divisional round of the playoffs next Sunday.
It was the Seahawks’ third bizarre and thrilling playoff game in a row. The Seahawks rallied from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Green Bay Packers in overtime in the NFC title game last season. They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl loss as Butler picked off Wilson at the goal line in the final minute. And now this.
Yes, the game was cold — historically so — and it did appear to have an effect on the contest. At minus-6 degrees and 25-below for the wind chill, it registered as the coldest game in Vikings history — a record that might stand a long time in Minnesota, anyway — and the third-coldest in NFL history behind the Ice Bowl in 1967 and the Freezer Bowl in 1982.
On the Seahawks’ first drive, punter Jon Ryan couldn’t handle a low snap and was forced to run, gaining only 4 yards on 4th and 7 well into Seattle territory. So the Vikings got the ball in business on the 29-yard line but bogged down inside the 10-yard line and settled for a Walsh field goal to open the scoring with a 3-0 Vikings lead.
The kicking game was flawed early, with punts not hanging in the air long and the ball not traveling far. The Seahawks had a fruitless series midway through the second quarter, driving to the Minnesota 25-yard line but not coming away with points. A loss of three on the ground and a delay of game convinced Pete Carroll to go for it on 4th and 13, and Wilson’s throw to Fred Jackson — eight yards short of the sticks — didn’t get it done, resulting in a turnover on downs.
On their final possession of the first half, the Seahawks started a promising drive spurred by a 41-yard pass-interference call against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. But they stalled at the Minnesota 38, after three Wilson incompletions. This time, the Seahawks opted to punt instead of going for it, and the first half ended with a 3-0 Vikings edge.
On the Seahawks’ opening drive of the second half, they once more moved into Minnesota territory just outside field-goal range and once more went for it on fourth down. Wilson was flushed out of the pocket and threw back against his body to little-used tight end Chase Coffman. The throw was off-target and it tipped into the hands of Vikings rookie corner Trae Waynes, who returned it to midfield.
While Wilson was struggling, his Vikings counterpart — Teddy Bridgewater — played with poise, if not producing modest statistics, but making more things happen. After a roughing-the-quarterback foul by Cliff Avril, Bridgewater connected on two passes and helped set up another Walsh field goal and a 6-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Back-to-back sacks on Wilson on the ensuing drive — with the Vikings rushing four both times — backed up the Seahawks well into their own zone. They punted from their own 5, and a horse-collar tackle on the return had the Vikings back in business again quickly in Seattle territory.
Even though the Vikings struggled to get much going in the run game all day (28 rushes, 58 yards), they stuck with it. On the drive, they ran the ball five times for 15 yards with three different players and worked the ball into field-goal range, where Walsh connected again — a 9-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
This field goal almost was blocked by Richard Sherman. The Vikings’ previous kick had the laces pointed right at Walsh as he kicked it. Even with less-than-perfect execution, the Vikings were quietly dominating the game at this point.
But they settled for field goals and the Seahawks were not done yet. Wilson broke out of his slump to make magic. After a shotgun snap went high and through his hands, Wilson recovered the ball, gathered himself and found a wide-open Lockett for 35 yards down to the Minnesota 4. Two plays later, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin — covered by third-string corner Josh Robinson, in the game because of injuries — for the touchdown, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 9-7.
Then, momentum swung even more the Seahawks’ way. Peterson took a swing pass 10 yards for a would-be first down, but Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor ripped the ball out, recovered by nose tackle Athyba Rubin at the Minnesota 40. It was Peterson’s eighth fumble of the season — or ninth, if you count one that was negated by penalty — and his second in the fourth quarter in the past two months.
After converting a big third-down pass to Jermaine Kearse to the 29, the Seahawks had to settle for a Hauschka field goal, but it gave them their first lead of the game at 10-9 with 8:09 remaining.
The Vikings had to punt on their next possession, and the Seahawks had a chance to grind the clock. But a questionable play call and execution on a 3rd-and-1 play with 4:33 left had Wilson throwing incomplete on a throwback — why? — and the ball almost being intercepted, to boot, with safety Andrew Sendejo unable to make the play on the errant throw.
After the teams traded punts, the Vikings took over on their own 39 with 1:42 left. Tight end Kyle Rudolph hadn’t caught a ball all game to that point, but he drew a huge pass-interference against Chancellor and then beat him for a massive 24-yard catch on an out route down to the Seattle 18.
Peterson hung onto the ball for three timeout-burning runs to set up the game-winning try, but Walsh hooked it badly, evoking memories of Gary Anderson’s famous late-game miss in the 1998 season NFC championship game. There was less at stake in this game, but the Vikings’ history of brutal playoff losses has a new chapter.