The Morning After: Seahawks Better Than Lucky, Earn Frigid 10-9 Win Over Vikings

This message is to all of you who stood in weird positions, screamed distracting phrases, and crossed fingers and toes: thank you. All those times your superstitious voodoo failed to come through would discourage the ordinary fan, but not you. You are willing to make an absolute fool of yourself in the service of generating any amount of bad juju for Seahawks opponents, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. On a weekend when my son asked me to explain what it meant when I screamed “Noonan” at the television, Blair Walsh provided the ultimate demonstration. Angered Panthers and Cardinals and Patriots fans attempted to belittle the Seahawks victory by disdainfully saying Seattle was lucky. If Lady Luck is crushin’ on the Seahawks, we will gladly make up the guest bedroom so she can stay a while. It is predictable that other fan bases are angry because they know their teams will need her to beat the Seahawks. What they do not know is another phantom figure is flying with Seattle this postseason, and he carries a scythe. The Seahawks, kissed by good fortune, buoyed by colossal talent, are coming to town. Your luck has run out.

Seahawks defense was anything but lucky

It was absolutely lucky that Walsh picked that moment to unleash the great Shankasaurus Rex at TCF Bank Stadium. There is little reason to dispute that. The idea that the Seahawks were lucky to win ignores the many earned factors that made their late-game luck matter.
Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs and best athletes to ever play this game. There is nobody like him in football. Seattle held him to 8 rushes for 18 yards in the first matchup this year. That was his third worst yardage total in his career. He demanded more opportunity after that game, and received it yesterday. It took 23 attempts to gather a paltry 45 yards, for what was his second-worst performance when getting at least 20 carries in a game.

Minnesota, who finished the season fourth in rushing yards and yards per rush, were held to just 58 yards and 2.0 yards per carry. Their two lowest rushing totals of the year both came against the Seahawks. That’s not luck.

The Vikings had two red zone possessions, including one that was gifted to them after a botched snap on a punt led to a very painful faceplant by Jon Ryan. That drive started at the Seahawks 29 yard line. Seattle held them to just a field goal. Luck played no role.

This Seahawks defense has been devouring opponents on the road, even more so since removing Cary Williams from the lineup. Yesterday was no different.

Michael Bennett was an absolute leviathan out there, swimming inside and out of the Vikings overmatched offensive line. Cliff Avril was not far behind. Ahtyba Rubin, Brandon Mebane, Richard Sherman, the linebackers, the safeties, all contributed to a fantastic defensive effort.

Games like this, played in frigid temperatures, favor teams who can run the ball. The Vikings had Peterson. The Seahawks had Christine Michael. Yet it was the Seahawks who wound up nearly doubling their opponents rushing total. Just one Peterson break out run would have been the different in this game. It never came.

Bridgewater’s best not enough

Give credit to Teddy Bridgewater for playing a better game this go around. He was poised and accurate. It would not be absurd to argue he outplayed Russell Wilson. His 86.5 passer rating was the highest the Seahawks have surrendered to an opposing quarterback since Williams was pulled from the lineup.
It an efficient performance, but not a winning one. The Vikings finished with just 125 yards passing and scored no touchdowns. They had only 183 total yards. 
Minnesota came out with a plan to have Bridgewater throw quick, short passes. Seattle was ready for it, jumping on wide receiver screens. Bridgewater patiently went to his second read and found some open players further down the field. The Seahawks will always give opponents underneath routes, like comebacks, and will often be late on out-breaking routes for the same reason. Their cardinal rule is to take away any deep throws. The longest reception by a Vikings wide receiver all day was 10 yards.
Teams that cannot run the ball effectively against Seattle and are unable to threaten them downfield have almost no chance of scoring many points. Bridgewater played well enough to give his team a chance to win, mainly by not turning the ball over. As good as that Vikings defense and Peterson are, Bridgewater and that passing game will need to be far more dynamic if Minnesota is going to grow into a contender.

Vikings defense excels

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I texted Softy on Saturday that it may sound crazy, but I believe this Vikings defense will be the best Seattle will face in the playoffs, and this game might be the toughest game because of it. Words and numbers were not enough to convince everyone just how good Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Andrew Sendejo and Linval Joseph are. 
This was a talented and terrifically coached defense. They are disciplined and fast. Very few offenses would have put up much more than the 10 points Seattle scored on Sunday. Many Seahawks fans were back to complaining about Darrell Bevell as the team struggled to get anything going. At some point, you have to tip your hat to a great opponent playing in very favorable defensive conditions on their home field.

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks

There were not a lot of opportunities wasted by the Seahawks. There just were not a lot of opportunities, period. Michael deserves kudos for running so tough and smart. His 21 carries were a career high and came against a very physical front who were desperately trying to pry the ball away. It never happened.
His 70 yards rushing and 14 yards receiving made him the top Seahawks weapon on the day. It is hard to imagine Marshawn Lynch would have had a better afternoon, and just imagine the hand-wringing that would have occurred if the offense bogged down like this in Lynch’s first game back. 

Championship swagger FTW

The Seahawks offense had not scored any points after three quarters. They trailed by nine points entering the final frame. After a season of angst about fourth-quarter collapses, the Seahawks forced the story to arc in a different direction, and this was not the first time they have authored a fourth-quarter comeback in the playoffs.

The Seahawks have trailed entering the fourth quarter of five playoff games since 2012. They have come back to take the lead in every one, and won four of those five games.

Seattle trailed by a single point in Washington in 2012 and won that game. They trailed by 20 entering the fourth quarter in Atlanta that same year, and stormed back in front, only to lose on a last second field goal. The 49ers had a four point lead after three in 2013, but Seattle earned the Super Bowl trip. Green Bay led by nine points last year heading into the fourth, but the Seahawks authored a fourth quarter comeback for the second straight year in the NFC Championship. Now, this game against Minnesota is added to the lore.

There has been so much written about how many leads this team has blown late in games. Just be sure to recognize how much resolve and character this team has shown.

Night and day

The Seahawks earned the right to play the 15 win Carolina Panthers next weekend. There will be no shortage of people saying Seattle will have to play better against the Panthers to win. If you are one of those people, let me tell why that is the wrong way to think about this game. No two football games are alike. This last game against the Vikings proves that as much as any would. 
Seattle pounded the same Vikings team 38-7 a few weeks ago, and barely escaped with a win this time. There were different players, different conditions, different mentalities. There is almost nothing that happened in Minnesota that really carries over to this Panthers game. This will not be the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history. This will not be a team who is getting back four starters and three elite players on defense. The Panthers will not be looking to avenge an earlier embarrassment. 
The Seahawks match up well with Carolina. That is why they have beaten them four times in five tries over the past four years. These two teams are very much alike, but it has been intangible factors like decision-making, preparation, and effort that have allowed Seattle to win. There will be no Cary Williams to pick on. Bobby Wagner will play after missing the first game. As will Jeremy Lane, Frank Clark, Marcus Burley, Brock Coyle, and Jordan Hill, who all missed the first game. The flight to Carolina will be full, but if Lady Luck would like come along, nobody in Seattle would hesitate to find her a seat. 
The Seahawks are the two-time defending NFC Champions. They may be traveling this postseason, but the path to the Super Bowl goes through them. Dab while you can.

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