Posting career-lows in passing yards and quarterback rating, quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t remotely close to the top of his game with playoff positioning on the line on Monday Night Football.
Luckily for the Seattle Seahawks, their overhauled defense played like it was 2013 all over again, stymieing Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings in a 21-7 win to capture the team’s fourth consecutive victory.
“Just some beautiful football.” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said following the defensive slugfest. “Not the kind of football everybody loves, but the kind of football we love and I bet Coach Zimmer thinks the same thing. It was a tough, tough defensive day.”
On a night where Wilson couldn’t find a groove, threw an inexplicable red zone interception at the end of the first half, and passed for only 72 yards, the Seahawks compensated with a highly-effective ground game and suffocating defense.
The Vikings entered Monday’s critical Week 14 battle with one of the top run defenses in the league, giving up less than 100 rushing yards per game. Even with Wilson struggling to get into a rhythm throwing the football without the services of top receiver Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks ran the football 42 times for 214 yards and over five yards per carry, setting the tone in a physical game in which points were hard to come by.
Leading the way, running back Chris Carson rushed for 90 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown on a two-yard plunge midway through the fourth quarter. Rookie Rashaad Penny added 44 yards on eight carries, including a dynamic run where he reversed field away from traffic to pick up 17 yards. Wilson also contributed to the cause, racing 48 yards on a scramble during Seattle’s final scoring drive to set up Carson’s touchdown.
“That’s something to be proud of.” Carroll said when reflecting on his team’s rushing success. “It was hard to do and our guys knocked it out; the guys up front, the guys running. All three backs had good averages and ran well and we had a pretty good mix. Whenever you run 40-something times you ought to win, so that was pretty good.”
While Seattle could only muster three first half points, a stingy defense held Minnesota to a paltry 61 total yards and zero points. Cousins threw for only 27 yards during the first two quarters and the Seahawks harassed him throughout the game, headlined a vicious sack by defensive end Frank Clark after he bowled over an offensive lineman to get into the backfield.
Much as they’ve failed to do all season, the Vikings couldn’t support Cousins with much of a run game, as Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined to rush 16 times for 59 yards and zero touchdowns.
Despite these tribulations, the Vikings did have a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to the Seahawks troubles in the red zone. In the first three quarters, Seattle had turned three trips inside opponents’ 20-yard line into only three points, including the horrific goal line pick by Wilson on the final play of the first half.
Looking to take advantage of the Seahawks ineptitude, Cousins launched a 48-yard strike downfield to receiver Stefon Diggs, who had beaten cornerback Tre Flowers. After Adam Thielen picked up another first down to move inside Seattle’s 5-yard line, Minnesota looked primed to move out in front on the scoreboard.
But as the Seahawks had done all day, the defense refused to let the visitors find the end zone. After an incompletion from Cousins and a one-yard run by Cook on third down, safety Bradley McDougald stepped in front of Cousins fourth down pass attempt intended for tight end Kyle Rudolph, forcing a turnover on downs.
Following a quick three-and-out by Wilson and the offense, Minnesota again tried to cut into Seattle’s deficit, only to be turned away again when superstar linebacker Bobby Wagner leaped over the Vikings offensive line to partially block kicker Dan Bailey’s field goal attempt.
“We seen it on film – I think it was last week – we watched a guy jump over, so we felt like we had something.” Wagner said post-game. “We knew if there was an opportunity because they were on the right hash, we were going to call it and so we called it. I tried to time it up and I got over and made the block.”
After being saved numerous times by a dominant defense, Wilson and the Seahawks showed the character of this football team by driving it down the Vikings’ throat, marching 63 yards on seven plays before culminating the possession with Carson’s touchdown and a two-point conversion to receiver Tyler Lockett.
To leave no doubt, Seattle’s defense added an extra touchdown for good measure a few moments later, as rookie defensive end Jacob Martin strip-sacked Cousins and cornerback Justin Coleman scooped up the fumble for a 27-yard return to the end zone.
As a reward for holding the tandem of Thielen and Diggs to only nine receptions for 141 yards, much of which came late with the contest already decided, it was a fitting exclamation point to a sloppy game that this young, overlooked Seattle squad has been built to win.
Defending every blade of glass like their predecessors, Coleman doesn’t believe this group needs to create its own legacy. Instead, these Seahawks need to embrace the success of past teams during the Carroll era and continue the tradition.
“You just take their legacy and you run with it. They set a style of play that the Seahawks love here and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We take that style of play and we use it. The defense don’t change as long as you do it exactly how it’s supposed to be done.”
Playing the style of football that they love and finding ways to win even when the offense isn’t clicking, Seattle can now clinch a playoff spot as early as next Sunday with a win over the 49ers in Santa Clara. If Coleman and the defense can bottle up how they played on Monday night, the Seahawks will be a team nobody wants to play in January.