SEATTLE — The Minnesota Vikings pride themselves on ball control, running game and mistake-free football. That winning formula held true more often than not as the Vikings built an 8-3 record heading into the bye week. But it abandoned them Monday night in Seattle as a mistake-filled second half left them a touchdown short of the new NFC West leaders, who played a Vikings-esque style of game and used a massive second-half effort to win 37-30.
The Seahawks possessed the ball for 20 minutes more than the Vikings thanks to 218 rushing yards, 7-of-15 success on third downs and three defensive takeaways. While the Vikings tried to mount a double-digit comeback as they had two weeks prior against Denver, they learned it’s easier to complete a rally at home against an AFC doormat than it is on the road against one of the NFC’s best.
“I thought they would be throwing the ball a bit more than they did, what they’ve done in the past,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “They stuck with it a lot more than I thought.”
Persistence paid off. The Seahawks matched their season-high with a stunning 43 rushing attempts against a rush defense that had proved stout in recent weeks and was getting back stopper Linval Joseph from injury. Their stick-to-it-iveness resembled the approach of the Vikings, who have carried the ball 34 or more times in seven of their eight wins — wearing defenses down with Dalvin Cook. On Monday night, it was the fumble-prone Chris Carson who played a mistake-free game while putting together his fifth 100-yard rushing effort on 23 carries.
“I’m assuming we got knocked out of some gaps and didn’t get off blocks,” Zimmer said. “He’s a hard running back.”
Instead, it was Cook who fumbled with the game tied at 17, giving the Seahawks a short field that they’d turn into three points and a lead. Cook aggravated an existing upper-body injury on the play, rendering him helpless in the second half as the Vikings offense floundered in the third quarter while Seattle scored 24 unanswered. Minnesota had just 23 rushing yards after halftime.
“No matter if I get injured or not, I can’t turn the ball over,” Cook said. “I hold myself 1000 percent responsible for not turning the ball over. I pride myself on not turning the ball over.”
Minnesota was simply one-upped by the Seahawks in every area, including turnovers. The Vikings defense took two, but the Seahawks took three, including Cook’s fumble, a Kirk Cousins interception and C.J. Ham’s fumble on a kickoff return with 14 seconds remaining.
Special teams was outplayed well before Ham’s fumble. The Vikings were caught for 29 yards on a fake punt in the fourth quarter, and Dan Bailey missed an extra point shortly after.
The Vikings only committed three penalties, but it was still two more than the Seahawks, who were flagged just once.
Seattle needed to convert a key third down with just over two minutes left, and they succeeded with Carson’s 11-yard carry. That came moments after the Vikings faltered on 3rd-and-4 and 4th-and-4 plays as they attempted to march for a go-ahead score.
“I’ll go back and look at the film and talk about what could have worked, different routes, should have progressed,” Cousins said of his final incompletion to rookie Irv Smith Jr. “You also see a lot of throws where you need to drive it in there. I tried to drive it in there and didn’t get it, but that was one of about two dozen plays.”
While the offense did the defense no favors with field position, the defense still permitted four scoring drives of 60 yards or more and struggled to stop Seattle’s wide zone runs — which, of course, have been the Vikings’ bread and butter all year.
“That wide zone helped us out,” said Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny. “We got to read the linebackers and the flow of the linemen. And then it’s all about making one cut and getting downhill.”
Where have fans heard that before?
The Seahawks and Vikings have similar identities on offense as they look to put their quarterbacks in favorable positions with productive running games. Defensively, they might be getting more and more similar too, which isn’t necessarily a compliment to the Vikings. Seattle’s defense is no longer the feared Legion of Boom. The Vikings defense is looking more porous all the time.
Monday, the Seahawks defense made just enough plays to escape. Sounds like the Vikings’ last two victories, doesn’t it?
Those bending defenses are becoming increasingly reliant on their smashmouth offenses to keep them off the field. Seattle reminded the Vikings Monday night that they’re not the only team that can win the old-school way.
“Two good teams banging away at it,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “It was really just a good matchup. You could feel the strength of their team, and you could feel us, too.”
The Seahawks dictated their strength for most of the game, sending the Vikings into the final quarter of the season on a sobering note.