Chiefs/Rams, this was not. Monday night’s showdown between Seattle and Minnesota never promised to be a shootout. Nor was it—the two combatants combined for a measly 28 points with 25 of them coming in the fourth quarter. In fact, it took over 57 minutes for either team to score a touchdown. But when the dust settled, the Seahawks successfully defended their home turf, edging the Vikings by a 21-7 margin in a game that was much closer than the final score would indicate.
Playing without star receiver Doug Baldwin (hip), who logged his third absence of the season on Monday night, Russell Wilson accomplished little through the air, completing a modest 10-of-20 passes for a career-low 72 passing yards. His night was marred by an uncharacteristic brain cramp as the seventh-year signal-caller was intercepted on first-and-goal from the one-yard-line with 16 ticks to go in the second quarter. Wilson slipped and lost his balance before attempting to throw the ball away, but his errant pass instead wound up in the hands of Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. The interception represented a giant missed opportunity for the Seahawks while bringing back memories of a similarly disastrous goal-line sequence from their past. Wilson’s mishap was eerily reminiscent to a play in Sunday’s Patriots/Dolphins game when Tom Brady took a sack instead of throwing the ball away with time winding down in the second quarter, allowing the half to end before the Patriots could attempt a field goal. That rare lapse by Brady seemed benign at the time, but in retrospect, it may have cost New England the game as the Dolphins miraculously won on a Boise-State-esque walk-off touchdown.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year’s Seahawks squad, it’s that’s not much fazes them. This is a resilient bunch, a team that has weathered injuries, an offseason talent purge and a sluggish 0-2 start to be where they are today, which is on the precipice of their sixth playoff appearance in seven years. The Seahawks captured their fourth straight win and they did it with defense, annihilating Kirk Cousins, who crumbled behind the Vikings’ non-existent offensive line. Cousins only took two sacks but it felt like a thousand as the $84-million QB spent much of the evening running for his life. The 30-year-old’s lowlights included a hideous 27-yard first half (his lowest output as an NFL starter) and a game-sealing fumble scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman. It’s been a trying stretch for the former Redskin, who has struggled to a pedestrian 78.3 quarterback rating with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions over his last two games, both losses.
Similar to the previous night’s primetime game (Chicago defeated the Rams in a 15-6 upset at Soldier Field), Monday night’s battle of NFC powers was light on offense but served as an impressive showcase for both defenses. Two of the league’s premier pass-rushers were on display as Danielle Hunter and Frank Clark took center stage in the Emerald City. Hunter netted another sack in Monday’s defeat, bringing his season total up to 12.5. That matches a career-high for the 24-year-old, who is tied for third in the league behind only Aaron Donald (16.5) and Von Miller (13.5). That puts Hunter in elite company as Donald and Miller have combined for eight All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl MVP and one Defensive Player of the Year award. Not to be outdone, Clark continued his fourth-year breakout by logging four tackles and a sack, his 11th of 2018 (a new career-high for the former Michigan Wolverine), in the winning effort.
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Prior to Monday’s festivities, the Seahawks and Vikings hadn’t crossed paths (at least during the regular season) since their playoff encounter in 2015. That game was a similarly low-scoring affair as the Seahawks escaped with a 10-9 win, but only after then-Vikings kicker Blair Walsh (who would later play for Seattle) botched a 27-yard field goal that would have won the game for Minnesota.
As fate would have it, Monday’s rematch featured yet another kicking debacle and much like the original, the sequel ended with Minnesota getting its heart ripped out. Stud linebacker Bobby Wagner did his best Troy Polamalu impression, leaping over a sea of linemen to block a 47-yard attempt by Dan Bailey with just under six minutes remaining. A flag was initially thrown but the officials quickly reversed course, letting the play stand despite replay showing that Wagner clearly pushed off a teammate, which should have resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Had the right call been made, Minnesota would have had a first down at the Seahawks’ 14-yard-line trailing by only six with plenty of time remaining. Would making the correct call have changed the game’s outcome? Wounded Vikings fans will be pondering that question for days to come.
As I noted in a recent column highlighting the Seahawks’ resurgence, the key to Seattle’s success this year has been the team’s newfound commitment to running the ball. The Seahawks’ ground attack endured a few lean years following the departure of workhorse Marshawn Lynch, but now they’re back and better than ever. Mike Davis and last year’s NCAA rushing leader Rashaad Penny have both had their moments but Chris Carson, who was chosen as the fifth-to-last pick in the 2017 draft, has done most of the heavy lifting, leading Seattle’s backfield with 794 yards on 179 carries. Carson was at it again on Monday night, providing 90 of the Seahawks’ 214 rushing yards while adding his fifth touchdown of the season and third in his last four games. The Seahawks have now rushed for a league-leading 2,000 yards, putting them well-ahead of the Panthers, who are a distant second at 1,786.
The losses are piling up for the Vikings, who now find themselves just a half-game ahead of Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington for the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC. Even the Packers are within striking distance at 5-7-1, though the Vikings hold the tiebreaker over Green Bay after beating them in Week 12. Minnesota has now dropped three straight on the road and has won just twice in seven games away from U.S. Bank Stadium this year. Luckily for the Vikes, their only remaining road game will come against the injury-depleted Lions, who they clobbered earlier this year.
Quick Hits: The Raiders severed ties with GM Reggie McKenzie on Monday, ending his seven-year run with the organization. McKenzie, a former NFL linebacker with the Raiders, 49ers and Cardinals, is just two years removed from being honored as the NFL’s Executive of the Year … Pierre Garcon is headed for arthroscopic knee surgery, which will sideline him for the duration of 2018. Injuries have limited the veteran to just 16 games since arriving in San Francisco as a free agent last year … Austin Ekeler reported concussion symptoms on Monday, prompting the Chargers to place him in the league’s protocol. The second-year back also suffered a stinger in Sunday’s win over Cincinnati. With Ekeler’s status in doubt for Week 15, seventh-round rookie Justin Jackson could be tasked with leading the backfield Thursday in Kansas City … Tyreek Hill was a spectator at Monday’s practice, though Chiefs coach Andy Reid still expects him to suit up Thursday against the Chargers. Hill battled wrist and heel injuries in Week 14 but still managed eight catches for 139 yards in a win over Baltimore … Corey Clement reportedly suffered a sprained knee in Sunday’s loss to Dallas. The Eagles added Boston Scott from the Saints’ practice squad, a sign that Clement could be facing a lengthy absence … Beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press suspects Ezekiel Ansah has played his final game as a Lion. Ansah aggravated a shoulder injury in Week 14 and could be headed for season-ending surgery. He’ll enter free agency this offseason … Josh Doctson has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol while teammate Jordan Reed is nursing a sprained toe, which could spell an end to his season. The slumping Redskins have lost four straight … Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged that Ted Ginn could return later in the year. The veteran deep threat was placed on I.R. with a knee injury prior to Week 7 … NFL Draft expert Gil Brandt said he’d make a “heavy wager” that Oregon QB Justin Herbert will enter the upcoming draft. Multiple reports have speculated that Herbert will stay for his senior year so he can play with his younger brother, an incoming freshman at Oregon, though the opportunity to be a top-five pick in a draft thin on quarterback talent may be too good to pass up … Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Joe Flacco (hip) will be part of the team’s game plan in Week 15, but wouldn’t commit to starting him Sunday against Tampa Bay. Flacco didn’t suit up against the Chiefs last week despite being upgraded to full participation at practice. Meanwhile Lamar Jackson is expected to be fine after tweaking his ankle in the loss to Kansas City … Browns interim coach Gregg Williams is hopeful Denzel Ward will be available for the team’s next game Saturday at Denver. The first-round rookie has yet to clear the league’s protocol after missing last week’s game with a concussion but appears to be trending in the right direction … Odell Beckham felt “much better” on Monday, according to Giants coach Pat Shurmur. A quad injury sidelined OBJ against Washington in Week 14, though obviously he wasn’t needed in a game New York won by 24 … Dolphins coach Adam Gase confirmed Ryan Tannehill is dealing with soreness in his injured ankle, though he’s still been “walking around.” Tannehill’s injury occurred in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over New England.