SEATTLE - Seattle's 21-7 win over Minnesota Monday night at CenturyLink Field could be summed up by one play.
On the opening drive of the third quarter the Seahawks ran a pass play to offensive lineman George Fant who had lined up as an eligible receiver as he does a handful of times each game to serve as an extra run blocker.
This time, however, Seattle called a pass play and Fant found himself wide open in the right flat. Quarterback Russell Wilson did not hesitate to throw in the direction of the backup offensive lineman, who extended his large mitts for hands to haul in the pass and then proceeded to take a few steps downfield before stumbling and falling to the turf just short of the first down marker without ever being touched by a defensive player.
The cheers induced by the site of a 322-pound man wearing #74 making a reception quickly transitioned to groans when Fant hit the ground. Fant had been foiled by what his teammates called the dreaded “turf monster."
Mere seconds passed by before his teammates began mocking him.
“As soon as I came to the sideline they told me, ‘man, I can’t believe that,'” Fant recalled.
Neither could anyone else even though on this night that play fit into the construct of the game at hand.
On a night with so much on the line for both teams, the Seahawks (8-5) and the Vikings (6-6-1) put forth one of the most boring football games in the history of the sport. No, this display did not qualify as a monumental defensive battle. Few spectacular defensive plays occurred. Instead, both offenses appeared to have forgotten how to play football to the point where through three quarters the most interesting thing that happened was Fant’s unspectacular reception for nine yards on a drive that a few plays later ended with a punt.
But, in an effort to identify the silver lining for the Seahawks, winning ugly does have its merits.
While Wilson managed to pass for just 60 yards – not 260, not 160, but yes, 60 – Seattle found a way to win thanks to a defense that shut down Minnesota’s usually potent passing game and a rushing attack that pounded out 214 yards on 5.1 per carry against a top 10 rushing defense.
So while Seattle led just 3-0 at halftime, never trailed in the game and didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, at the end of the night the Seahawks had stumbled their way into being one victory away from clinching a playoff berth with a date at San Francisco (3-10) up next. And they did it by battling through the sludge of a forgetful game to end out on top.
“It’s good, especially for the young guys to see that we can win however,” said Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter with Seattle up 6-0. “Whether it’s a defensive game, an offensive game, special teams game, it’s always good to have these kinds of wins throughout the season because you can use them in the playoffs.”
Ah yes, the playoffs, a glorious place where few expected this team would end up when the season began. Now Seattle is staring at a possible postseason matchups at either NFC East-leading Dallas (8-5) or NFC North-leading Chicago (9-4). Both teams, like Minnesota, have strong defenses, which means that the Seahawks would likely need to win an ugly game in order to advance.
So after a couple of weeks of putting up gaudy offensive numbers against San Francisco and Carolina, the Seahawks probably benefited from engaging in a less than esthetically pleasing contest that, according to Wilson, required the team to remain calm and “keep swinging.”
“If you want to be a championship team you’ve got to find a way to win games even when it doesn’t look pretty", Wilson said.
Winning games in bruising and sometimes frustrating fashion requires resiliency. The type of resiliency that allows a team to rebound from maddening plays such as when Wilson, with seconds remaining in the half and the ball at the Minnesota one-yard line, slipped, regained his feet and then attempted to throw the ball away but instead lofted it directly into the arms of Vikings to linebacker Eric Kendricks to end the scoring threat and leave Seattle with just a 3-0 lead at the break.
Talk about a gut punch. But, Seattle kept its composure and the defense kept Minnesota out of the end zone while the offense searched for a way to win.
“Our defense really picked us up in a big way,” Wilson said.
Seattle’s running game set the tone. Without the 214 yards on the ground, Seattle’s defense would have found itself in poor field position situations that could have led to better scoring opportunities for Minnesota. According to Seattle coach Pete Carroll, the ability to run the football and commit to the running game pays off in many ways including helping to grind out a hard-fought defensive battle.
“I think that’s what balance is all about,” Carroll said. “That you get what you need on that day. You don’t know how it’s going to come to you. If you don’t emphasize the running game it’s really hard to call on it when you need it.”
The elation in Seattle’s locker room following the game created the perfect atmosphere for teammates to make light of Fant’s mishap that he claimed might have resulted in a touchdown had he kept his feet and broken one tackle.
“He almost scored,” Carroll said with a laugh. “That’s how he saw it…He didn’t quite get all of the yards that were there. Maybe next time.”
Said Fant: “It’s alright, man. It’s alright. I made the play.”
And in the end, just like with Seattle winning ugly, that's all that matters.