The Seattle Seahawks braved the elements and—with a little luck—eliminated the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card Round with a 10-9 win Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Before his final kick, Blair Walsh was on his way to earning the title of most valuable player for the home team. He made his first three field-goal attempts and could have put the Vikings ahead with 26 seconds remaining.
His 27-yard attempt sailed wide left, however, handing victory to the Seahawks. Walsh had previously been automatic in similar conditions, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Blair Walsh: now 15-16 on FG attempts when game-time temperature is 20 degrees or less after that miss— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
ESPN's Bomani Jones assumed Walsh will be public enemy No. 1 in Minneapolis now:
if i was blair walsh, i’d change clothes in the car. hope he’s got his keys on the sideline.— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 10, 2016
Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey was quick to apportion blame to the holder, who had struggled getting the ball positioned correctly throughout the game:
That's not Walsh's fault. Holder doesn't know what he's doing.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 10, 2016
Seattle looked sloppy and had one of its worst offensive showings of the season, but it'll take the win all the same.
The cold weather in Minnesota was undoubtedly the second-biggest storyline of the day. According to the Vikings, the temperature dipped to minus-10 degrees during pregame warm-ups:
Minnesota's gjallarhorn, which had normally been used during the team's entrance, was a victim of the brutal conditions, per KARE 11 in Minneapolis:
By the time the game started, the temperature had risen to minus-six degrees, which still made Sunday's game the third-coldest in NFL postseason history, per the Seattle Times. Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel noted the conditions played in the Vikings' favor:
Minnesota crowd really into game. 1) Way to stay warm 2) Smart phones obsolete with heavy gloves 3) Alcohol— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) January 10, 2016
"It was all good until my eyelashes froze," said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, per Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post. "It was like sitting in a freezer for four hours."
The weather wasn't conducive to success on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota finished with 183 total yards, while Seattle was only slightly better, posting 226 yards.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a lot of trouble, going 13-of-26 for 142 yards and a touchdown with an interception. NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth (via Adam Lewis of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) highlighted one tactic the Vikings used to great success to limit Wilson's effectiveness in the pocket:
Interesting point by Cris Collinsworth. Says Vikings' edge guys are purposely rushing behind Wilson to keep him in pocket. It's working.— Adam Lewis (@AdamLewisPI) January 10, 2016
Throughout the game, Wilson had trouble communicating with the Seattle sideline, which led to his burning a number of timeouts in order to avoid delay-of-game penalties. ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia reported the issues stemmed from the coaches' headsets.
Receiver Doug Baldwin's numbers weren't gaudy—five receptions, 42 yards and one touchdown—but he was a steady target for Wilson, which proved invaluable given the myriad issues that hindered the Seahawks.
But Seattle's defense deserves the majority of credit. It held star running back Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries.
According to Craig Peters of Minnesota's official website, the 2012 MVP ran for just 11 yards in the first quarter, but his 10 carries helped eat almost 13 minutes off the clock.
The Vikings also benefited from a mistake by the Seahawks deep in their own territory. After a low snap, Seattle punter Jon Ryan attempted to run for a first down on a 4th-and-7. Instead, he got upended at his team's 29-yard line.
The Seahawks announced shortly thereafter Ryan was questionable to return with a nose injury. NFL on CBS shared a photo of the aftermath:
It's not always easy being a punter. pic.twitter.com/xS3wMmDcsy— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 10, 2016
Minnesota made the most of its good field position. It moved the ball 25 yards over 10 plays and nearly five minutes of game time to set up Walsh for a 22-yard field goal at the 1:01 mark of the opening quarter.
The Vikings took their three-point lead into halftime as the two teams combined to gain 185 yards of offense. The absence of running back Marshawn Lynch was apparent in the Seattle backfield. John Boyle of the Seahawks' official website reported Lynch was inactive, which left Christine Michael and Fred Jackson as Seattle's best options in the running game. They carried the ball nine times for 30 yards in the first half.
According to B/R Insights, Sunday was the first time this season the Seahawks failed to score in the first half. The NFL noted Seattle was in a similar position in last year's NFC Championship Game:
ESPN.com's Mike Sando provided further evidence the Seahawks weren't strangers to second-half comebacks in the postseason:
Before today, #seahawks in Wilson era trailed playoff games at halftime by 20, 16, 7 and 1 points. Took lead in all but did not win all.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) January 10, 2016
Seattle's scoring issues carried through the third quarter as Minnesota's advantage swelled to two scores, 9-0, following two more field goals from Walsh.
The Seahawks finally found their footing in the fourth quarter, courtesy of a little magic by Wilson. The Pro Bowl quarterback turned a bad snap into a 35-yard pass to Tyler Lockett. The NFL posted a highlight of the play on Twitter:
Only Russell Wilson could take a botched snap and sure-fire 20-yard loss.. And turn it into a 35-yard pass. WOW. https://t.co/Xqlty0CGqp— NFL (@NFL) January 10, 2016
Two plays later, Wilson found Baldwin for a three-yard touchdown pass to put Seattle on the board with 11:37 left in the game.
Minnesota responded to the touchdown in the worst way possible. On the Vikings' second play from scrimmage after the score, Peterson fumbled the ball at his own 35-yard line, and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin recovered for the Seahawks at Minnesota's 40-yard line.
Peterson may be one of the NFL's best running backs, but he has struggled holding on to the ball this season. According to Hubbuch, his eight fumbles—five of them lost—lead the league.
Steven Hauschka then gave Seattle its first lead of the game, 10-9, on a 46-yard field goal with 8:04 remaining.
The Seahawks had a chance to seal the win after forcing the Vikings to punt with a little over two minutes remaining. Instead, they went three-and-out and took just 31 seconds off the clock.
That drive looked to be costly as Minnesota marched into position for the possible game-winning field goal, but Seattle survived and advanced to the divisional round. It will meet the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
According to the Weather Channel, the forecast in Charlotte for Jan. 17 is a high of 48 degrees with a 20 percent chance of rain, which will sound like paradise for the Seahawks after Sunday.
Seattle will hope its offense finds its footing in the warmer weather, because another great defensive performance alone won't be enough to get past the NFC's top seed.
On the other side, the ending will overshadow what was an otherwise encouraging season for the Vikings. Minnesota won its division for the first time since 2009, and the Vikings' future looks bright with head coach Mike Zimmer on the sideline.
Zimmer didn't make any excuses for Walsh.
"It's a chip shot," he said, per Around the NFL. "He's got to make it."
"I didn't come through for us, and that hurts," said Walsh, per Stacey Dales of NFL Network.
According to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Walsh was emotional in the locker room:
Blair Walsh took all blame for his missed kick, said repeatedly that he let team down. Walsh broke down crying as teammates consoled him— chipscoggins (@chipscoggins) January 10, 2016
"I feel bad for their kicker for missing that kick," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said, per NFL Network. "But you do have to execute like our guys had to do too."
Carroll and his staff have little time to savor Sunday's victory before they start planning for the Panthers. Seattle will be at a distinct disadvantage if Lynch is once again unavailable.
Curtis Crabtree of 950 KJR in Seattle reported Carroll is unsure if Lynch will be healthy enough to play. Crabtree described Lynch's status as "a wait-and-see thing."