MINNEAPOLIS – It was a playoff finish so wild, the only thing missing was Michael Bennett on a celebratory postgame bicycle ride.
The Seahawks were down, beaten, and incapable of moving the football, then suddenly they had a 10-9 lead. Then the Vikings fought back, and were in position for what looked like a chip-shot game-winning field goal. But a kick that most figured was a gimme instead was hooked left of the left upright, allowing the Seahawks to escape Minnesota with another memorable, did-that-really-just-happen playoff victory that will send them to Carolina for the divisional round of the playoff.
"By far the craziest game I've played in," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "But hey, it's destiny now. We've got to make it happen."
For the better part of two months, the Seahawks were firing on all cylinders, looking like one of the best teams in the league on both sides of the ball. And while the league's No. 1 scoring defense was great against the Vikings, the offense struggled to get on track in what was the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history with a kickoff temperature of minus-6, which felt like minus-25 with the wind chill.
This was not a game of perfect execution, or anything close to it. It was all about surviving and outlasting an opponent, which the Seahawks were barely able to do.
"I don't think this is a measure of anything as far as your football other than it was guts, stick-to-it and grit and the whole thing, and somebody had to win," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "… That's all we'll take out of it. We're not going to take pride in our execution during the day, but we're going to take pride in the way we went about it and how hard we played and how tough we played and how we stuck with it until the end to get ourselves in position to win.
The Seahawks' ability to finish, then hang on, leads our five takeaways from Sunday's 10-9 victory at TCF Bank Stadium.
1. Somehow, someway, "a team full of fighters" found a way to finish.
This wasn't quite as torrid of a comeback as last year's NFC championship game, but Sunday's win over the Vikings was just the latest example of how resilient the Seahawks can be when it appears things aren't going to turn out their way.
With the offense struggling to find its way in the extreme cold, the 9-0 lead Minnesota took into the fourth quarter felt massive. At least it did to those who weren't on Seattle's sideline. Thanks to a little Russell Wilson magic—OK, a lot of it—yet another Doug Baldwin touchdown catch, and a forced fumble by Kam Chancellor that set up a 46-yard Steven Hauschka field goal, the Seahawks went from trailing by nine to leading by one at the 8:04 mark in the fourth quarter.
"It's awesome for us," Carroll said of the way his team came back. "We build on that. We think finishing is everything, and to find a way to get back in the game in the fourth quarter, and for Kam to that great turnover and (Ahtyba) Rubin to get on the football, then to come right back and get in position for the field goal, it was awesome. It's really what we believe we can do, so we keep thinking it's going to happen until it does."
As stunning as the result might have been thanks to Blair Walsh's late miss, the fact that the Seahawks were able to get back in the game surprised nobody in Seattle's locker room.
"Our resilience is embedded in this team in every facet," Baldwin said. "For us to pull out this game is just another example of what this team is made of.
Added cornerback Richard Sherman: "It just was another opportunity for our team to show who we were. Guys continued to battle, continued to fight until the last second, even when it looked dire… The football gods were with us today.
"We just kept going. We didn't lose faith, we didn't lose confidence, we didn't lose anything when we were down and out. Most people would have given up. A lot of people would have folded and said, 'that's it.' We've got a team full of fighters."
2. The weather and low score that came with it magnified the impact of every big play.
Minnesota's missed field goal wasn't just devastating for the Vikings and their fans, it was also a reminder of how difficult even the most basic plays were at times on Sunday. And because points were at such a premium, a few plays were able to make a huge difference in the game.
When a snap got past Wilson in the fourth quarter, what could have been another miscue and loss of yardage turned into the play of the game for the Seahawks, with Wilson sliding to control the ball, eluding several defenders, then finding Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard gain that set up the game's only touchdown. Chancellor's forced fumble on an Adrian Peterson catch was equally huge, as was Hauschka’s ability to drill a frozen football through the uprights from 46 yards out.
Conversely, early errors, most notably the botched punt attempt that gave the Vikings a short field, had the potential to be devastating setbacks if not for Seattle's ability to come back. Unfortunately for the Vikings, their last miscue came at the end of the game.
"I think we're fortunate that we get the win, because a lot of times those guys make those kicks, there's a high percentage he'd make it, but you've still got to do it, you've still got to execute it," Carroll said, "It makes me think of what our guys did. They did execute the play and get it done."
3. The defense had a "fantastic day."
The Seahawks were expecting to see a lot more out of Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, than they did in last month's game at Minnesota when Peterson carried just eight times for 18 yards, and sure enough, the Vikings did go to their All-Pro back more often. The league's No. 1 run defense, which hasn't allowed an individual 100-yard rusher since Week 11 of the 2014 season, was up for the challenge, holding Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries (2.0-yard average).
"Fantastic day," Carroll said. "A great football player on the other side, and we totally respect everything about Adrian and their style and what they do with him."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who had a team-high eight tackles, two for a loss, and one sack, knew his defense would see more of Peterson on a day where throwing the ball was a challenge, and they were able to stop him.
"We knew he was going to get the ball," Wagner said. "Last game he only got the ball eight times… He's a great player and we feel like we're a great defense. We feel like if everybody's doing their job and everybody's doing their thing, it's hard for them to score."
While the run defense was the most obvious part of Seattle's defensive effort, the pass rush played a big role late in the game, registering three sacks on Teddy Bridgewater, two of which came in the fourth quarter after Seattle had taken the lead, leading to two Vikings punts.
"We started blitzing, we felt like we could get pressure on him and put him on his heels," Wagner said.
4. Doug Baldwin is both clutch, as well as capable of the spectacular.
With the Seahawks in the red zone for the first time all game—and the only time, as it would turn out—Wilson went to his most reliable target, and as usual Baldwin found a way to get open for a 3-yard touchdown. That was Baldwin's best play in terms of the outcome of the game, but it wasn't his best catch on Sunday. That would instead be the insane, one-handed grab he made over the middle of the field for a 17-yard gain early in the third quarter.
"Greatest catch I've ever seen, hands down," Wilson said. "I've never seen anything like that before. Doug Baldwin has been doing it all year. He's one of the greatest receivers in the league. He's quick, he's fast, can make all the plays, and that played showed that today. Especially in the cold, think about that."
And as Lockett pointed out, in a game where field position was a big deal, Baldwin's spectacular grab mattered even if it didn't lead to Seahawks points.
"He has been so clutch," Lockett said. "All we (as receivers) need is an opportunity, and when we get that opportunity we take advantage of it and make the best of it. That one-handed catch, that was a big play. Even though we didn't score on that drive, this game was all about field position… Because he caught that pass, we were able to push them on their side of the field."
5. Christine Michael "looked like a real pro."
In one of the more unlikely stories of this NFL postseason, the Seahawks' starting running back on Sunday was a player they traded in September. Christine Michael, Seattle's 2013 second-round pick, was traded to Dallas before the start of the season, released by the Cowboys, signed to Washington's practice squad, then released again before re-signing with Seattle following Thomas Rawls' season-ending injury.
With Marshawn Lynch unable to play Sunday, Michael got the start again, rushing for a hard-fought 71 yards on 21 carries, catching a 14-yard pass, and most importantly given the conditions, he held onto the ball on all of his touches.
"I thought he did really well," Carroll said. "I thought he ran hard all day long. I'll be anxious to see the film, but he ran tough and looked like a pro. Looked like a real pro playing football. I'm happy to see him play the whole game solid and carry it out for us."
Michael said his focus was on, "Just protecting the ball. Really just getting through the day. The weather was difficult, but it's just great we played a great game and got the win."
As for starting for a playoff team after being traded and released twice in one season, Michael said, "It's big man, it's a blessing… I'm Just focused a lot more. Just playing more for my team, playing for god, not myself. Just trying to be an all-around team player."
The Seahawks hit the road and traveled to Minnesota for the second time this season for the NFC Wild Card Playoff matchup at TCF Bank Stadium and escape with a 10-9 victory to advance to next Sunday's NFC Divisional round.