MINNEAPOLIS—If there was any doubt that the Seahawks were firing on all cylinders Sunday, it was erased late in the third quarter.
Facing second-and-1 near midfield, Russell Wilson took off, sprinting 53 yards for a touchdown. That long run, however, did not count, because Luke Willson was flagged for holding on the play. On a day when the offense overcame three pre-snap penalties on one touchdown drive, and had another one go 98 yards, and a day when the defense didn't allow a score and held Adrian Peterson to 18 rushing yards, a holding penalty that wiped out a 53-yard touchdown didn't really matter. On the very next play, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for a 53-yard score, helping punctuate a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, who came into the game leading the NFC North with an 8-3 record.
"This was a terrific day for our club," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Coming in and playing a really good team that has been on the mark. Kind of matched up styles a little bit, and we were really pleased we were able to do the things we were able to do, really in all phases today. So it was a very complete victory, and we're thrilled about that."
If not for Cordarrelle Patterson's 101-yard kick return following Baldwin's 53-yard touchdown catch, Sunday would have been a near-perfect day for the Seahawks in all three phases, which leads our takeaways from a dominant victory at TCF Bank Stadium that improved Seattle's record to 7-5.
1. This might have been the best the Seahawks have played this season.
As well as the Seahawks offense played—433 total yards, 25 first downs, 69 percent on third down, three for four in the red zone—it's hard to say if the offense or defense had the better day, which is what made the Seahawks' performance so impressive.
While Wilson was continuing his run of outstanding play and Baldwin was adding more touchdowns and Thomas Rawls was rumbling towards another 100-yard game, the defense completely dominated a team that came into the game leading the league in rushing. The Seahawks have had big games on offense and dominant days on defense, but this is the best combination of the two they have shown this season, and doing it on the road against an 8-3 team made it even more impressive.
"It's special to watch, it really is," said Wilson, who went 21 for 27 for 274 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 51 yards and a score. "When the defense is out there, we're fired up for the defense, and when the offense is out there defense is fired up for us, and special teams and all that. So as a collective group I don't think we can play too much better."
Having won three straight and five of their last six following a 2-4 start to the season, the Seahawks feel like they are starting to get back to being the type of team that went to two straight Super Bowls. They know there's a lot of work left to do to make this a successful season, but the Seahawks are confident that if they continue to perform the way they did Sunday, they will be tough to beat.
"The past 12 quarters we have been playing phenomenal," Baldwin said of the offense. "We've been playing at a high level, efficient level, conversions on third down, being efficient in the red zone. When we're playing like that, with the defense that we have and the special teams we have, it's very hard to beat us."
2. Seattle defense was up for the challenge of facing Adrian Peterson.
The Seahawks knew that their top priority on defense was stopping Peterson, who came into the game leading the league in rushing yards. But even if that was their focus, and even if the Seahawks have been good against the run all season, they couldn't have imagined limiting Peterson to just 18 yards on eight carries, just the fourth sub 20-yard game of Peterson's career.
"That's amazing," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "I thought it'd be good to hold him to 50, but 18 was even better… We've had so many good defensive efforts, but this is one of the best ones because of Adrian Peterson and the way he runs the ball."
By bottling up Peterson early and taking a big lead, the Seahawks forced the Vikings to try to beat them through the air, but a strong pass rush and good play from the secondary kept that from happening. The Vikings finished with just 125 yards of offense and nine first downs, and on nine possessions, they punted seven times, were intercepted once and turned the ball over on downs once.
"It was a great collective effort from our entire defense," defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. "We knew going in that he's one of the best running backs in the NFL, and that was our job to just play your gap and tackle. We know who we are, and we know what we've got to do to win. When you know who you are, everything falls in place."
3. The rookies continue to step up and make big contributions.
One theory Pete Carroll has offered in the past to explain his team's strong finishes to seasons is that by getting young players on the field early in the year, those players are able to improve and make big contributions late in the season. That is proving true with three rookies, Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett and Frank Clark, who all played huge roles in Sunday's win.
Rawls, who has taken over the starting running back job with Marshawn Lynch sidelined, rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and he now has 711 rushing in first six starts, the most by an undrafted rookie since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Lockett, meanwhile, had a team-high seven receptions for 90 yards, a 47-yard kick return and a 19-yard punt return, and defensive end Frank Clark had two sacks and two passes defensed.
"Isn't that something?" Carroll said. "It's really exciting to see those guys able to contribute in such a big way. That's good for us, that's exactly what we hope happens, and we're going to need a lot more from them as we go down the stretch here."
While Lockett has been contributing big plays all season, and Rawls has had several big games before this one, Sunday was the best glimpse thus far of what the Seahawks hope Clark can add to the defense. A second-round pick, Clark has seen his playing time increase of late, and had an even bigger role Sunday with Jordan Hill out.
"Without Jordan Hill, we decide to make that move, which we had worked on a lot earlier hoping that might work out, then it was kind of forced upon us," Carroll said of Clark playing as an interior pass rusher. "It's nice to have that athleticism in there with everything else that's going on, so we'll try to keep building on that."
Added Mebane: "Frank Clark played a great game. He has improved a lot and he's going to continue to be a great factor for our defense."
4. Doug Baldwin is on fire.
Baldwin has always been underappreciated as a receiver thanks to the limited number of targets he and the rest of Seattle's receivers usually get in a run-heavy offense, but after the past four games, it's unlikely anyone is sleeping on Baldwin anymore. Baldwin finished Sunday's game with five catches for a team-high 94 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 24 catches for 433 yards and six touchdowns over his past four games.
"What's really exciting about it is we're not doing anything special, we're just doing what we do," Carroll said. "He's always there to make the play and take advantage of the opportunities, he's playing great football. We love seeing him."
5. The tight ends came up with big plays early.
In the Seahawks first game without Jimmy Graham, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, the offense showed it can still lean on its tight ends. While Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet combined for only three catches for 49 yards, they came through with some big plays early to help jumpstart the offense. Wilson's first pass of the game was a 13-yard completion to Helfet, then on Seattle's first touchdown drive, Wilson connected with Willson on back to back plays for gains of 14 and 22 yards, the first one a juggling effort on a ball thrown slightly behind him, and the second featuring some nifty open-field moves to turn a short pass into a big gain.
"We all know I got open-field moves," Willson joked of his run-after-catch ability.
Willson and Helfet, who both saw their playing time increase in Graham's absence, also made big contributions to a 173-yard rushing performance.
Carroll said the Seahawks came out of the game without any new injuries… The victory improved Seattle's all-time record to 312-312, marking the first time in franchise history that the Seahawks have been at or above .500… Tarvaris Jackson finished the game at quarterback, marking his first regular-season action since Week 16 of last season, when he played late in a blowout win over Arizona. It also happened to be Jackson's first game back in Minnesota, where he spent the first five years of his career before signing with Seattle in 2011.
"It's cool," Jackson said. "I've been gone so long, but it was cool to see some old teammates more than anything… You always want to play. A situation like that, it's always good to get in the game. It's cool."
The Week 13 matchup in Minnesota saw five Seahawks touchdowns, an Earl Thomas interception and two sacks by Frank Clark that all contributed to a 38-7 team win over the Vikings.