Fifty-nine minutes of tense, sub-zero football will be mostly forgotten. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh‘s missed 27-yard field-goal attempt with 26 seconds left will go down in Vikings history alongside other blunders, helping the Seattle Seahawks advance to the Divisional Round against the Carolina Panthers with a 10-9 victory. Here’s what we learned :
1. Walsh has been one of the NFL’s best kickers since he entered the league. When the score was 9-0, with Walsh having hit three field goals, he looked like one of the game’s MVPs. After hooking the potential winner, he will go down in Vikings history with kicker Gary Anderson for coming up short in a big spot. (Anderson missed a potential game-winner in the ’98 NFC Championship.) It appeared that the ball’s laces were facing Walsh, although that didn’t bother him on an earlier kick.
“I didn’t come through for us, and that hurts,” Walsh told NFL Network’s Stacey Dales after the game.
2. The kick shouldn’t distract us from the Seahawks‘ excellent comeback. They are getting to be old hands at fourth quarter comebacks in the NFC playoffs, scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson‘s performance was very reminiscent of last season’s NFC Championship Game. He struggled early and saved his best for last. His best play was an improvised 35-yard toss to Tyler Lockett on a play that should have been a 20-yard loss. He also escaped a few sacks and connected on key third downs after the Seahawks fell behind 9-0.
Wilson was late and short on a few vertical throws throughout the game. It was not his best performance. But the Seahawks have a knack for finding a way to win these games, anyway.
3. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s defense showed up in a big way. They held the league’s highest scoring offense down the stretch to 10 points and 226 yards. The weather was a factor, but so was Minnesota’s sure tackling and pressure from Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd. Linebacker Eric Kendricks was sensational and a revelation late in the year. Xavier Rhodes made big plays at cornerback and first-round pick Trae Waynes even stepped up.
4. Minnesota was the same team week after week. You knew what you were going to get: Suffocating defense and a mostly mistake-free offense. There is something to be said for consistency and a missed field goal should not detract from everything Zimmer built this season.
5. Adrian Peterson has another huge playoff letdown to live down. He put the ball on the ground three times in the 2009 NFC Championship game and his fourth-quarter fumble Sunday set up Seattle’s go-ahead field goal. The Seahawks loaded up to stop Peterson and they were successful, holding him to 45 yards on 23 carries. Peterson led all rushers with six fumbles in the regular season; it’s a legitimate problem. With the game in doubt, Jerick McKinnon was on the field because he is the better choice for passing downs.
6. Michael Bennett was the best player on the field for Seattle. It didn’t fully show up in the box score, but he wreaked havoc on the Minnesota offense all game.
7. Teddy Bridgewater played near error-free football most of the day. But this score helped show some of the limitations to Minnesota’s conservative approach. On a day when Peterson struggled, the Vikings should have let Bridgewater throw on early downs more. When Turner finally stopped running, Bridgewater immediately led them down the field to set up a chip-shot field goal.
8. Kam Chancellor could have been the goat for a penalty and a reception he gave up to Kyle Rudolph on Minnesota’s last drive. Instead Chancellor is the hero for forcing the Peterson fumble. It was a day that showed off the depth of the Seahawks‘ defense: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Bennett all took turns making plays preventing the Vikings from scoring a touchdown.