1. Wilson: red zone star
The guy whose red-zone interception lost Super Bowl XLIX in the closing seconds is still one of the best red-zone quarterbacks in NFL history. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson beat the Vikings 27-26 at CenturyLink Field on a Sunday night when he and his unbeaten team went 0-for-7 on third down. But they did so because Wilson was, well, Wilson once the ball was inside the Vikings 20-yard line. He went 3-for-3 with three touchdowns, two to D.K. Metcalf, including the last one on fourth-and-goal from the 6 with 15 seconds left. The 94-yard game-winning drive also featured a 39-yard completion to Metcalf on fourth-and-10. Since throwing that Super Bowl pick, Wilson has been picked off inside an opponent’s 20 only three times, including once by Eric Kendricks in 2018. Wilson has thrown 163 TD passes and eight interceptions in the red zone in 147 career games, including a 13-1 ratio this year.
2. Zimmer needed to gamble
The Vikings had converted just one of three fourth downs entering Sunday’s game. Coach Mike Zimmer was faced with three more Sunday night that he went for. The Vikings converted the first two on the opening two possessions, extending drives that ended with a touchdown, a field goal and a 10-0 lead. The third one will be debated for some time. With a chance to kick a 24-yard field goal for an eight-point lead, Zimmer went for it. Alexander Mattison, was stopped short on fourth-and-inches with about two minutes left. “That was a great situation to end the game,” receiver Adam Thielen said. Added Zimmer: “We needed half a yard to win it. We came here to win.” Zimmer’s right. Knowing Wilson, he was going to come back and tie the game anyway. Go for it.
3. ‘D’ plan works, for a half
Seattle came in averaging 35 points, with a season low of 31. The Seahawks went into halftime trailing 13-0. Zimmer’s plan to show a heavy dose of two-deep safeties surprised Wilson, helped Vikings rookie corners Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney and led to first-half sacks by four different players — Ifeadi Odenigbo, Eric Wilson, Yannick Ngakoue and rookie James Lynch, who was making his NFL debut. At halftime, Wilson had thrown for fewer than 50 yards while absorbing 27 yards in sacks. The plan was working. But when the Vikings offense slumped in the third quarter – going three-and-out, fumbling and throwing an interception on three straight possessions – Wilson pounced and the Seahawks scored three TDs in a span of 1:53. Then in the closing seconds, Dantzler gave up the 39-yard pass to Metcalf on fourth-and-10. Even good game plans tend not to work for four quarters against Wilson.
4. Do you like Elflein now?
Pat Elflein has taken a beating from fans and Pro Football Focus for a few years now. But people might be starting to ask when he’ll come off injured reserve after watching second-year pro Dru Samia try to handle Seattle’s tackles. Samia was flagged three times for holding. The first one came during a 17-play drive that stalled and resulted in a field goal not long after his holding call. The second one came on second-and-7, a couple plays before a strip sack of Cousins gave Seattle the ball at the Vikings 15. And the last one negated a 16-yard run by Mattison. Right tackle Brian O’Neill also was called for holding on second-and-6 from the Seattle 11. That was the drive that ended with Mattison being stopped on fourth-and-inches. If O’Neill doesn’t hold there, things could have ended differently. The Vikings had scored TDs on each of their first three trips into the red zone.
5. Protection falters
Talk about two – or three — different games. Cousins dropped back 22 times in the first half. He was pressured four times, including one sack. For the third time this season, the Vikings opened with a scoring drive. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak called seven passes and five runs. With good protection, Cousins completed five passes, including two to Irv Smith Jr. for 28 yards. Dalvin Cook had five of his 21 first-half touches for 20 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown in which he was barely touched. Cousins’ comfort zone ended in the second half as Seattle cranked up the pressure. A lost fumble and an ugly pick on back-to-back possessions handed Seattle two touchdowns. “We all have a sick feeling as we head back to Minnesota,” Cousins said after a second one-point loss to an undefeated team this season.
Mark Craig did not travel to Seattle for Sunday’s game. He wrote this account after watching the television broadcast and participating in interviews via videoconference.