SEATTLE – After their attempt at a frantic comeback fell short at CenturyLink Field on Monday night, the Vikings used their rally as their rallying cry.
Players found hope in the fight they had shown against one of two 10-win teams in the NFC, in two fourth-quarter touchdowns they produced without key injured offensive players Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Riley Reiff, and in their effort to snatch a victory from a Seahawks team that rarely loses at home in prime time.
“I just hope everybody in this locker room holds their head up high,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We could be back here in a month.”
The Vikings’ desire for a playoff run could indeed hinge on their ability to beat contenders such as Seattle in games like the one the Vikings lost 37-30. Their optimism could perhaps be traced to the idea that some of their problems were of their own making. The Seahawks, though, aren’t likely to yield at home — which means the Vikings will have to reach a level they couldn’t find Monday.
They allowed 444 yards, including 218 on the ground, to a team content to line up with an extra offensive lineman and dare the Vikings to stop them. Seattle’s longest run was a 29-yard gain from Travis Homer on a fake punt; its next-longest saw Chris Carson gain 25 yards after D.J. Fluker put Linval Joseph on his back and Germain Ifedi worked up to Eric Wilson.
The Vikings gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass to David Moore on a play that led to a shouting match between cornerback Xavier Rhodes and coach Mike Zimmer, and had multiple turnovers for the second consecutive game after committing one in their previous four.
The defeat dropped the Vikings to 8-4, a game behind the Packers in the NFC North and two behind the 49ers for the conference’s top wild-card spot.
“Everybody acts like this is the end of the world — it’s not the end of the world,” Zimmer said. “We lost one game tonight. We’re 8-4; we’ve got four games left, three division games. So this isn’t the end of the world. We’ve still got a lot of good football left to play.”
The Vikings cobbled together a passing game with Thielen out because of a hamstring injury, emptying their backfield after lining up with three tight ends on the field, throwing screens to C.J. Ham and effectively making tight end Irv Smith their slot receiver. Their first touchdowns came on a deflected pass Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson then batted out of the air to Anthony Harris, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, and a 58-yard Laquon Treadwell score off a busted coverage.
Stefon Diggs caught only four of his nine targets for 25 yards, but Kirk Cousins led the Vikings within 34-30 on a TD pass to Rudolph with seven minutes remaining before Dan Bailey missed an extra-point kick. The Bailey miss and the fake punt preceded Ham’s fumble on a kickoff return in the last minute, on a rough night for the Vikings’ special teams. Cousins threw a fourth-quarter interception that Tre Flowers corralled after Diggs bobbled it, and Cook lost a fumble on the play where he aggravated a chest/shoulder injury he sustained two weeks ago.
But the Vikings defense had its fair share of issues, too, giving up 24 unanswered points after taking a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. On Wilson’s touchdown throw to Moore, Rhodes finished the play looking back in amazement, apparently expecting downfield help. He threw his helmet after a heated exchange with Zimmer, and stormed down the sideline after the play as linebacker Anthony Barr tried to talk to him.
“I’m not going to explain what was supposed to happen. We had a bust in the coverage,” Zimmer said. When he was asked about Rhodes’ episode, he said, ”We’ve got to control our emotions a lot better than that.”
Rhodes declined to talk to reporters, saying, “I’m already out the door.”
The door hasn’t closed on the Vikings’ division title hopes quite yet, but they will realistically need to win out while hoping the Packers lose another game to the Redskins, Bears or Lions. If the Vikings’ playoff path finds them on the road, their survival will hinge on more consistency than they showed Monday.
“We played well in the first half,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t play well in the second half. We made too many mistakes. We didn’t play the running game as well defensively tonight, so that played a factor in it. We just have to continue to get better.”