SEATTLE - A yard here, a play there, and the Vikings would be heading home from the Pacific Northwest with their first victory against Seattle since Brad Childress was their head coach. They would be back in the NFC playoff race at 2-3, heading home with a signature win and a growing reservoir of confidence.
These are the margins on which so many teams have based their laments over the past nine years at CenturyLink Field. They are the crevices through which Russell Wilson works a particular brand of magic with which, by now, the Vikings are all too familiar.
It’s why, instead of celebrating a prime-time victory against one of the NFC’s two remaining undefeated teams, they prepared for a long, disappointing flight home after a 27-26 loss in a building they undoubtedly would not care to see again for a while.
A commanding first half that saw the Vikings take a 13-0 lead through two quarters dissolved quickly, as Dalvin Cook injured his groin on their first play of the half and the Seahawks scored three third-quarter touchdowns aided by a pair of Kirk Cousins turnovers.
Then, when the Seahawks came down to their final fleeting chances, Wilson delivered twice, connecting with D.K. Metcalf for 39 yards on a fourth down and hitting him on another fourth down — a 6-yard TD pass with 15 seconds left — to give the Seahawks the victory.
It was the Vikings’ second one-point loss in three weeks, and sent them home at 1-4, before a Sunday game against a winless Falcons team that fired its coach and general manager Sunday.
The Vikings have now lost seven in a row to the Seahawks, including five in Seattle, in the nine seasons since the Seahawks drafted Wilson, the quarterback the Vikings’ former coaching staff badly wanted after coaching him in the 2012 Senior Bowl.
“We’ve just got to finish. One more play,” said wide receiver Adam Thielen, who caught TD passes of 3 and 6 yards in the second half. “Obviously you can go back and look at situations and wish you woulda coulda shoulda, but, man, one more play, one more yard, one more stop, things like that. It’s just we’re so close, and that’s probably why it’s so disappointing.”
The Vikings’ first two quarters were a fiery display of defensive mastery that put them in position to knock off the Seahawks. That lead dissolved in a third quarter full of turnovers, penalties and a concerning injury to their star running back.
With Cook in the locker room, the Vikings could do nothing with their first drive of the third quarter, and Russell Wilson followed that by hitting tight end Will Dissly for a touchdown as linebacker Eric Wilson fell down defending on the play.
On the next drive, guard Dru Samia’s holding penalty — his second of the night and third flag overall — put the Vikings in a second-and-long situation, and when Cousins tried to throw under pressure on third down, a Seahawks challenge showed Damontre Moore had knocked the ball out of Cousins’ hand before his arm came forward, turning an incomplete pass into a fumble the Seahawks recovered on the Vikings’ 15.
Wilson’s dart to Metcalf gave Seattle a 14-13 lead, and on the Vikings’ next offensive play, Cousins tried to fit a pass to Justin Jefferson over veteran Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright on a zone drop. Wright’s interception gave Seattle the ball on the Vikings’ 29, and Chris Carson sliced through the Vikings’ defense for a 29-yard TD on the next play.
Cousins responded by directing a touchdown drive that ended with a 3-yard TD to Thielen, but as the Vikings tried to tie the score at 21 on a two-point conversion, they opted for a Cousins draw behind Samia (who by that point had been flagged for a third holding penalty) that the Seahawks quickly snuffed.
“There’s options there, based on the look; I can make the decision [to run it],” Cousins said. “I saw an open A gap. I thought it was me and the safety at the goal line, and if I could just basically make contact with the goal line, they would call it for a [conversion].”
The Vikings’ first two defensive quarters were nothing short of immaculate. Their four-man rush beat Seattle’s dubious offensive line and put Wilson in a vise as the quarterback searched in vain for places to go downfield with the ball. A Vikings defense that had seven sacks in its first four games brought Wilson down four times, letting the Seahawks run only 18 plays that averaged 3.7 yards while holding the ball for 9:44.
Cousins completed 15 of his 21 passes for 140 yards in the first half. After he hit only four receivers the entire game in Houston last week, he completed passes to that many different players in the Vikings’ game-opening 77-yard touchdown march.
Minnesota lined up with heavy personnel, content to whip the Seahawks up front the way Seattle used to do to its opponents. The Vikings put fullback C.J. Ham on the line of scrimmage as an extra tight end, used tackle Rashod Hill as an extra lineman on a pair of plays and gave the ball to Cook 17 times for 65 yards.
It amounted to a tenuous 13-0 halftime lead that turned into an eight-point deficit following the Seahawks’ run of three touchdowns in 1:53 of game time.
Still, there was time for the Vikings to fight back — albeit without Cook, who would watch the rest of the game from the sideline after gingerly executing a play fake on Cousins’ interception.
In the fourth quarter, the Vikings turned to second-year back Alexander Mattison, whose physical forays into the Seahawks’ line netted him a career-high 112 yards during a game where the Vikings ran it 41 times and held the ball for more time (39 minutes, 28 seconds) than they ever have in a game under Mike Zimmer.
Ahead 26-21 after another Cousins-to-Thielen touchdown, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 6 with two minutes left. They lined up with three receivers on the field, before subbing in tight end Kyle Rudolph and fullback C.J. Ham.
A field goal, rather than the Vikings’ third fourth-down attempt of the night, would have given them an eight-point lead, but left Wilson with better field position for a final drive. Instead, Zimmer said to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak through his headset, “We didn’t come here for this. Let’s go win it.”
Mattison ran up the middle, instead of bouncing to the outside where Ham had sealed the edge, and was stuffed for no gain. Wilson drove the Seahawks 94 yards for the game-winning score.
Asked afterward if he had any regrets about the decision, Zimmer said, “I really don’t. We came here to win, so I’m not going to second-guess any of that stuff. We didn’t get it done. Everyone else will [second-guess it]. Let them.”
The decision typified a boldness the Vikings carried all night, and it was what had them believing afterward they were so close to turning their season around.
“When I look around our locker room, I don’t see guys who are a problem,” Cousins said. “And you would be surprised at how often that can be the case in a locker room where you have certain guys who just haven’t figured it out. In our locker room just as people the way they work, the way they serve their teammates, the way they play. Down to the very last guy, I just feel really good about our group.”
Against most quarterbacks, it would have been enough. The Vikings might know better than any team in the NFC — even the rival Green Bay Packers, who have experienced their own mythic trauma at CenturyLink Field — that Russell Wilson is not most quarterbacks.