Right on cue, the Seahawks found a way to win on a Monday night in December. The 21-7 triumph over the Vikings almost has assured a return to the playoffs.
The previous game, the Seahawks scored a season-high 43 points. Monday night, they had three points entering in the fourth quarter. They won both games.
Beautiful or brutal, the Seahawks seem to have a knack. After an 0-4 preseason and an 0-2 start to the regular season, exactly no one expected them to have a feel for winning games sufficient to make the 2018 NFL playoffs.
Not without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Then Earl Thomas went down. Now K.J. Wright is hurt. And the Seahawks gave away for nothing good veteran defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Tom Johnson, who returned with the Minnesota Vikings with mad-ons. For good (bad?) measure, injuries kept out two key offensive starters, WR Doug Baldwin and RG D.J. Fluker.
None of that mattered. In a game that sometimes seemed as futile as raking a forest, they had the knack. The ungainly 21-7 triumph (box) over the Vikings (6-6-1) — who for reasons unclear to football’s forensic scientists, are still current holders of the final NFC wild-card berth — established that the disbelievers in September were fools.
“I was kinda trying to tell you guys at the beginning of the season that we had a lot of confidence,” said LB Bobby Wagner, for the second week in a row a maker of spectacle. “We started 0-2, had a lot of ups and downs that’s part of growth when you have young guys who need to learn the good and bad.
“If you have all good (to start), then they won’t know what to do during the bad. We got the bad early, which kinda helped us grow a little faster.”
How fast have the 8-5 Seahawks grown? A win Sunday against the 3-10 49ers in Santa Clara assures them of a playoff berth, no matter what other teams do — with two weeks left in the season.
Here’s another way to measure growth, courtesy of Minnesota’s Adam Thielen, who entered the game as the NFL’s leading receiver and had a modest five catches for 70 yards, none until midway through the third quarter.
“That’s a great defense,” he said. “They’re flying around. They’re rushing the passer. They’re creating havoc at all levels of their defense. They’re playing at a high level.”
He sounded more like Pete Carroll than Pete Carroll. Warrior that he is, the Seahawks coach rose to the hyperbole challenge.
“I loved the way (the defense) played,” he said. “They played so hard and so spirited. Just some beautiful football. Not the kind of football that everybody loves, but the kind of football that we love.
“I love winning here in this situation, Monday night (where they are an NFL-best 24-10). Just a lot of good, fun stuff tonight.”
Rarely is the word glee associated with a 67-year-old man. But that’s what it was.
Especially when it came to the game’s pivot point.
With 5:46 left, the Vikings were about to halve the Seahawks’ 6-0 lead with a 47-yard field goal when Wagner leaped the line and blocked the attempt. Seven plays and 64 yards later, the offense scored its only touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion. A tense, coarse affair had blown open.
“This was special because of where the game was at — 6-0,” said Wagner, who the week before turned in the longest pick-six (98 yards) in Seahawks history. “We get the block, we go down and score. It’s the difference between 14-0 and 6-3.
“When I did it in practice, I was pretty fresh. In the fourth quarter, with five minutes left, I was just making sure I got over. Their line was pretty low, and coach liked my (vertical jump).”
Carroll was quick to credit assistant coaches Brian Schneider and Larry Izzo with spotting the vulnerability in the Vikings’ protection.
“They came to me and said, ‘Hey look, we think we have something,'” he said. “That was a great find by those guys.”
Since the last time Wagner blocked a field goal against Arizona, the rules were changed to disallow a run-up, and to ban using crouched players as leverage for a leap. A penalty flag was thrown but picked up after officials conferred.
“They were trying to say, ‘You can’t do that,’ and I’m saying, ‘You can, as long as you start on the line.’ As soon as they thought about it, they said, ‘You right.’
“I said my piece and walked away. That’s what I’m rolling with.”
Once Wagner did his thing, it was up to his offensive counterpart in game-changing, Wilson, to do his part. Two plays after Wagner’s block, Wilson had the Seahawks’ longest play, a 40-yard option keeper, huffing past 300-pound DT Danielle Hunter down the sideline to help set up RB Chris Carson’s two-yard run.
Wilson ended up with a career-low passer rating of 37.9 (10 of 20 for 72 yards and one gruesome interception just before halftime), but it didn’t matter because the ground game produced 214 yards and a 5.1 yard average.
Carroll was ecstatic. Again.
“The (Vikings) had only been giving up 90 yards a game rushing, and we rushed for over 200 yards,” he said. “That’s something to be proud of. It was hard to do, and our guys knocked it out.”
On defense, the Seahawks often went to a scheme of seven defensive backs to counter the short passing game of QB Kirk Cousins. As important, all defenders tackled well in the open field, something sorely lacking in the previous game against the 49ers.
“We closed on stuff way better than we have,” Carroll said. “We’ve kind of been sporadic, but it was very consistent.
“Really, it’s a good statement starting off this fourth quarter of the season to play like that on defense.”
The broader statement is that the Seahawks have a knack for winning in a variety of ways with a variety of players. Including throwing a pass to 320-pound tackle-eligible George Fant for a nine-yard gain.
We’d tell you what Carroll said, but the needle on the civic giddy-meter already has been pinned.