By Gregg BellBlack Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Shank you very much.
Richard Sherman just collapsed on the turf, too shocked to do anything else. All around him, Seahawks ran around like they’d just stolen something.
Minnesota had driven down the field with the season on the line to get into position for Blair Walsh to win Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game with a 27-yard field goal. That’s 6 yards shorter than an extra point. And Walsh had already made all three of his kicks, including one from 48 yards, in the subzero air.
But this time, with his holder Jeff Locke failing to spin the laces away as kickers prefer, Walsh shanked it wide left with 26 seconds remaining.
That’s how Seattle rallied with 10 points in the final quarter then held on for 10-9 victory over some stunned Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium.
The improbable – almost impossible – finish sends the Seahawks (11-6) on to top-seeded Carolina (15-1) in the divisional round next Sunday at 10:05 a.m. Pacific Time.
Sunday game-time temperature was minus-5, with a 12-mph wind creating a wind chill of minus-25.
That made it the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history, behind the 1967 “Ice Bowl” NFL title game between the Cowboys and Packers in Green Bay in 1967 and the Chargers-Bengals 1982 AFC championship in Cincinnati (minus-9, with a wind chill of minus-59).
Russell Wilson struggled all day in almost inhumane temperatures, endangering the Seahawks’ season. Then he made two, immortal plays to save it.
Wilson stayed almost miraculously poised after a shotgun snap for which he wasn’t ready sailed over his head early in the fourth quarter Sunday in this NFC wild-card playoff for the ages. Seattle’s unflappable quarterback saved that ball, then found Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard catch and run that set up his 4-yard pass to Doug Baldwin for this frozen game’s first touchdown.
Then, down 9-7, Wilson kept his wits with a Vikings pass rusher pulling him down for what was about to be a sack that could have pushed Seattle out of field-goal range. Wilson dragged the defender outside the tackle box before he chucked the ball into the sideline, avoiding an intentional-grounding foul that would have made a field goal impossible.
Instead, Wilson’s grit allowed Steven Hauschka to kick the go-ahead field goal from 46 yards with just over 8 minutes left.
Safety Kam Chancellor set up the winning points by stripping Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson of the ball after a catch. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin recovered the fumble.
Chancellor then got flagged for pass interference on Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph then allowed Rudolph the long catch and run to get the Vikings in position for their final, fateful field-goal miss.
The Vikings started drives at or past midfield three times as the result of Seahawks mistakes. That’s how Minnesota got all of its points.
The third came late in the third quarter. Derrick Coleman had Minnesota punt returner Marcus Sherels corralled in Vikings territory. But then Coleman grabbed Sherels’ face mask. That 15-yard foul resulted in Minnesota starting its drive at the Seattle 48.
And that resulted in the Vikings’ third field goal, from 48 yards by Walsh that sliced through the subzero air.
The game’s only score of the first half, a short field goal by Walsh, came after Seattle’s only huge mistake of the first two quarters. Clint Gresham dribbled a grounded snap back to Jon Ryan. The athletic Ryan deftly avoided the only punt-rusher in the backfield and had time to reload and punt. Instead, the contestant on television’s fit “American Ninja Warrior” last spring boldly tried to run the 7 yards for the first down. He got 4 then face-planted into the turf hurdling a Viking.
Seattle’s defense held again on the turnover on downs at its own 29, forcing the field goal.
The extreme cold was why coach Pete Carroll decided not to try a 48-yard field goal on fourth and 13 from the Vikings 30 in the second quarter with Minnesota leading 3-0. He chose to pass instead, and Fred Jackson caught a short one then got tackled well short of the first-down line.
The cold also affected Wilson on what would have been the Seahawks’ go-ahead touchdown just before halftime. The Seahawks got to the Minnesota 39 on a third-down pass-interference call when cornerback Xavier Rhodes tackled Tyler Lockett well before Wilson’s long pass arrived. On the next third down, Doug Baldwin broke free to the goal line 5 yards behind any Viking. But Wilson’s throw skewed oddly up as it left his hand then fluttered. That allowed two Vikings to get back to Baldwin and break up the pass. Seattle punted and the half ended with the Seahawks still down 3-0.
It was the first time the Seahawks had been shut out in a first half since the 2014 regular-season finale against St. Louis. Seattle had 86 yards at halftime, to 99 for the Vikings.