If there ever was a game that encapsulated the experience of being a Vikings fan, it was Monday Night’s game in Seattle. The Vikings started out strong, leading the Seahawks by a touchdown, 17-10, at half-time after the offense got within field goal range with around a minute left in the half and went ahead by a touchdown. Considering they received the ball to start the second-half, things were looking up for the purple in one of the most inhospitable environments in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the other Vikings that we’ve all grown accustomed to showed up in the third-quarter. Everything that could’ve gone wrong, did, with a fumble on a play that injured running back Dalvin Cook to the point that he left the game and didn’t return (a play that also injured wide receiver Stefon Diggs), another off the helmet Cousins interception courtesy of Diggs later in the game, as well as a fake punt by the Seahawks when the Vikings defense showed some resiliency and stopped them in their own territory.
But, despite the close score, the defense had a terrible night. They gave up 444 yards of offense, including 218 yards on the ground. That’s especially disconcerting as the Vikings entered the game with the 6th ranked rushing defense in the league, with the secondary (namely Xavier Rhodes) being the week link. The Seahawks gained 16 of their 24 first downs on the ground, and often picked up near 10 yards on first down runs between the tackles. That’s even MORE troubling as usual run game clogger Linval Joseph was active for the game (although he wasn’t on the field nearly as often as usual as he’s still recovering from surgery).
The Seahawks also scored three touchdowns on the ground. That’s nearly double their season total, and makes you wonder if those numbers were a bit skewed because offenses were having such a field day exploiting the secondary/Rhodes in games past. Speaking of Rhodes, he had a nightmare of a night. He was targeted constantly by Russell Wilson and company, for good reason. He gave up a deep touchdown on a play that led to yet another sideline helmet throw, and he also negated what would’ve been the best play of the night for him by picking up a 15-yard penalty on a play that otherwise would’ve been a run for a decent loss of yardage.
While Rhodes did later kinda compensate for that (in his mind at least) by forcing a late fumble that almost turned the tide for the Vikings, it’s clear that the Vikings need to start limited Rhodes’ snaps as the season nears the playoffs. Then, Rhodes was injured early in the game, which that might explain how especially slow he looked on the 60-yard touchdown he gave up (and he might also blame the lack of safety help, but that was how the play was designed, so it’s not as if he hasn’t practiced it multiple times), he’s been a liability all season and considering the money he makes, the fact that Wilson was picking on him like a rookie with a torn ACL, speaks VOLUMES.
While some sites have said that Harrison Smith also struggled, he seemed fine, although he was injured in the fourth quarter of the Broncos game. The Vikings scored a defensive touchdown in the first half courtesy of one of the more bizarre plays you’ll ever see, as Russell Wilson attempted to bat a … Batted ball to the ground but instead tipped it directly to safety Anthony Harris, who returned it for a touchdown (giving the Vikings 14-points).
On offense, Cousins had an off-night (by his 2019 standards), but considering yet another strange offensive game plan from the powers that be on the Vikings sidelines, it’s hard to really blame him. He did have two touchdowns late in the game, one to a wide-open Laquon “I’m Not Dead Yet” Treadwell, and another beautiful, one-armed catch by underused tight end Kyle Rudolph. However, the Vikings seemingly went away from everything that has made them successful on offense thus far. There were very few plays that got Cousins out of the pocket (by design, at least), and the Vikings ran very few play-action plays as well. Instead, they looked to spread the Seahawks defense out (presumably to limit the amount of time the Seahawks’ three great linebackers were on the field), with too many shotgun plays.
While there’s value in doing things that the other team might not expect, at some point, you’re going to have to just do what you do well better than the other team. This isn’t the first time that the Vikings coaches have completely changed the way they typically do business against a good team/during a “big game”, and it’s hard to get encouraged about the playoffs when the Vikings keep getting “too cute” and essentially out scheming themselves.
I guess it’s encouraging that despite all the nonsense, the Vikings had a legitimate chance to come back in this game (against one of the best, if not the best, team(s) in the NFC). In the end, though, it was too little too late, even as the Vikings got to within four (thanks to a late missed extra point by the otherwise solid Dan Bailey). After a late field goal by the Seahawks, the Vikings had a chance for a hail mary or two. However, the Seahawks did the obvious and kicked the ball short. It was returned by fullback CJ Ham, who fumbled the return and ended the game.
The Vikings are now 8-4 and a game ahead of the Los Angeles Rams as the sixth-seed in the NFC. They also will need the Packers to lose to either the Redskins, Lions or Bears if they want to win the NFC North. But the reality is that they need to win out to ensure a playoff spot. Sound familiar?
Cook did tell reporters after the game that he injured his chest (or re-injured his chest, as he showed up on the injury report this week), and that he’ll “definitely be ready to go Sunday”. So, they got that going for them… right?