MINNEAPOLIS — Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks needed more than three quarters to warm up at Minnesota, their quest to avenge last year’s Super Bowl loss nearly frozen before it began.
The Vikings, after gritting through this grind-it-out wild-card round playoff game, booted their chance to beat the two-time defending NFC champions. Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field goal try into the frigid wind hooked left with 22 seconds remaining, handing the Seahawks a 10-9 victory over the stunned Vikings on a Sunday in below-zero weather that tied for the third-coldest NFL game on record.
"A lot of people would’ve folded up and said, ‘That’s it,’ but we’ve got a team full of fighters," Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The Seahawks (11-6) didn’t score until Russell Wilson’s short touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin early in the fourth quarter. Then, a fumble by Adrian Peterson for the Vikings on the next possession set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka.
The Vikings (11-6) took the ball for the deciding drive with 1:42 left at their 39 and, aided by a pass interference penalty on Kam Chancellor, drove deep into Seattle's territory. After draining the clock for the seemingly inevitable win, Walsh simply missed the winner after making all three of his earlier attempts.
"That's called grace," Chancellor said. "That's all it is."
Seattle will play next weekend at Carolina, where the Panthers had a first-round bye in balmy mid-50s weather.
"I think we were fortunate that we got the win," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "A lot of those times, guys make those kicks. There's a high percentage that they make them, but you've still got to do it."
Walsh didn't hide. Holder Jeff Locke had the laces turned in, not out, but there were no excuses to be made.
"You're confident, but you never think that you have it or take it for granted," Walsh said, subdued with glassy eyes in the locker room afterward. "I just didn't put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody's standards."
Huddled around sideline heaters and wearing huge capes on the shaded side of the stadium, the Seahawks were subdued themselves for much of the game. Trailing 9-0 at the 13-minute mark, Wilson nearly took a huge loss on first down when he fumbled a shotgun snap he wasn't ready for. But the guy Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called "Houdini" during the week darted right, dodged a sack and found Tyler Lockett wide open for a 35-yard completion to set up the score to Baldwin.
"Just tried to extend the play," said Wilson, who went 13 for 26 for 142 yards. "Find a way."
Chancellor, who ripped the ball away from Peterson that Ahtyba Rubin recovered, missed a tackle on tight end Kyle Rudolph's 24-yard reception that let the Vikings advance to the 18 with 1:26 left. But Peterson's next three carries left the Vikings a yard short of the first down. Walsh, whose third kick was nearly blocked by Sherman, jogged out for the defining moment. And the Seahawks were suddenly celebrating an improbable win, not unlike their rally past Green Bay in the NFC championship game last year.
"It's a chip shot," Zimmer said. "He's got to make it."
The Seahawks left their last visit to Minnesota with a 38-7 victory, pure domination on both sides of the ball that left no doubt that Dec. 6 afternoon they'd be a legitimate contender to reach their third straight Super Bowl even without the ear-splitting advantage of their home by the bay at CenturyLink Field.
For all their skills, experience and swagger, though, the combination of these conditions and a well-prepared, embarrassed-by-the-previous-performance Vikings team proved to be quite the challenge.
This was a fittingly frigid finish for Minnesota's two-year stint outdoors at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium during construction of the new covered downtown stadium. For the first au naturel post-season game here since the NFC championship game in 1976, the grizzled coach of that team, Bud Grant, served as an honorary captain. He strolled out for the coin flip in a Vikings cap and a purple short-sleeved polo shirt, looking ready for a round of golf.
The 88-year-old Grant got a roar of approval from the crowd, most of which was dressed in as many layers as those purple replica jerseys would allow. The announcement of the minus-25 degree wind chill factor a few minutes later drew an equally loud cheer.
Every mistake and break was magnified in a game like this, and the Vikings benefited for the majority of the first three quarters.
Punter Jon Ryan had to pick up a low snap on Seattle's first possession and, avoiding a potential block, tried to run up the middle before being upended by Jason Trusnik well shy of the first down. Ryan landed on his face, breaking and bloodying his nose, and the Vikings turned the shortened field into their first field goal.
Wilson, who led the NFL in passer rating after racking up a remarkable 24 touchdown passes with only one interception over the last seven games, was essentially reduced to a scrambler in the deep freeze.
Facing the wind in the second quarter, he had Baldwin wide open behind the safeties at the goal line, but the ball hung in the air and was easily batted down. Headed the same direction toward the open end of the stadium in the third quarter, Wilson overthrew Chase Coffman, and Trae Waynes intercepted the deflected pass to set the Vikings up for another field goal. Cliff Avril's roughing-the-passer penalty gifted Minnesota 15 yards on that drive.
NOTES: Previous record cold games for each franchise: Vikings, minus-2 degrees (Dec. 3, 1972, vs. Chicago). Seahawks, 16 degrees (Dec. 3, 2006, at Denver). ... Lockett's catch (35 yards) was the longest play of the game, followed by Rudolph's reception (24 yards).