Sunday, January 10, 2016

Notebook: Vikings end season with a heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Seattle

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Despite the sub-zero temperatures, Vikings fans braved the elements for the coldest game in Minnesota football history. They left with heartbreak as the Vikings dropped their NFC Wild Card playoff game, 10-9, on a missed field goal by kicker Blair Walsh.

Updated: January 10th, 2015 9:25pm

By: Daniel House

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, Vikings fans braved the elements for the coldest game in Minnesota football history. The temperature was -6 degrees at kickoff with a windchill below -20. This playoff matchup was reminiscent of the classic Vikings teams of the 1960's and 1970's. It was the first outdoor football game in Minnesota since the Vikings squared off with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game in 1976. To begin the contest, hall of fame head coach Bud Grant was the honorary captain for the coin toss. In honor of the cold temperatures, Bud flashed back to the days when he didn't allow his players to wear sleeves, stocking caps, or warmers. He dawned his classic Vikings coaching polo and walked out with the captains for the coin toss. It brought a touch of the iconic coach back to the field. Many fans in the stands remembered the days they spent watching Bud Grant coach the team to Super Bowls at Metropolitan Stadium. As the Vikings kicked off the playoffs, they had the inspiration of a man who used the cold as a home field advantage for his teams. It put the final touch on the last outdoor game the Vikings will play as an organization.

The current team came out firing on the defensive side of the ball and continually frustrated the Seahawks up front. They forced a three-and-out on Seattle's first possession, which was sparked by a dropped snap by punter Jon Ryan. The Vikings bottled him up and were awarded with good field position on the next drive. However, they couldn't take advantage and settled for a 22-yard field goal by Blair Walsh. A solid first half defensive performance held Seattle to just 98 total yards. They didn't score a point in a half for the first time since last year's NFC Championship game. The Vikings had all the momentum heading into halftime. They were controlling the Seahawks weapons, were winning the line of scrimmage, and prevented Russell Wilson from making big plays. Minnesota dominated every phase of the game in the first half.

To begin the second half, Trae Waynes corralled his first career interception off a tipped pass on fourth down. Again, all the Vikings could muster was a 43-yard field goal from Blair Walsh, which extended the lead to 6-0. On the next Seattle possession the Minnesota defensive line took over. Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd notched back-to-back sacks and the Seahawks were forced to punt again. The Vikings had great field position, but could only muster another 47-yard field goal from Blair Walsh to make the game 9-0 at the end of the third quarter. The final stanza of the game was where the Vikings lost this one. A snap flew over Russell Wilson's head, but he snatched it up and found Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard gain off the botched play. Cornerback Josh Robinson entered for injured cornerbacks Terence Newman and Trae Waynes and was beaten for a 3-yard touchdown from Wilson to Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks pulled within two points with over 11 minutes remaining. Adrian Peterson continued his struggles with ball security during the playoffs. Teddy Bridgewater found Peterson through the air for a gain of 8 yards, but he fumbled into the arms of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Seattle capitalized with a 46-yard field goal by Steven Haushcka and took a 10-9 lead with just over eight minutes remaining. A sack by Bobby Wagner on the next possession forced a Vikings punt and both teams booted it away on each of their next two drives. On the final drive of the game, the Vikings had the ball with a chance to win. Teddy Bridgewater found Kyle Rudolph up the sideline for a gain of 24 yards to the Seattle 18. The Vikings ran three more plays on the ground and lined Blair Walsh up for a 27-yard game-winning field goal attempt. The snap was high, the hold was backwards, and Walsh totally pushed the kick left. A

ll of the aggressiveness the Vikings displayed on defense was thrown down the drain with the swing of a leg. A nearly perfect performance was erased and the Vikings dropped a heartbreaker to the Seattle Seahawks, 10-9.

Minnesota heads into the offseason wondering what could have been. A young team with so much fight nearly pulled off a hard-fought win over the two-time NFC champions. A kick ended up being the difference and it continued to show how one or two plays can dictate the outcome of a game. The Vikings couldn't have played much better defensively and that makes it tough to swallow for players, coaches, and fans. All of the work from an 11-5 season came down to one missed kick -- that's the NFL.

Here's my final notebook of the 2015-16 season:

The defense was physical and aggressive 
Mike Zimmer couldn't have schemed the Seahawks any better for this game. Russell Wilson didn't extend any plays with his legs. He was kept inside the pocket and was forced to make the tough throws. He completed just 13 of his 26 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. He was sacked twice on back-to-back plays and finished the day with a 21.3 QBR. The one costly play for the Vikings defense came on a botched snap. The ball was snapped over Wilson's head and he managed to allude pressure to find Tyler Lockett for a gain of 35 yards.

Everson Griffen was dialed in from the start of the game. He never went to the sidelines during TV timeouts. Griffen stood on the field and amped himself up for the next set of plays. He reached Wilson once for a sack and forced a number of throwaways. Minnesota really did a great job of bringing backside pressure to cause Wilson to be more decisive. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and the linebackers and cornerbacks made some phenomenal plays in coverage. This was arguably the best Vikings defensive performance I've seen in years. However, a missed field goal put a damper on what would have been called a masterful performance for years to come.

Red zone offense is a continued problem
The Vikings were forced to kick three field goals when they approached the red zone. They get near the 20-yard line and seem to lose any sense of offensive identity. Running the ball becomes the philosophy and then long down situations squander drives. That's something that needs to be fixed this offseason. Adding a big-bodied playmaker is the first step in this process. It's tough to make things flow with a group of personnel that really doesn't fit what you're looking to do. This season, the Vikings had the eighth worst red zone touchdown scoring percentage (50%). Additionally, third down efficiency was another problem today. The Vikings were just 3-13 in those situations. They have issues in long down situations and simply cannot extend up the field. Teddy Bridgewater made most of the necessary throws as he finished 17-fo-24 with 146 passing yards. However, the offensive game plan waited until the fourth quarter to attack up the field. Yes, it was cold, but it's puzzling a deep shot wasn't attempted until the game was in a critical spot. The offense just is too inconsistent for this team to take the next step. Defensively, they're is solid enough to win games, but their offense is currently holding them back. Today it showed as the Vikings squandered critical opportunities to score touchdowns and put the game away.

Peterson's fumble shifts momentum
The Vikings had a chance to match the Seahawks score, but a fumble by Adrian Peterson stunted all the momentum. He hauled in a reception from Teddy Bridgewater through the air, gained eight yards, and fumbled the ball to Kam Chancellor. It led to a Seattle field goal that gave them the only lead they'd need. It's hard to imagine how different this game might have been if Peterson didn't fumble. This has been a reoccurring problem for Adrian in the playoffs. Peterson has three fumbles in five playoff games and can't seem to hang onto the ball in these situations. Sure, he's one of the greatest to ever wear an NFL uniform, but these types of mistakes have proven costly on more than one occasion.

Wilson was kept in check
The Vikings couldn't have done more to stop Russell Wilson. They brought backside pressure and caused headaches with five and six man rushes. He completed just 13 of his 26 passes and the aggressiveness the Vikings defense displayed really kept the Seattle offense in check. Both Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter did an excellent job of maintaining contain when they were on the field. The defensive line continued to rush Wilson as he left the pocket and swarmed him before he could make plays with his legs. The lone lapse came on the botched play to Lockett, but other than that, the Vikings defense played pretty unreal. Eric Kendricks had a couple great coverage plays and Anthony Barr added a few open field tackles. Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph bottled up Christine Michael as he rushed for just 70 yards on 21 carries. Not to mention, Harrison Smith broke up a Wilson pass that was a near touchdown to Doug Baldwin. This unit couldn't have brought any more discipline, physicality, or aggressiveness to the table -- they left it all on the field for the full 60 minutes.

Walsh's miss proves costly
Blair Walsh just cemented himself into Minnesota Vikings history and not within one he wanted to be a part of. Walsh's 27-yard missed field goal cost the Vikings a chance to continue in the playoffs. It totally washed away a dominating performance and left a huge scar on many people involved in the organization. Guys like Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, and Adrian Peterson don't know how many chances they'll ever get in the playoffs. Walsh pushed the kick, the laces were backwards on the snap, and everything went wrong. He nailed three kicks in this game, but managed to miss the most critical one of his career. Walsh was absolutely devastated in the locker room following the game. He was sobbing at his locker after his media availability session. However, he confronted the situation, took the blame, and acted extremely professional. Every encounter I've had with Blair Walsh has been positive. He's a true professional who cares about his job. Walsh made a huge mistake, but he is human. Before you start throwing him threatening Twitter messages, please remember that. His inconsistency was frustrating this season, but he won this team a few games too. With a lackluster red zone offense, Walsh managed to lead the league in field goal attempts. He went 37 for 43 on the season, but he simply couldn't mentally handle extra points and field goals inside 20-35 yards. This is a hard pill to swallow and Walsh needs to hit these chip shots in critical situations. A miss like this is downright unacceptable, but nothing can be done about it now.

The Vikings lost in heart breaking fashion, but there is plenty to be excited about moving forward. Fans today had the chance to experience something they'll never get the chance to do again. The Vikings played outdoor football for the final time in Minnesota, it was the coldest game in the history of the team, and became the third coldest contest in NFL history. This team scratched, clawed, and battled their way through every minute. They had a fighting chance when many people didn't give them a shot. This squad defied all the odds in 2015 with one of the youngest teams in the league. The passion Mike Zimmer exhibits and instills in his players is infectious. Another draft class, a new stadium in 2016, and an additional year of development, leave the Vikings with a bright future ahead.

Today might have ended in a way that leaves you frustrated, but there is more light at the end of the tunnel than there ever has been with this organization.

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