SEATTLE - As the Vikings prepared to fly east through the night, after one of their more ignominious defeats in recent memory, they were still in position for a wild-card berth by virtue of the Week 2 tie in Green Bay that gave them a half-game lead over their challengers for the final NFC playoff spot.
The designation will be of little comfort, though, after a 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that laid bare all of the questions about the Vikings’ postseason worthiness that have been simmering for months.
Before Kirk Cousins dropped back eight times in the final three minutes, when the Vikings were down by two touchdowns, they ran the ball on 21 of 48 offensive plays, rendering moot the now-familiar debates about offensive balance that flared up again after last week’s loss to the Patriots. It took a Cousins-to-Dalvin Cook 6-yard TD pass with 1 minute, 17 seconds left to help them avoid their first shutout since a 34-0 loss to Green Bay in 2007.
The Vikings are clinging to the NFC’s No. 6 seed at 6-6-1, a half-game ahead of 6-7 clubs such as Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington. They will head home to face the 7-6 Dolphins on Sunday, before finishing the season with division games against Detroit and Chicago. The loss puts the Vikings 2½ games behind the Bears in the NFC North race, all but assuring their only path to the playoffs is as a wild card.
If the Vikings reach the postseason that way, playing on the road in January, they’ll go in looking for a victory over a quality opponent after they came up far short in a chance to secure such a win on Monday night.
For much of the night, the Vikings were simply unable to execute on offense, with Cousins searching for places to go with the ball as the Seahawks double-teamed both receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. They converted two of 10 third downs, with their first pickup of the game coming on a third-quarter Cousins sneak in the middle of a stretch where they’d thrown on four of five third downs of 4 yards or fewer.
Then, when the Vikings did line up to run it on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, putting two tight ends on the field and fullback C.J. Ham in front of Latavius Murray, they were stuffed for no gain as three Seahawks defenders broke into the Vikings’ offensive backfield.
Since they scored 37 against the New York Jets on Oct. 21, the Vikings have failed to put up more than 24 points in a game.
Asked how they can fix the offense, coach Mike Zimmer said, “That’s a good question: Keep at it, keep trying to find things that we’re good at. We didn’t score very many points tonight; we didn’t score very many points last week. Part of it is being better on third downs. We haven’t really done a good job there. Part of it’s being better in the red zone; we had the ball on the 2-yard line, didn’t score. When you do that, you’re not going to score very many points.”
Their defense faced a Seahawks unit that paid little more than lip service to the idea of balance, running 42 times and throwing only 20. Quarterback Russell Wilson, whose seven runs included a game-breaking 40-yard gain in the fourth quarter, threw for only 77 yards in the game, lofting an ill-advised pass back across the middle of the field that Eric Kendricks intercepted at the end of the first half.
But Seattle gained 214 yards on its 42 attempts, joining San Francisco in 2015 and Carolina in 2017 as the only teams to run for more than 200 yards on a Zimmer defense.
“I know it was a lot of yards, but the quarterback had ,” Zimmer said. “One runner [Rashaad Penny] we had bottled up, and he ran back the other way. That was probably a [17-yard] run. Early in the game, they had a lot of second-and-5s, and after halftime, it was second-and-8, second-and-9. Honestly, I didn’t think we played the ball that bad. They’re a good-running football team, and he [Chris Carson] is a good, hard-running back. So if you don’t get in there and be physical with him, they’re going to gain some yards.”
The Vikings are now 2-4-1 on the road, with their only victories coming against the Eagles and Jets. If they reach the playoffs, they will do so without a road victory over a winning team — something only six of the NFL’s 32 conference championship game participants have gone without in this decade.
What the Vikings could do if they reach the postseason, however, is a question probably best left for another day. On Monday night, they again looked unsure if they know how to get there.
“We just need a spark, and we need it fast,” Thielen said. “I think we have a bunch of fighters on this whole team, and we have a bunch of guys on this offense that want to win and want to make plays. We haven’t found that rhythm, but it’s there. It’s there. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”