The best team won.
The team that gained more yards? They won.
The team that held the league's best running back to 45 yards on 23 carries? They won.
The team that fought back from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit on the road not only in a hostile environment, but in one unfit for human habitation? They won.
The team with the better quarterback, whose improvisational skills turned a broken play into a season-saving masterpiece? They won.
The team with the receiver that did this? They won.
The team with the future Hall-of-Fame safety who did this? They won.
Sure, Blair Walsh should have made that kick. But that miss didn't take place on a holodeck. It happened in the most pressure-packed of situations- and not long after Richard Sherman came within nanometers of blocking an earlier kick. Snapper, holder and kicker were all likely thinking about that. The entire battery felt the weight of that moment. And they collapsed, burying Minnesota's season in frigid, jagged rubble.
The popular imagination wants to distill the entire result down to that single moment, ignoring what the Seahawks did in order to be up by one with seconds remaining. The only Minnesota points on Sunday came after Seahawks miscues set the Vikings up with great field position. It would have been ridiculously easy for any visiting team playing in Sunday's inhumane, laughable conditions to fold after what befell the Seahawks early on. Lesser teams could have reacted to ANY ONE of a botched punt, a failed 4th-down conversion, or a 3rd-quarter drive-killing interception with slow-motion surrender. ALL THREE of those things happened to the Hawks, on top of their superstar running back (Marshawn Lynch) suddenly taking himself out of the starting line up on Friday.
Negative six degrees. Down by nine. No Beast. No hope, right?
There was a moment where even I thought "Shit. It's over." Early 4th quarter. The shotgun snap flies right past Russell Wilson's head and skitters 15 yards in the wrong direction. The prudent play? Fall on the ball. Even that probably would have been a drive-killer, and would have ended up burning precious minutes off the clock before Seattle got the ball back. With FIVE Vikings defenders closing, RW3 got up off the ground, scrambled right, and fired a pass downfield to Tyler Lockett an instant before getting absolutely blasted. 35-yard gain. Seattle was in position to score the games's lone touchdown. After Wilson once again found Doug Baldwin in the end zone, the Hawks were within 2.
The Vikings decided to rely on their one true superstar to close out the win. They went to Adrian Peterson on the next two plays. Peterson is one of the best rushing talents the NFL has ever seen, but for the 2nd time in just over a month, he was absolutely embarrassed by the Legion of Boom. Kam Chancellor straight-up stole the ball out of Peterson's grip and set up Seattle for the go-ahead field goal (a 46-yarder absolutely DRILLED by Steven Hauschka- with assists from Clint Gresham and a bloodied-but unbowed Jon Ryan).
The teams traded punts until the final two minutes. One more defensive stop would send the Seahawks to Charlotte for the NFC Divisional Playoff. Then a questionable pass interference call against Kam. Then Chancellor got beat by Kyle Rudolph to set the Vikings up well within Blair Walsh's range. I sank. I fell silent. I started composing the blogging equivalent of a concession speech in my head. The best-case scenario felt like getting the ball back with 20 seconds left and no time-outs. No chance.
But the defense realized something I didn't: If they allowed a touchdown, defeat would be ensured. Hold them to a field goal try, and there was some tiny probability of survival. One last time, the Seattle defenders rose up, and they stopped Peterson just short of the sticks on 3rd down. Next, the formality of Walsh's winning kick.
Here's a great article about why Walsh missed... The images will stay stamped into our brainpans forever: Sherm collapsed on the field. John Schneider kissing Pete Carroll and all but saying "Keep it. It suits you." Mike Morgan sprinting, arms splayed outward, in triumph. Michael Bennett standing in stunned silence after perhaps the best performance of his dominant career.
Victory. Once again, Pete Carroll's Seahawks found some way to win when most of America was watching. For reference, here I am before the game, compared to right after Walsh's miss:
I've seen some crazy shit in my 32 years of Twelving. I've seen last second wins at Arrowhead. I've seen Jay Feeley miss FOUR field goals in the 4th quarter and OT. I've seen Romo drop the snap. I've seen BeastQuakes. I've seen the greatest 4th-quarter comeback in NFC Championship Game history. If these Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl, Walsh's miss will go down as one of the most important moments in franchise history... But NEVER forget this: This was a game the Seahawks RICHLY deserved to win.
It's off to North Carolina to play the Paper Panthers, who have seemed ripe for a beatdown for the last few weeks. Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Lane didn't play when Charlotte edged us back in October, and Seattle's offense wasn't the mutant juggernaut it evolved into over the second half of the season.
I'm ready for this. So are the Seahawks. It will be a meat-grinder of a game, and a stomach-churning three-plus hours for all us 12s- But Seattle will survive and advance. Why?
Because the best team is going to win.
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