• Richard Sherman was right to immediately hit his knees and bow down. The Seattle cornerback knew the football gods had been kind to him and the rest of his relieved Seahawks teammates, and it required homage to be paid. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh had converted 33 of 34 field goal attempts shorter than 30 yards in his career before lining up for that game-winning 27-yard try with 22 seconds remaining. Then he missed it. Badly. A shank for the ages.
Could a third straight Super Bowl trip for Seattle be sparked by such a fortuitous failure? The Seahawks somehow survived 10–9 at frigid Minnesota on Sunday, and that can’t be the scenario for which the rest of the NFC was rooting. The two-time defending conference champs are still alive, and perhaps now they will be fueled by the lucky break they had no right to even dream of getting.
If nothing else, this improbable Seattle victory will serve to reignite that belief among the Seahawks that something is at work here. Something big. Something along the lines of football fate. Maybe not since Tony Romo bobbled away that perfect snap on a chip-shot game-winning field goal try in the 2006 postseason has a Seattle playoff game ended more happily and unexpectedly for the team.
These Seahawks do make things interesting, don’t they? They never make it easy on themselves. Think of their past three postseason games: The 16-point fourth-quarter rally to stun Green Bay in overtime in the NFC championship game; the 10-point fourth-quarter lead they blew in the Super Bowl, with Malcolm Butler’s goal line interception crushing their own comeback; and now Sunday’s wild turn of events, being shut out for three quarters and then storming back to take a 10–9 lead, only to dodge one last threat. It was the fourth time Seattle won a playoff game under Pete Carroll after trailing by at least nine points.
The last playoff game the Seahawks won comfortably came in last year’s NFC divisional round, at home against Carolina, a 31–17 win. Which brings us neatly to their next challenge, a trip to the No. 1 seeded Panthers for next Sunday’s NFC Divisional game. Seattle will be the underdogs this time, and looking to avenge one of its worst losses of the regular season, when it blew a 23–14 fourth-quarter lead and lost 27–23 to visiting Carolina in Week 6. Cam Newton found tight end Greg Olsen from 26 yards out for the game-winning touchdown inside the final minute of that game, ending the Panthers’ five-game losing streak to Carroll’s Seahawks.
While this is the best Panthers team Seattle has ever faced, the Seahawks will enter with the confidence that they can compete with 15–1 Carolina, and perhaps are strengthened by their near-death experience on Sunday in the ice box that was Minneapolis.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is known for his knack for finding a way, and this Seattle team has reflected his resourcefulness for most of the second half of the season. Even before Walsh missed his game-deciding gimme, Wilson had a fourth-quarter Houdini act of his own, when a shotgun snap sailed past him, but he still had the composure to go to the ground to scoop it up, elude two pass rushers and then find Tyler Lockett downfield for a 35-yard pass that set up Seattle’s only touchdown of the game.
Wilson’s what-did-I-just-see type of play helped Seattle cut Minnesota’s lead to 9–7, and started the Seahawks on their way to an unlikely victory. How far they go from here could wind up being the story of the NFC playoffs. Maybe Sunday’s good fortune in Minnesota was the first step in a three-peat that will prove a tougher task than either of Seattle previous two Super Bowl runs. But who knows, that first big break might be all the Seahawks end up needing.
• Blair Walsh’s excruciating wide left will be the one-sentence memory of Minnesota’s missed opportunity against Seattle, but Adrian Peterson’s fumbling problem is one of the main reasons the Vikings are going home and the Seahawks are moving on. Peterson saw Seattle safety Kam Chancellor strip him of the ball on an 8-yard fourth-quarter reception, and the Seahawks used that turnover to convert a long field goal and seize the 10–9 lead that eventually became the winning margin. When the best player on your team makes a mistake that proves that costly, it’s difficult to pin the entire defeat on the kicker, even if a 27-yarder has to be automatic in the NFL. Peterson’s fumbling has been his high-profile flaw all season, and it just helped end Minnesota’s year, and deny the Vikings their first playoff win since the 2009 NFC Divisional round.