MINNEAPOLIS, Minn–I love football, something that has made the Titans lack of playoff appearances all the worse. So last week came and I got an official e-mail from the Minnesota Vikings detailing how plenty of good seats remained for their home playoff game against Seattle. It was the first outdoor playoff game in Minnesota since 1976 and with the new U.S. Bank Stadium set to open in August at the site of the old Metrodome, it was sure to be the last for at least another 40 years.
I knew it was going to be a cold one. It was only once we arrived at our seats and the game kicked off that we discovered just how cold it was: -6 degrees for the 3rd coldest game in NFL history. The temperature would only get as ‘high’ as -2 on into the afternoon.
What I learned about football below zero is that you just cannot do very much at all. Passing is next to impossible and kicking is difficult, the footballs themselves get frozen and do not travel through such cold air well. Footing is difficult in extreme cold, from trouble keeping feet and legs warm to the painted lines on the field being icy. So each team’s play-books were greatly reduced, and two excellent defenses ruled the day. With the conditions taking such a toll, playing at anywhere near a high level is impossible, so even more than usual this game was decided on mistakes.
A mishandled snap by Seahawks punter Jon Ryan led to a Vikings field goal and a 3-0 lead. A Seahawks interception and subsequent roughing penalty led to another Vikings field goal and a 6-0 lead. A horse collar tackle and later pass interference penalty by the Seahawks led to yet another Vikings field goal and a 9-0 advantage early in the fourth quarter. But Minnesota was limited to just field goals, keeping Seattle in the game. Adrian Peterson never got untracked, with only 45 yards on 23 carries for the day. The legendary ‘Legion of Boom’ was laying the boom, and Minnesota only managed 183 total yards. Then, Russell Wilson created a little magic.
First, Wilson found Kevin Smith for 14 yards. Next, he hit Christine Michael out of the backfield for 14 more, with his legs keeping the play alive. Then, a shotgun snap over his head, and Wilson slides to collect the ball, pops up, buys time, then finds Tyler Lockett wide open over the middle. Lockett goes sideline and runs to the Vikings four for 35 yards. It changed everything. Two plays later, Wilson hit an open Doug Baldwin for an easy three-yard TD to make it 9-7 followed by another cold weather mistake.
Adrian Peterson caught a pass from Teddy Bridgewater, then fumbled fighting for extra inches. Seattle recovered at the Minnesota 40. Steven Hauschka nailed a 46-yard kick to put Seattle ahead 10-9 with 8:04 left. Minnesota had one final chance in the final two minutes, with a controversial interference penalty for 19, Bridgewater hitting Kyle Rudolph for 24, and the Vikings were set up.
But kicker Blair Walsh has always been a head case, making the difficult kicks while missing simple ones. With four extra points this season, you knew the 27-yarder to win was far from a ‘gimme.’ The snap was perfect, but the hold was not. With laces not turned away, Walsh missed the kick badly, and the Vikings season was over. The Seahawks advance to meet Carolina and no one will ever forget this outdoor playoff classic.