Richard Sherman just collapsed on the turf. He was too shocked to do anything else.
Doug Baldwin stared in amazement on the sideline at Jermaine Kearse. Seconds earlier, Baldwin’s fellow Seahawks receiver had predicted this unfathomable ending, the memory of which will last around here as long as Minnesota winters have ice.
Most Seahawks ran around the field frantically in every direction, as if they’d just stolen something.
In fact, they had.
With the season on the line, Minnesota had driven into position for kicker Blair Walsh to win Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game. It was merely a 27-yard field goal. That’s 6 yards shorter than an extra point. Walsh had already made all three of his kicks, including one from 47 yards through the subzero air.
But this time, Walsh hook it badly wide left with 26 seconds remaining.
That’s how Seattle improbably rallied with 10 points in the final 12 minutes, then held on for a 10-9 victory over some stunned Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium in the third-coldest game in NFL history.
“Thank you, Jesus!” was Sherman’s reaction while he was facedown after the sure-thing kick sure went wide.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Seahawks defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin said. “I mean, it was a pretty routine kick.”
Linebacker K.J. Wright invoked Seattle’s Super Bowl win over Denver in January 2014.
“That one felt a little bit better than the Super Bowl, I can’t lie,” Wright said, shaking his head 20 minutes after Walsh’s kick went haywire. “The way we won it, in the fashion we did … we found a way.”
The nearly impossible finish sends the Seahawks (11-6) on to top-seeded Carolina (15-1) in the divisional round next Sunday at 10:05 a.m. PST.
“This will go down as one of the best games I’ve ever played in,” Baldwin said. He caught a 3-yard pass from Russell Wilson with 11:37 left in the fourth quarter for the game’s only touchdown.
Sunday game-time temperature was minus-6, with a 12-mph wind creating a wind chill of minus-25. That neutralized both teams’ offenses.
The only games colder ever in the league’s 96-year history: the 1967 “Ice Bowl” league title game between the Cowboys and Packers in Green Bay when it was 13 below, and the Chargers-Bengals 1982 AFC championship in Cincinnati (minus-9, with a wind chill of 59 below).
“It was probably three or four times colder than it looked,” Seahawks running back Fred Jackson said.
And he played nine years in Buffalo.
“Terribly cold,” is how Texan Christine Michael described it after his 70 determined yards on 21 carries in place of Marshawn Lynch, who decided on Friday he couldn’t play Sunday or make the trip to this unforgettable event six weeks after abdominal surgery.
“The elements were about as challenging as they can get! We will never, ever play in another game like that!” coach Pete Carroll roared to his giddy, thawing players in the locker room minutes after it ended, according to video on the team’s website. “Your attitude about it was freakin’ strong!”
Wilson said it was so cold he couldn’t yell because “my mouth froze.” He struggled all day in almost inhumane temperatures (13 for 26, 142 yards, one interception). That endangered the Seahawks’ season.
Then he made two immortal plays to save it.
Wilson stayed almost miraculously poised after a shotgun snap by center Patrick Lewis for which he wasn’t ready sailed over his head early in the fourth quarter. Wilson was trying to yell to change the play but he couldn’t be heard as well as usual because, as he said, his mouth was frozen. Seattle’s unflappable quarterback ran back 10 yards to retrieve the ball at the Seattle 45. There, 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage, the former minor-league baseball second baseman executed a hook slide, recovered the loose ball, popped up — and found three charging Vikings in his face.
“Uh-oh,” Wilson recalled. “Seemed like a whole bunch of bears chasing me.”
Wilson escaped to the right. He then found freelancing Tyler Lockett — who had started the play basically standing still, supposedly run blocking — for a 35-yard catch and run. Instead of the ball on Seattle’s half of the field, it was at the Minnesota 4.
Two plays later, Wilson threw in the right flat to the wide-open Baldwin for this frozen day’s only TD.
“Magic.” That’s what Carroll called Wilson’s play.
What made it possible was that the play called was a “tight zone-read run,” right tackle Garry Gilliam said. That kept the Seahawks’ offensive line along the line of scrimmage, instead of beyond it as in normal run blocking. Had any of the blockers been past the line when Wilson threw the pass, it would have been a ruining penalty.
“As soon as I picked it up, I just peeked to see where the linemen were,” Wilson said. “And fortunately they weren’t downfield for us. So that’s when I really started to look to throw the ball.”
Yeah, that’s a bit much to process with a pack of bears chasing you.
“Sure enough, Tyler Lockett did a great job scrambling and making the play,” Wilson said.
Lockett put the credit back on his quarterback.
“It’s all about reaction. I mean, you don’t have time to think,” the rookie wide receiver said. “I just ran to a spot to try to get open. The credit really all goes to Russell for being able to keep it alive. I mean, the first thing you want to do in that moment is fall on it.”
Baldwin’s reaction: “Unbelievable. That’s the epitome of Russell Wilson.”
Then, with Seattle now down 9-7, safety Kam Chancellor stripped Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson of the ball after a catch. Chancellor said he thinks Wright’s simultaneous hit on Peterson distracted the league’s rushing champion (held in check by Seattle once again to 45 yards on 23 carries) from Chancellor’s two-hand rip at the ball.
Rubin, an eight-year veteran playing his first playoff game, recovered the fumble at the Vikings 40 with 10:37 left.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Rubin said. “Definitely a momentum swing, and it got us the win.”
That’s because of Wilson’s second savvy play.
He dropped back to pass, then kept his wits when top Vikings pass rusher Everson Griffen pulling him down by the waist. It was about to be a sack that could have pushed Seattle out of field-goal range. But the 206-pound Wilson dragged the 273-pound defender outside the tackle box and only then chucked the ball into the sideline for a sack-saving throwaway. Wilson’s awareness and grit avoided an intentional-grounding foul that would have made a field goal too long to try.
Instead Steven Hauschka kicked the go-ahead field goal from 46 yards into the closed end of the stadium, where the rock-like ball was traveling far better Sunday. Improbably, Seattle led 10-9 with eight minutes left.
Chancellor then got flagged for pass interference on Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph. And he allowed Rudolph the 24-yard catch and run that got the Vikings into position for Walsh’s final, fateful miss.
Until Minnesota’s final march from its own 39 to the Seattle 9, the Seahawks’ defense more than did its job. The Vikings started drives at or past midfield three times as the result of Seahawks mistakes. That’s how Minnesota got all its points.
When the Vikings needed the final ones, from point-blank range, a higher power seemed to intervene.
On the side of the Seahawks.
“I was pointing up to the sky,” Chancellor said. “That’s called grace. I don’t believe in luck. Grace.”