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Seahawks stuff Vikings, keep distance in playoff hunt

The Seattle Seahawks (8-5) distanced themselves from the wild-card pack with a 21-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) at CenturyLink Field to close out Week 14. Here's what we learned:

  1. The Seahawks defense followed in the footsteps of the Ravens' and Bears' this week, frustrating the opposing big-time quarterback across the line of scrimmage, forcing stops with crushing pressure and proving that, in today's NFL, defense can still be king. Led by Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark and a transcendent Shaquill Griffin, Seattle nearly shut out Kirk Cousins and an overwhelmed Vikings offense and held Minnesota to just 276 total yards. Minnesota attempted to lean on Dalvin Cook early, but the back never broke out. The dynamic duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were, save for one spectacular Diggs catch, held in check by Griffin and Tre Flowers. The Vikings were an anemic 2-for-10 on third downs and didn't score until the game's dying embers. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and his staff deserve an immense amount of credit for turning this supposed rebuilding defense into a playoff-bound unit.

"That was our main goal -- going in there today and establishing our run-stopping defense," Clark boasted to NFL Network's MJ Acosta following the win. "At the end of the day, you come in our stadium and you think you can come in here and run the ball on us, you think you come in here and score points, that's the opposite.

"At the end of the day, we're on the victory trail. All we want is wins and 'ships."

  1. That being said, Minnesota had golden opportunities to get back into this one. The Vikings punted just once in the second half, but turned the ball over twice on downs -- including at Seattle's 1-yard line down six points when Cousins missed two wide-open options on an incomplete attempt to Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone -- had a 47-yard field-goal attempt blocked by Wagner and fell victim to a game-sealing strip-six in the final three minutes. It's the second consecutive poor performance in the home of a playoff contender for this Vikings offense, as the team fell to 0-5 against teams currently above .500. The defeat also turns up the heat on Cousins, the $84 million man who looked flustered in the face of Seattle's pass rush from the get-go en route to his league-worst 13th prime-time loss in 18 career attempts.

Minnesota's stacked roster is built to win now, given the franchise's investments, and remains on the verge of missing the postseason despite miserable wild-card competition. The Vikings enter the final three weeks of the season hanging onto the sixth seed by a half-game with a divisional road test and two home games against playoff contenders remaining. If the Vikes miss the postseason, it should be considered an organizational failure. If they continue to execute how they did on Monday night, they just might.

  1. The plan was simple and familiar for Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: Ground. Pound. Seattle's league-leading ground attack ran through a suddenly vulnerable Vikings rushing defense on Monday evening, racking up 214 yards on the ground on 42 attempts; for comparison, the Seahawks ran just 22 pass plays. Chris Carson (90 yards), Rashaad Penny (44) and Mike Davis (22) repeatedly found the outside. Russell Wilson iced the game with a fourth-quarter, 40-yard scramble. Sans the injured Doug Baldwin, Wilson had an otherwise pedestrian game through the air. Like, literally a pedestrian on the streets of Seattle could have thrown for 72 yards and completed just six attempts to Seahawks receivers. But Seattle didn't want 50-50 run-pass balance against Minnesota. Try 66-34. Schottenheimer, the executor of Rex Ryan's grand ground-and-pound plan when with the Jets in the late aughts, has done it again in Seattle.
  1. If we're going to consider in good earnest defensive game-wreckers Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack for league MVP, then we should start to include Wagner in that conversation. The last Boomer standing followed up his Defensive Player of the Week showing against San Francisco with a complete performance on Monday night. Wagner led the team in tackles, stood up Latavius Murray on a crucial third-quarter fourth-down stop with help from Clark and thwarted a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt by leaping over two of his defensive linemen. On review, it appeared Wagner used his teammates as leverage, which under an interpretation of the rulebook could've constituted a 15-yard penalty and extended a potentially lead-changing Vikings drive. But the refs didn't blow the whistle, and the Seahawks turned Wagner's block into seven points and their eighth victory.
  1. At 8-5, Seattle is all but assured a spot in the postseason. The Seahawks can't win the West, but they are 1.5 games removed from the morass surrounding the NFC's sixth seed. Seattle ends the year with one tough test, a home game against Kansas City, sandwiched by two divisional cupcakes (at SF, ARI). In the wild-card round, the 'Hawks will likely play another stout defense in Chicago or Dallas. If you don't like points and had a grand ol' time watching Monday night's masterpiece, get yo' popcorn/seaweed snacks ready for Seattle's first playoff game.
  1. Minnesota controls its destiny on the way to the sixth seed, but its chances of winning the NFC North and making its Week 17 clash with the Bears mean something are now slim to none. If the Bears beat the Packers next week, the North is theirs. Time to hold your nose and root for Green Bay, Vikings fans.

The Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

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