The Minnesota Vikings’ chance to pull off an upset win on the road and reverse the course of their season was within their grasp until the final moments of a 27-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
For much of Sunday night’s game, the Vikings did everything right. They controlled time of possession, overcame a groin injury to running back Dalvin Cook and showed resilience on offense with backup running back Alexander Mattison leading the way with a career day (112 yards).
But when it mattered most, when the Vikings needed to pick up 1 yard for a first down to seal the game in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t pull it off. The Vikings were rolling on the ground, averaging 5.6 yards per rush with Mattison and a well-established run game that got them back on track following Cook’s injury. It’s the formula they used to wear on Seattle’s defense and march their way into the red zone to wrestle back the lead.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from Seattle’s 6-yard line at the two-minute warning ahead 26-21, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal that would have extended the lead to eight. Mattison didn’t convert, Seattle got the ball back, and Russell Wilson went 94 yards in 102 seconds to secure the one-point win.
According to ESPN’s win-probability model, Zimmer’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the two-minute warning was a wash. The Vikings had a 98% chance to win by going for it and would have had a 97.8% chance to win had they elected to attempt a field goal.
“It was about a half a yard. If we got the half a yard, we win the game,” Zimmer said. “So I was trying to go win it. I told ‘em on the headset, ‘We didn’t come here for this. Let’s go win it.’”
With Dalvin Cook missing much of the game, Alexander Mattison had 112 yards rushing for the Vikings. Alika Jenner/Getty Images
By all accounts, going for it was the right call. Zimmer was aggressive throughout the game, particularly on fourth down, where Minnesota had converted two other times, and the Vikings were in line to pull off a win with 1 more yard. Perhaps the more questionable call was the decision to blitz on fourth-and-10 on Seattle’s game-winning drive, on which Zimmer sent pressure with his young corners, which resulted in Wilson’s hitting DK Metcalf over rookie CB Cameron Dantzler for a 39-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
“I thought we were going to intercept it, honestly,” Zimmer said.
That wasn’t the only play of Seattle’s final drive on which Minnesota sent extra pressure. Had the Vikings been able to get home earlier than that fourth-down play, there’s a chance that this game would’ve yielded a different outcome.
“I feel like you could say that about any play, but yeah, like I said, the game is there to be won,” linebacker Eric Wilson said. “We had many different plays to win. Fourth down and whatever to win the football game, it was there. It wasn’t just one time — it was a couple times. I think we have to just keep working, keep honing in on the details and our techniques and just play ball and finish the game. I think you might have referenced we’ve had close games. If we had a couple more points, our record would be totally different. It’s there. It’s definitely there.”
The Vikings have suffered two losses by exactly one point this season. That’s tied for the most one-point losses through any team’s first five games in a season in NFL history (2007 Bills), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Vikings were churning on offense after a near-disaster of a third quarter. Following Cook’s injury, Seattle scored 21 points in 1:53. But afterward, the Vikings ran the ball efficiently on Seattle after Cook’s injury and got back on track with a drive that started at their 3-yard line and ended with Kirk Cousins hitting Adam Thielen for a 6-yard touchdown with 8:11 to go in the fourth to give themselves a 26-21 lead.
Minnesota’s defense came through on the following Seattle series, with Eric Wilson intercepting Russell Wilson to set up the Vikings’ offense from the 50-yard line. Again, Minnesota was rolling behind Mattison, who reached 112 yards rushing on 20 carries in Cook’s place. But when the Vikings got into the red zone, they couldn’t capitalize.
“You’re helpless at that point just watching,” Cousins said of Seattle’s game-winning drive. “You’re more just aware of the clock and the situation in terms of if they score with a minute left, that’s a different plan of attack than if they score with 15 seconds left and then judging how many timeouts we have. So you’re just staying dialed in as far as what is the situation. Then, obviously, if they get the two-point conversion, a field goal ties. If they don’t, a field goal wins. So just trying to be aware of the fluid situation that plays out.
“You hate to put it in the defense’s hands like that because as an offense you want to be able to make the plays and not ask them to have to get that stop. We’d love to be there on the field making it happen at the end.”