The last time they played in Seattle, how bad did the Minnesota Vikings suck?
So bad that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer the next day fired his first-year offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo — in December, when the Vikings were 6-6-1 and still in playoff contention.
That’s some serious harshness for losing on Monday night in Seattle, which many teams have done over the years.
A year earlier, DeFilippo was the wunderkind QB coach who helped backup Nick Foles lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl championship. He used that feat to springboard to the OC job in Minnesota, but on Dec. 10, 2018 at the Clink, the Vikings were on the verge of being shut out for the first time since 2007 until a meaningless touchdown with 70 seconds left.
The Seahawks were leading 6-0 after 57 minutes — two Sebastian Janikowski field goals — and wound up winning 21-7 in a game so ugly only Pete Carroll could love it.
“Just some beautiful football,” the Seahawks coach told reporters, several of whom had already used cocktail forks to pluck out their eyeballs. “Not the kind of football that everybody loves, but the kind of football that we love.”
Indeed, it was a classic Pete beat — a pudgy ground game (214 yards rushing), a defensive clubbing (204 yards allowed until the meaningless final drive of 70 yards) that included a scoop-and-score, and, just to tie one hand behind the team’s back, a career-worst QB rating from Russell Wilson of 37.9 (10 for 20 for 72 yards and an interception).
We revisit these details because the same teams meet on the same field on another Monday night almost a year later. And with a slightly higher profile — if the NFL post-season began this week, the 9-2 Seahawks and 8-3 Vikings would be the NFC’s wild-card entries.
In his Seattle tenure, Carroll is 5-0 against the team where he was an assistant coach from 1985 to 1989. In the five games, which include the semi-immortal 10-9 playoff triumph in 2016 that was the coldest NFL game in Minnesota’s frost-bitten history, the Vikings have scored 20, 20, 7, 10 and 7 points.
Which helps illuminate a remark Carroll made opening his presser Wednesday.
“We really like this team that we’re playing,” he said. I imagine so, in the way Bugs Bunny enjoys Elmer Fudd.
Actually, Carroll was being sincere, not sarcastic. I think.
The Vikings are much improved under new OC Kevin Stefanski, who has in QB Kirk Cousins the highest-rated QB in the the NFL (114.8, just ahead of No. 2 Russell Wilson at 112.1), perhaps the NFL’s best three-receiver group in WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and TE Kyle Rudolph, and the league’s No. 3 rusher in Dalvin Cook (1,017 yards). Minnesota is in the top 10 in scoring (26.3 points), total yards (378.6) and rushing yards (142.5).
So Carroll has reason for sincerity.
“They do so many things well,” he said. “We recognize a bunch of these guys. We’ve played them for a number of years. They’re as hard as you can get to play against.”
So if the evidence suggests the Vikings are much less likely to toss up a doughnut Monday, it behooves the Seahawks to counter offensively. Even though Seattle’s defense has drawn huzzahs for its two-game renaissance, the biggest uptick out of Sunday’s 17-9 win at Philadelphia was backup RB Rashaad Penny’s 129 yards on 14 carries.
The breakthrough game suggests that in tandem with starter Chris Carson, eighth on the NFL’s rushing list, the Seahawks have a much better chance to take pressure off Wilson and wear down defenses. In fact, Wilson was so jacked about Penny that after the game Sunday, he broke free of his self-imposed rhetorical rectitude to volunteer a strategic change.
“I know both of them want to be in there, and I think maybe we should put both of them in there at times just to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “Both of them are just great players and to be honest, to be a great running team you have to have two great running backs.”
While the simultaneous appearance is fanciful, Wilson invoked as an example the tandem of the Super Bowl teams, Marshawn Lynch and backup Robert Turbin. In 2013-14, Lynch did his best work, totaling more than 2,500 yards combined. The role of Turbin, a good buddy of Wilson’s, may have been a little exaggerated, but he did have almost 600 yards in the two seasons and was a bruising runner like Lynch.
“Those two guys were really forces in the backfield,” Wilson said. “Both could play. I think now we have two guys like that again. It’s a great thing to have.”
Since Carson’s 239 plays rushing and receiving is sixth-most in the NFL, the wear could show up as the calendar progresses. He had a season-low 26 yards on eight carries Sunday, although he also had a team-high four receptions for 31 yards. He also had two fumbles (one credited to Wilson), giving him a league-high seven.
Penny’s 58-yard run Sunday underscored his capacity for the explosive play.
“We’ve seen it a number of times that made big plays for us,” Carroll said. “It’s all different kinds. He’s been up inside. He’s been on the edge. He can cut back. We’re just excited that he had a really good game. We’re going to see if we can get some more out of it.”
Clearly the Vikings are in a better position than in the previous meeting in Seattle. But the Seahawks are a Penny richer, and Monday nights at the Clink are for big spenders.
I wonder if Jake Browning will be making the trip?