They say football is a game of inches, and that certainly proved true on Sunday Night Football.
At the 2-minute warning, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer had a tough decision to make: kick the field goal or go for it on fourth-and-short.
He opted for the latter, knowing that a first down would put the game away and give Minnesota its first win at Seattle since 2006.
"It was about a half a yard, and if we got the half a yard, we win the game," Zimmer said. "So, I was trying to win it. I told them in the headset, 'We didn't come here for this. Let's go win it.' "
The ball went to running back Alexander Mattison, who stepped up when Dalvin Cook suffered a groin injury earlier in the game. Mattison gave it his all but was stopped for no gain. The Seahawks took over on downs at their own 6 and drove down the field for a touchdown and 1-point win.
Adam Thielen was asked about the play following the stinging loss.
"I mean, honestly, that was a great situation to just end the game, and it's on us as an offense – we need one yard, and we've got to get that done, to end it with us as the offense on the field," Thielen said. "And we had an opportunity, obviously. They made one more play than us. Obviously, really disappointing, but we're going back to work."
Quarterback Kirk Cousins also backed the decision to go for it.
"If we get it, then it's to close out the game. Hindsight is 20/20, and if we don't have the benefit of that, we're making tough decisions," Cousins said. "We had run for roughly 200 yards and needed an inch, and we weren't able to get it. You just keep going and do the best you can."
The Vikings did a lot of good things offensively on the prime-time stage.
They weren't doing anything flashy, per se, but Minnesota continued to move the chains and win the time-of-possession battle. A 17-play drive in the second quarter capped by a Dan Bailey field goal was the Vikings longest (by number of plays) since Week 11 of the 2019 season.
By halftime, nine Vikings had been targeted and seven had touches.
"We have so many good football player sat so many skill positions. Whether it's [Kyle Rudolph] or Irv [Smith, Jr.] or even Tyler Conklin – he could have had a touchdown tonight, he was open when I threw the touchdown to Adam [Thielen]," Cousins said. "I think what Alex [Mattison] can do running football and catching the football, and then obviously Dalvin [Cook]. You see what Justin [Jefferson] has done, what [Bisi Johnson] can do, Chad Beebe can play.
"We had a few more passing attempts than we've had in the first few weeks," Cousins continued. "We believe those guys can make plays; it's just a matter of getting the opportunities, because when you're running the ball as well as we have been, it limits the number of attempts. I have so much confidence in so many different skill position players. I think the fact we did spread it a little bit around tonight speaks well."
But after a first half in which most everything seemed to run smoothly for the Vikings, a disastrous few-minute stretch in the second half was anything but.
In the span of less than five minutes, the Vikings offense went three-and-out; was flagged for holding; lost a fumble that initially was ruled an incomplete pass but was challenged by Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll; and was intercepted.
Cousins' pass to open a drive was intended for Justin Jefferson but was plucked from the air by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, who also had recovered the fumble to end Minnesota's previous possession.
During the fray, Seattle scored three touchdowns and took a 21-13 lead.
Thielen noted that going into the game, the Vikings knew avoiding mistakes and staying on-track would be imperative to coming home with a win.
"You saw that in the first half with how our drives were going by getting positive plays, no negative plays, no holding calls," Thielen said. "That's kind of what usually is what hurts offenses, when you have negative plays, you have penalties, dropped balls or not getting open, things like that."
Right guard Dru Samia was flagged three times Sunday for holding. A fourth penalty was called on him but was declined by Seattle.
Despite the series of unfortunate events, however, the Vikings battled, got back on track and regained the lead with a Thielen touchdown late in the third quarter. Minnesota bypassed the PAT in favor of a two-point conversion but was unsuccessful.
A second touchdown by Thielen, who ended the night with nine catches for 80 yards, put the Vikings up 26-21 and in favorable position before things ultimately swung back Seattle's way.
On the evening, Cousins was 27-of-29 passing for 249 yards, two touchdowns and the interception with a passer rating of 92.8. He was sacked three times. Prior to leaving the game, Cook recorded 17 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown. Mattison admirably filled in from that point on and finished the day with a career-high 112 yards on 20 attempts.
"Obviously you don't want to lose a guy like Dalvin. He's such a darn good football player. He means so much to this offense," Thielen said. "But at the end of the day, we've got to go to work, and it doesn't matter who's in there. We've got to find a way, and I'm just proud of the guys in this locker room who are fighting and battling and scratching and crawling and fighting until the end. And we did that.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Seahawks in Week 5 for Sunday Night Football in Seattle.
"[It's] frustrating not to win because there's no victories in a loss," Thielen added. "But at the end of the day, we're excited about what we have in this locker room and just the fight."
Cousins echoed the sentiments.
"I feel in our locker room, just as people, the way they work, the way they serve their teammates, the way they play, down to the very last guy, I feel good about our group. At the end of the day, what matters is wins and losses, and we have to have a better record than we do right now," Cousins said. "You believe that the character of those guys will eventually show through and put us over the hump, and that's why, among other reasons, you get back and are optimistic about moving forward."
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