SEATTLE -- The Seahawks keep finding ways to make wins a little bit more difficult that they otherwise could be. However, the wins have kept rolling in regardless of the way they ultimately came together.
After surging to a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had to sweat out some tense moments in the latter stages of Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Eventually a key fourth down stop and a turnover forced on the final kickoff of the game were enough for Seattle to hold on for a 37-30 win to improve to 10-2 on the year and take sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
The Seahawks trailed 17-10 at the half as Russell Wilson's fourth interception of the year on a crazy play was returned by Anthony Harris for a 20-yard touchdown. The rest of the game was remarkably even though the first 30 minutes. Seattle out-gained Minnesota 182-180. Third down conversion with 3 of 6 to 4 of 6. Both teams had punted twice each team had scored rushing touchdowns.
Seattle grabbed firm control in the second half be scoring 24 unanswered points into the early stages of the fourth quarter. The game then got slightly more uncomfortable than the team probably would have liked, but the end result was a seven-point win over a good NFC team that vaulted Seattle into first place in the division and on track for a first-round bye.
Here are the takeaways from Monday's win over the Vikings:
-- Seahawks rushing attack dominates against strong Vikings run defense.
The Seahawks rushed for 218 yards against Minnesota. Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson each scored touchdowns on the ground and Penny caught his first touchdown pass as well as Seattle handled a Minnesota team that entered the game as the sixth best team in the league in stopping the run.
Seattle ran the ball 43 times in total on the night. Carson rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries and Penny added 74 yards on 15 carries to lead the way. Both Carson and Penny scored on 1-yard touchdown runs with Penny also scoring on a 13-yard screen pass that put Seattle up 34-17 with 13:30 remaining.
"I was really fired up about the guys up front on offense," head coach Pete Carroll said. "That's a really good front and they've been giving up 90 yards or something a game (94.2 yards per game entering Monday). I think it's the third week in a row or something we've played a top five rushing defense. And our guys continue to run the football and allow up to control [the game]."
Carson getting to 100 yards on the night seems like a long shot five plays into the game. Carson took a big blow when he ran into the left thigh of tight end Jacob Hollister as he was being tackled at the end of a carry. Carson was evaluated for a concussion on the sidelines after the play and playing sparingly in the immediately aftermath of the shot.
"He went through the whole protocol and the whole thing and he was clear and all that," Carroll said.
Penny got Seattle off to a good start in Carson's absence and Carson contributed plenty once he got back into the mix as well.
"It is so much fun to see those two guys battling it out," Carroll said. "That's fantastic. I thought Rashaad looked so fast tonight. He just looked so explosive. The screen play was a beautiful call and beautiful execution and it just showed that burst that he has and why he's so exciting."
The Seahawks now rank third in the NFL in rushing yards behind the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers with 143.7 yards per game on average.
"When you have two guys like that, it's pretty special," right tackle Germain Ifedi said.
-- Turnovers after taking a lead continue to be problematic for Seattle offense.
The Seahawks continue to have to weather close games in their victory. Only the 27-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals in late September resulted in a win over at least 10 points.
Seattle had a chance to win big against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8 before letting a 24-0 lead slide back to 27-20. A 21-10 lead over the San Francisco 49ers three weeks ago slipped away with overtime being needed to squeak out a 27-24 victory. Even last week in Philadelphia the Seahawks had built a 17-3 cushion before putting the lead in jeopardy with late fumbles.
Against the Vikings, a fumble by DK Metcalf while holding onto a 34-24 lead helped fuel the Vikings rally attempt. Metcalf was stripped by cornerback Xavier Rhodes after making a catch at the Vikings' 35-yard line. Minnesota would turn that gift into a quick touchdown drive that closed Seattle's lead to 34-30 with 7:19 still left to play.
It was a strip-sack that led to a fumble return by DeForest Buckner in the 49ers game that allowed San Francisco to get back in the mix. The fumbled exchange between Russell Wilson and Chris Carson in Philadelphia presented an unfulfilled opportunity for the Eagles to mount a comeback and Metcalf's fumble Monday night opened another door to spark an opposing rally.
Seattle has managed to hold off all of those surges, but they are playing with danger by struggling to secure the football with leads in the second half of games.
-- Another somewhat encouraging outing from Seahawks pass rush.
The Seahawks didn't get any sacks of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Monday night, but they did hit him seven times and caused some rushed and hurried throws along the way that shows Seattle's improved defense line play may not be a mirage.
Ziggy Ansah hit Cousins three times to follow up his best performance of the season last week in Philadelphia against the Eagles. Ansah did leave the game on the final defensive possession of the game due to a stinger but it appears as though concern is minimal at the moment.
Jarran Reed had two quarterback hits and Jadeveon Clowney and Bradley McDougald each got a shot in as well.
Cousins completed 22 of 38 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on the night. Tre Flowers made a terrific juggling interception of a pass intended for Stefon Diggs in the fourth quarter that allowed Seattle to push its lead to 34-17.
While it was the fourth time this season Seattle didn't record a sack in a game, this deal feel like a step backward. The Vikings tried to get the ball out of Cousins' hands quickly and the Seahawks still found ways to get hits on Cousins.
"We knew coming into the game that they was a quick throwing team, like to get the ball out, don't want to play behind the sticks," Clowney said.
The Seahawks had eight sacks combined in their previous two games against the 49ers and Eagles. With Ansah, Reed and Clowney continuing to affect opposing passers, it appears as though a corner truly has been turned for the team's pass rush.
-- Big night from special teams.
A fake punt that picked up 29 yards. Jason Myers converting all seven kicks on the night and a solid outing from Michael Dickson marked a very strong showing from Seattle's special teams unit on Monday night.
Travis Homer's fake punt conversion was one of the highlights of the night for Seattle.
On a fourth-and-3 at their own 32-yard line, Homer took a direct snap from long snapper Tyler Ott and ran a sweep around right end for a 29-yard gain and a first down.
"We were planning on calling it throughout the whole game but we just had to wait for our opportunity and we finally got it," Homer said. "He said 'all right we're going punt right alert.' We got out there we saw the look and we just decided to do it.
Lano Hill and Jacob Hollister were key in sealing off the end of the line of scrimmage as the Vikings had overloaded the other side of Seattle's offensive line. With just three blockers on the right of the center, Seattle had a numbers advantage and exploited it. Jayron Kearse and Tyler Conklin got sealed by Hill and Hollister with Marquise Blair taking care of gunner Holton Hill as Homer sprung free. Returner Mike Hughes finally made the tackle along the sideline.
"We definitely had to make sure we had the right look," Homer said. We had to have certain guys on a side and when we were running it we had to make sure we secured that edge, which they did a great job and I really appreciate that. Blair getting that block for me on the side really helped me out."
"I sure liked the way it was executed," Carroll added. "The guys did it beautifully and the timing was exactly right. Great job by Brian Schneider and Larry Izzo to come up with the idea and the thought of it and for the guys to execute. That's a lot of people involved in getting that done and a lot of communication and all that."
Myers converted field goals from 36, 29 and 29 yards and was successful on all four extra points tries as well. Myers has now made his last 15 kicks after having two missed field goals and a missed extra point against Tampa Bay last month.
Malik Turner then forced a fumble on the final kickoff of the night that was recovered by Homer to seal the deal.
"We placed some [punts] inside the 20. Michael killed the punt late in the game with no return opportunity. The squib kick was handled beautifully and the ball comes back to us. [Myers] did his thing. That was a big field goal, the last one. That was a big field goal and that was great that he pulled that off," Carroll said.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 02: Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings in the third quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 02, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)