SEATTLE -- Monday Night Football just can't be normal for the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks earned their fourth straight victory, 21-7, against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night in Seattle with yet another officiating issue at the center of a primetime win.
However, a non-call on Bobby Wagner's blocked field goal in the fourth quarter put another officiating call in the spotlight on the way to a Seahawks victory.
The play allowed the Seahawks to keep the Vikings off the scoreboard and mount a drive that culminated with a 2-yard Chris Carson touchdown that put the game out of reach in the final three minutes. If the play had been correctly flagged, the Vikings were almost certain to get at least three points and possibly a go-ahead touchdown that could have changed the scope of the game dramatically.
Whether it was the Fail Mary in 2012 against the Green Bay Packers, K.J. Wright's illegal batting of the football out of the end zone (that also wasn't called) on a Calvin Johnson fumble against the Detroit Lions in 2015, Richard Sherman's non-roughing the kicker penalty for a collision with Dan Carpenter of the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and Wagner's non-call have all come in Monday night games under Pete Carroll.
Seattle rushed for 214 yards on the ground to offset one of the worst passing games of Russell Wilson's career as Doug Baldwin was sidelined with a hip injury. The defense also bounced back from a rough last month to pitch its best outing of the season in shutting down the Vikings offense.
Here are the takeaways from the 21-7 win over the Vikings:
1. Bobby Wagner's blocked field goal should have been flagged.
Officials make mistakes. They happen all the time. They happened multiple times on Monday night in plays just involving Bobby Wagner.
Nevertheless, that doesn't mean a flag shouldn't have been thrown against Wagner on the blocked 47-yard field goal try by Dan Bailey with 5:46 remaining to play.
With the Seahawks holding a 6-0 lead, Wagner leaped over Vikings linemen Danny Isidora and Rashod Hill to block the 47-yard field goal try. While Wagner's block was legal in that he leaped from the line of scrimmage without a running start from the second level, the fact that he placed his hands on the shoulders of linemen Shamar Stephen and Jarran Reed to help aid his leverage to clear the line was not.
The rule had been changed in recent years after Wagner, Kam Chancellor and others across the NFL had tried to time leaps over the long snapper in an attempt to block kicks. The league made the plays illegal in an effort to protect player safety.
While what Wagner attempted to do would have been legal, the using his hands to push off of his teammates is the aspect that made the play a foul. The rule states the following aspect as being illegal: "Placing a hand or hands on a teammate or opponent to gain additional height to block or attempt to block an opponent's kick or apparent kick, or in an attempt to jump through a gap to block an opponent's kick or apparent kick."
"That's really up for them (the officials) to decide. It's not really on me," Wagner said. "Even last time when I jumped over last time (against Arizona in 2016) they said it was legal. But I think not a lot of people are aware of the rules and aware of the changes. So there's a loop-hole in there where if you start on the line you can jump over. I'm not stressing about that. I made the play. They called what they called. There's times in games where things happen all the time so I'm not stressing on it. It was a big block. We're going to definitely take it and it was amazing."
Wagner was called for grasping a helmet opening of running back Dalvin Cook in the first quarter when he did no such thing and was not called for an obvious facemask on a run by Latavius Murray three plays later.
A flag was thrown initially by the umpire as it appeared he believed the jump over the line came from depth, which would have been illegal as well. However, head referee Brad Allen said it was a legal jump over due to it coming from the line of scrimmage. The leveraging by Wagner on the play was the aspect seemingly missed.
Wagner said he'd practiced the block play four times in practice with him having a bit more juice in his legs then than he did at the end of Monday night's game.
"You didn't expect to get that many plays before you try to jump over the pile so when I did it in practice I was pretty fresh," Wagner said. "But in the fourth quarter with five minutes left after all the games we've played I was just making sure I got over and didn't fall because I'm pretty sure you guys would have caught it."
Wagner said they'd seen a vulnerability in the Vikings protection unit and they had a specific instance they wanted to put the call on.
"If they were ever on the right hash, we were going to call it," Wagner said. "It just so happened to be in the fourth quarter around five minutes (to play) that they were on the right hash. You can't jump over the center but if you got hops you can make it over anybody."
The penalty would have been a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which would have given the Vikings a first down at Seattle's 14 1/2-yard line with half the distance to the goal enforced. Instead, Russell Wilson scrambled for 40 yards two plays later and Chris Carson scored on a 2-yard carry to push the Seahawks' lead to 14-0 with three minutes to play.
2. Doug Baldwin's absence was significant for Seattle passing attack.
Doug Baldwin did not even take part in pregame warmups and it became clear he was not going to suit up against the Vikings due to a hip injury.
And boy did it look like Seattle missed him.
Russell Wilson had the worst passing output of any game of his seven-year NFL career in a few aspects on Monday night. His 72 passing yards and 37.8 passer rating were both the worst marks he's ever had as the Seahawks starting quarterback. Prior to Monday, Wilson had only been held to under 100 yards passing in a game once in his career, a 21-12 win over Dallas last year. He'd only had two games with a passer rating below 40: a 14-5 loss at Tampa Bay in 2016 and a 13-6 loss at San Franisco as a rookie in 2012 on a Thursday night.
Wilson misfired on a few passes and David Moore was unable to get a second foot down in bounds on a potential touchdown throw as well. However, the Vikings also did a good job of covering up Seattle's depleted receiving corps in Baldwin's absence. Tyler Lockett was the only receiver to record multiple receptions against the Vikings with five catches for 42 yards.
Though Baldwin hasn't had the best receiving stats of his career due to injuries he's fought through all season, his presence on the field still has to be respected. Without him available, Minnesota was able to keep Seattle's offense without a single explosive pass play and just three explosive runs. The Seahawks chart explosive plays as 16-yard passes and 12-yard runs. Two 14-yard passes to Lockett were the longest gains of the night through the air for Seattle. A 40-yard Wilson scramble, 17-yard cross-country run by Rashaad Penny and a 13-yard run by Mike Davis were the only explosive plays of the night for Seattle in Baldwin's absence.
3. Russell Wilson's interception at end of the half was absolutely inexcusable.
With 16 seconds remaining in the first half and the Seahawks in position to get at least a field goal prior to the break and the ball to begin the third quarter, Russell Wilson made one of the most egregious mistakes of his professional career.
Wilson was intercepted by Eric Kendricks after running backward and trying to make a desperation throwaway to avoid taking a sack. Here's the play in question:
With 16 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, the Seahawks were in a situation where they would be forced to throw on all three plays before attempting a field goal to end the half or be at risk of the clock running out with no way to stop it.
Seattle attempted to run a sprint out to the right with Tyler Lockett, David Moore and Jaron Brown all flooding to the short side of the field. As Wilson planted to turn back to his left to see if tight end Nick Vannett had anything on his side of the field, Wilson slipped.
At this point, if Wilson throws the ball away, they have 10 or 11 seconds remaining and two more chances for touchdowns before having to take the field goal to end the half. Instead, Wilson retreats backward and tries to avoid pressure from Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter before winging a pass back toward his own sideline that was picked off by Kendricks.
"I messed up the one play, I slipped and just got kind of messed up there," Wilson said. "I was trying to throw it away and that didn’t work."
Even if the ball isn't intercepted, the play would resulted in an intentional grounding call that carries a 10-second run off, which would have ended the half as well. If it was picked off by a defensive back and not a linebacker that immediately lost his footing, it could have been an 85-yard touchdown the opposite direction.
And the issue wasn't that the throwaway didn't work when he attempted it, it was that the play ever got to that point.
“I’m kicking myself about that, because I wish I would have been the one that reminded him. We’ve practiced those situations all the time," Carroll said. "... To remind him that if it’s not there, throw the ball away right now. It’s something that we know, but he slipped. Then he goes into a whole different mentality; he’s just trying to get up, he doesn’t know what’s up. He knew where he was going to the ball, but he slipped and so then we just didn’t get rid of the football. That’s what he needed to do. He’s kicking himself about it. But, I wish I would have reminded him one last time before, when he had a chance to do that, and we didn’t get that done."
With the game being so close in the latter stages of the game, those three points could have been extremely valuable. If not for Wagner's blocked field goal and the ensuing only offensive touchdown drive of the game, the Seahawks could have thoroughly outplayed the Vikings and still found a way to lose.
Wilson has had a very good season and he's cleaned up a lot of the mistakes like this we'd seen at the end of last season and early this year, but this was about as poor a singular play as Wilson has made in his career. At least it didn't come back to bite them.
4. Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin were fantastic.
The Vikings offense did not cross midfield until the third quarter and star receiver Adam Thielen was held without a catch until after halftime as well.
The play of Seattle's two young cornerbacks played a big part in both of those realities.
Griffin and Flowers both made key tackles in the running game early on as the Vikings attempted to test Seattle's contain ability on the edges of the defense. They also did a stellar job keeping Thielen and Stefon Diggs from having big games.
Seattle allowed just three explosive pass plays on the night with two of them - a screen to Thielen for 35 yards and a 17-yard completion to Dalvin Cook - coming after Seattle had taken a 21-0 lead with 2:35 remaining.
Diggs made a fantastic catch against Flowers for 48 yards that was the only significant offensive play of the night for Minnesota. Flowers had tight coverage on the play but Diggs still made a fantastic catch.
“I thought they played great tonight," Carroll said of the duo. "Unfortunately, the one deep ball, and Tre’s all over it, and just didn’t get his hand on the football. I thought those guys played great tonight, and it was really a big challenge because these guys are terrific. Terrific receivers. I don’t know the numbers, what they threw for, but it wasn’t; they’ve been averaging 275 or something like that. I’m sure they were below that. I think those guys took advantage of a really good game plan tonight. Kenny (Norton Jr.) put together a great one, and it really made a difference."
Griffin also made a near-interception on a throw to Diggs and a fantastic break-up on a throw to Thielen on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter ahead of Wagner's blocked field goal.
The play of Griffin and Flowers helped Seattle limit the Vikings to just 2 of 10 on third down, while a pair of fourth down stops from Wagner and Bradley McDougald added to the defensive showing.
The rushing game deserves props as well for putting up 214 yards on the ground against a defense that entered the game allowing just 99.2 yards per game on the season. Jordan Simmons has been at right guard for victories over the Vikings and Los Angeles Rams where the team gained 273 and 214 yards on the ground, respectively.
Oh, and George Fant caught a pass!
Both those topics deserve more too, but this piece is already over 2,000 words and anything more than that tonight will be overkill.
The Seahawks are now a victory over the San Francisco 49ers or Arizona Cardinals from clinching a playoff berth with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 10: Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks dives passed Ben Gedeon #42 of the Minnesota Vikings for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 10, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)