Shakespeare in all of his sagas of medieval revenge could not have contrived a juicier moment. Here was Percy Harvin, a Viking centerpiece in their best recent years, making his entrance stage right for the Seattle Seahawks.
For the Seattle crowd, it was an electric moment. For the Vikings, it was the beginning of their 41-20 defeat, their eighth in 10 games. And more melodrama about their quarterback in this, the deepening season of their discontent.
Until then, late in the second quarter, the game was close. Having outlasted the several maladies that kept him out of the Seahawks’ first 10 games, Percy lobbied coach Pete Carroll on the Seattle sideline. He was ready, he said. Across the field his former Viking teammates were waiting for some kind of inevitable dramatic entrance. This was his moment. Percy wanted in.
So he was in. His first offering was a very professional catch from Russell Wilson in this Harvin’s first appearance since jumping the Minnesota Viking ship to throw in with the swift-rising Seahawks after the 2012 season.
Wilder deeds were ahead for the mercurial Percy. The Vikings had displayed surprising resistance to the playoff-bound Seahawks. Blair Walsh had just kicked a 45-yard field goal to shave the heavily favored Seahawks’ lead to 17-13 in the final moments of the first half.
Re-enter Percy. The Vikings should have known better and tried one of those downfield bouncers on the next kickoff. Hordes of TV watchers back home might have implored them to exercise discretion with Percy back there to field the kick
But Walsh’s kickoff went deep, Percy glommed it and streaked 58 yards to put the Seahawks in striking distance in the final seconds of the half. And with only seconds of the half remaining, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin with a 19-yard touchdown pass for a 24-13 halftime lead en route to their eventual 21-point margin.
The game actually was closer than that. It might been even closer if Christian Ponder, after a highly competitive first half, had managed something close to the same level of efficiency down the stretch. But he didn’t, because Seattle is a driven football team — and now one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl with its 10-1 record.
It has Wilson, its charismatic young quarterback. It has the power running back Marshawn Lynch, who Sunday eclipsed a not-altogether-healthy Adrian Peterson. It has its highly animated coach. For its home games, it has the world’s most intimidating crowd, which to visiting quarterbacks has the sound of a freight train running through the Omnitheater.
Leading 24-13 at the half, the Seahawks padded it with Wilson’s 6-yard throw to Lynch and stretched that to 31-13 and then to 38 -13 when Ponder’s sinking afternoon ended with an interception and touchdown by Walter Thurmond. Cassel drew some consolation for the Vikings with a 21-yard touchdown throw to Jarius Wright.
“But we shot ourselves in the foot,” said a glum Coach Leslie Frazier when it was over. He meant that for all of their floundering in the NFL’s first two months, the Vikings with a few critical passes or breakaway runs from Adrian Peterson might have pulled the upset.
But might-haves are for dreamers. The Vikings in Seattle needed a healthy Adrian Peterson, competent quarterbacking for more than two quarters, a steady offensive line and hints of aggressiveness. None of that was visible after the first few exchanges.
The Seahawks had all of their big defensive guns aimed at Peterson. His groin problem reduced some of his power and his options, and for the day he managed only 65 yards. In the late going, the Vikings turned over their ground game to Toby Gerhart. Ponder’s passing game, adequate enough in the early going, went into a meltdown after that, and Frazier eventually replaced the troubled young quarterback with Matt Cassel.
It didn’t get any better. Between Ponder and Cassel, they tallied three interceptions and an average quarterback efficiency rating in the 50s, which, translated into a student report card, equals approximately F minus. Add an advanced level of turmoil on the Viking bench.
For much of the game, ironically, the Vikings looked capable of a major upset and, for a while, seemed headed in that direction. This, despite Peterson’s limitations, which grew worse as the game progressed. Blair Walsh matched Steve Hauschka’s field goal in the early going, and after which Lynch scored from 4 yards out to give Seattle a 10-3 lead. Ponder matched it with a 38-yard touchdown throw to Jarius Wright.
But from there, Walsh’s 37-yard field goal was pretty much the Viking offense until Cassel hit Wright on a 21-yard pass play.
After a genuinely strong early game, Ponder found himself under siege as the counter-threat of Adrian Peterson ebbed. Ponder didn’t complain about the upper-body injury he suffered a week ago, but his quarterbacking clearly lacked confidence as the game droned on. Conscious of avoiding risky throws, he appeared to lose confidence in the second half and was unable to match his earlier crispness and success.
It didn’t help that the Viking receiving corps was depleted by the foot injury that kept their most experienced wide-out, Greg Jennings, out of the game and put the Vikings in a position of using onetime quarterback Joe Webb as a primary receiver.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were thriving with a healthy dual threat posed by the grinding power and pass-catching threat of Lynch, and Wilson’s confident and creative quarterbacking.
Add the otherworldly thunder of the Seattle crowd, which has played no small role in elevating the Seahawks to a prime Super Bowl contender. And young Wilson does nothing but get better each week with his inventive quarterbacking and his infectious winning attitude that has made his team the toast of professional football.
Invincible? Hardly. For all of their distress, the Vikings put up a battle for most of the game. Even with instability at quarterback, mediocrity in its secondary and injury problems on its offensive line, and serious questions about who next year’s Viking coach will be.
Add a quarterbacking mess — with more to come when Frazier makes his decision this week. In this dubious setting, the Vikings play the Packers Sunday at Green Bay.
But nobody in the National Football League is crying over distress in Minnesota. In Green Bay, they can’t win without a healthy Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. They proved it Sunday by losing to the New York Giants, who started the season with six straight losses.
So it’s on to Wisconsin, where the Viking faithful may see the second coming of Josh Freeman, now more familiar with the Viking playbook, although he still needs to brush up on the names of his receivers. He can get by with that as long as he remembers the name of the running back.