In retrospect, it’s easy to identify the exact moment I should have known the Vikings would lose their playoff game Sunday against the Seahawks.
It was the moment I first believed.
Like many Vikings fans, I watched Minnesota carry a lead over Seattle through the majority of Sunday’s game and was simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The Vikes were massive underdogs, even at home, to one of the hottest teams in football.
Sure, the Vikings led through three quarters and had largely stifled the Seahawks. But clearly the fourth quarter was when it would all come crumbling down.
When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson somehow turned a botched snap into a 24-yard completion to Tyler Lockett, I didn’t feel aggrieved or surprised.
The absurdity of such a play going against the Vikings felt familiar: it made sense to me — far more sense than the Vikings calmly handling the back-to-back NFC champions in a crucial playoff game.
As the Seahawks continued their comeback, the familiarity flooded in.
An Adrian Peterson fumble? Ah, yes. That’s more like it.
Throughout it all, I was able to remain detached, to coolly scoff at the Vikings’ inevitable collapse.
That is, until Kam Chancellor let the Vikings back in.
So you’re saying there’s a chance
The Seahwaks star safety made two boneheaded plays: first, Chancellor interfered with Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph to give the Vikes a 19-yard gain and a first down on the Seahawks’ 42. (Granted, this was a pretty touchy pass-interference call on Chancellor. Yes, he made contact with Rudolph, but it could have just been a five-yarder.)
Second, Chancellor gambled on an out route to Rudolph and whiffed, allowing the Vikes tight end to make the catch and scamper up the sideline for a gain of 24.
All told, Chancellor’s two miscues cost the Seahawks 43 yards and massively swung the game in the Vikes’ favor: before the penalty, the Vikings had a win expectancy of 35 percent. After the 24-yard completion, the Vikes had a 76 percent chance of winning.
After the game, Chancellor was recognized with a game ball as one of the Seahawks’ top-three performers, presumably for forcing the Adrian Peterson fumble that ultimately resulted in Seattle taking the lead.
But Chancellor nearly cost the Seahawks the game — and, let’s be honest, giving Chancellor credit for “forcing” an Adrian Peterson fumble is like giving a meteorologist credit for the weather.
The wind will blow; Peterson will fumble. It’s simply what they do.
I know I shouldn’t blame Kam Chancellor for fooling me into hope. I know I’m better than this.
But after his two miscues, the Vikings were in line to win, just a 27-yard field goal away from a huge upset. There were enough twists and turns to distract me from that incontrovertible Vikings truth: this will end poorly.
Poor Blair Walsh
Pity poor Blair Walsh. He did not deserve this.
Walsh was arguably the Vikings’ best player Sunday.
He scored every single point for an inept Viking offense that tallied only 183 total yards.
He buried three field goals, including a 43-yarder and a 47-yarder, on a day when kicking a football must have felt like kicking a brick.
Walsh also neutralized Seahawks return man Tyler Lockett, who averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return during the regular season, as the Vikings kicker forced three touchbacks and Lockett’s one return only got him to the 17-yard-line.
Yes, Walsh missed a gimme, a surefire make that any NFL kicker should bury, regardless of the conditions.
But it is awfully hard to throw stones at the one player who put points on the board.
There are plenty of stones to go around.
The Vikings’ offense line was a sieve, allowing Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett in to bust up the pocket as he pleased.
Bennett wreaked havoc all day, and ultimately had far more impact in the Vikes’ backfield than the NFL’s rushing leader, Adrian Peterson.
Peterson rushed the ball 23 times for 45 yards and one fumble.
Again, the offensive line was poor and the Seahawks’ defense was beastly.
But even in the little things — like, say, holding on to the football — Peterson was lax.
Take the Vikes’ final offensive play: the run was designed to go right so the ball would end up on the right hash mark for Walsh’s field goal attempt.
Peterson cut it back to the left, ultimately putting the ball on the left hash mark.
Now, no Viking player or coach — especially Walsh or head coach Mike Zimmer — will blame Peterson for his improvisation or use it as an excuse for Walsh’s miss.
But the play was obviously designed to go right for a reason. And when we needed a simple zig, Peterson zagged.
For lifelong Vikings fans, however, we all know that the blame doesn’t fall at the feet of any one player. It’s bigger than that.
The VikingPerpetual Pain Cycle
The Vikings are masters of heartbreak.
They know that heartbreak requires investment, a true, deep devotion and belief in the team.
This is why I should have known we were doomed when I felt confident.
It took me six full years to be confident of the playoff Vikings, and I should have seen through it. As a Vikings fan, confidence is death.
This is the amazing part of the Viking Perpetual Pain Cycle: the next heartbreak never comes until you’ve fully moved on from the last one.
They are somehow perfectly spaced, arriving just at the time when you feel whole again, when you’re ready to believe in the possibility that football could invigorate and uplift, not just toy and destroy.
As Vikings fans, we spend our post-heartbreak days and years trying to forget the last disaster, trying to heal and act like next time will be different.
And it’s not until we’ve fully deluded ourselves into believing that this time will be different that the Vikings remind us, in the most gut-busting way possible, that of course it will not.
But man, the team is looking really strong for next year.