By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
RENTON — There’s one thing the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings agree upon in advance of their wild-card playoff game Sunday in Minneapolis:
Don’t expect another 38-7.
Seattle had its way with the Vikings when the teams met during the regular season. However, the Seahawks don’t expect Sunday’s game to go quite so smoothly.
“We were fortunate the day we played them,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s not how they play. I don’t know that it could be like that, it’s going to be much different than that, I think.”
It was only one month earlier that Seattle went into TCF Stadium in Minneapolis, the home of the University of Minnesota and temporary home of the Vikings, and treated Minnesota like it was an NCAA team. Seattle dominated in all facets of the game, outgaining the Vikings 433-125 and allowing no points to Minnesota’s offense — the Vikings’ lone score came on a kickoff return after the Seahawks were already leading 35-0.
It was the type of whooping any team, especially one that finished 11-5 and won a division title, won’t forget — and will do anything to prevent from happening again.
“We look at (the video) and see things, how they hurt us, the things they did against us,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “They played very well in every phase against us in that game. Defensively, they got after us, offensively they got after us. It was a pretty good bout with them.”
Sunday’s game is back at the scene of the carnage, and there are many who expect Sunday’s contest to play out much like the Week 13 meeting did.
Just don’t count the Seahawks and Vikings among those numbers.
“Obviously every team is different from that point,” Vikings free safety Harrison Smith said. “I think we just kept getting better. We’ve still had games that we didn’t play great in, but we’ve learned from each week, and we’ve gotten a few guys back from getting banged up. We’re excited about where we are and what’s in front of us, but we have a lot of work to do before Sunday.”
One of the big differences this time around is Minnesota will be much closer to full strength defensively. In the first meeting, nose tackle Linval Joseph and strong safety Andrew Sendejo sat out because of injuries, while Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr both departed during the first quarter and did not return. Those are four of Minnesota’s best defensive players, and without them the Seahawks eviscerated a Vikings defense that came into the game ranked second in the NFL in fewest points allowed.
However, Sendejo, Barr and Smith have all since returned, and Joseph was back at practice Wednesday in a limited capacity and could play Sunday. Having those players back will make the task much more difficult for Seattle’s offense.
“When you’re missing three starters, it has an effect on any team,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “Those are some really solid players for them. They really missed Smith in the back end. He’s really a nice ball hawk, he searches for the ball, he has great ball skills, plays from sideline to sideline, so he makes a lot of nice plays for them. Barr is really their leader in the linebacking core, so you’re going to miss guys like those guys. It has an impact on their defense.”
The other thing that will likely look different this time around is Minnesota’s use of Adrian Peterson. Peterson just won his third NFL rushing title, finishing the season with 1,485 yards on 327 carries. However, against Seattle Peterson managed just 18 yards on eight carries as Minnesota found itself in an early hole and was forced to abandon the running game. The eight carries were Peterson’s fewest in a game this season, and the 18 yards were the third fewest in Peterson’s nine-year career.
The Seahawks are certain the Vikings won’t allow Peterson’s presence to be removed from the game so easily in the second go-around.
“I expect them to run the ball way more than they did last time,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Having a guy like Adrian Peterson touch the ball eight times, I don’t think that’s going to happen twice. They’ll give him the ball more.”
The Vikings have already rebounded from the drubbing suffered at the hands of Seattle. Minnesota won its final three games, including last week’s 20-13 showdown at Green Bay which decided the NFC North title. The defense that allowed 38 points to the Seahawks five weeks ago gave up 17 or fewer in each of those victories.
“The games have been much more balanced in their ability to run the football,” Carroll said about how Minnesota’s recent games differed from the one against Seattle. “They’ve kept the score down throughout. … They’re a terrific defense. We got a lot of points the day we were there, that hasn’t happened in their other games.
“They’re just a really good football team and you better play good on the day you play them or they’re going to get you,” Carroll added. “Last week they played a very conservative game against Green Bay and waited for their opportunities, cashed in on the turnovers, and put together a fantastic championship game. That always concerns me a lot because they’re not giving you a lot of opportunities to do things.”
The Seahawks took advantage of every opportunity they had the previous time they played the Vikings. They’ll need to do the same Sunday to come out of Minnesota with another victory.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.