Vikings-Seahawks: What we learned

Scott Johnson, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SEATTLE -- With the victories piling up and the Seattle Seahawks moving toward the NFC West title, the players are attempting to keep the big picture in focus.
"We haven't done anything yet," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said Sunday after the Seahawks routed the Minnesota Vikings 41-20 for their sixth in a row. "We're 10-1, and that means a lot, but that wasn't our goal. Our goal is to win it all."
Two interceptions thrown by Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder helped Seattle score 14 points in less than a minute, and the Seahawks turned a close game early in the fourth quarter into a blowout.
After linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepted a Ponder pass in Minnesota territory, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Seahawks a 31-13 lead with 13:14 remaining. Forty-four seconds later, cornerback Walter Thurmond III picked off Ponder and raced 29 yards for the score to seal the win for the Seahawks (10-1).
Thanks to the San Francisco 49ers' loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks hold a 3 1/2-game lead in the NFC West with five games remaining.
Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Lynch had 17 carries for 54 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Wilson hit him with a basketball-like, back-handed flip pass to account for another score early in the fourth quarter. That 6-yard touchdown put Seattle comfortably ahead before Thurmond's interception padded the lead and sent Ponder to the bench.
Ponder, who was coming off an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, completed 13 of 22 passes for 129 yards. He was playing pretty well before throwing interceptions on back-to-back possessions.
Vikings backup quarterback Matt Cassel came on to replace Ponder after the second interception, and he promptly threw one of his own when Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons tipped a pass that was caught by defensive lineman Clinton McDonald at the Minnesota 18-yard line to set up a Seahawks field goal. Three consecutive Vikings drives were ended by interceptions, all of them coming within a span of two minutes, 13 seconds.
Had it not been for a Ponder pass that Wagner dropped near the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks would have had interceptions on four consecutive Minnesota possessions.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the decision to bench Ponder was simply a search for momentum, not necessarily a nail in the coffin of Ponder's career as a starter.
"We just wanted to see if Matt could give us a spark, if Matt could help us," Frazier said. "That was the reason."
Frazier wasn't saying whether Ponder, Cassel or Josh Freeman would start next week.
"We'll sit down Monday and talk about things we've got to do," the coach said.

What the Vikings said
"We just wanted to see if Matt (Cassel) could give us a spark, if Matt could help us. That was the reason." -- Coach Leslie Frazier, regarding benching Christian Ponder after interceptions on two consecutive possessions.

What the Seahawks said
"This was a good opportunity for us to have a little momentum going into the bye and feel good about it. We wanted to get this win badly so we could feel comfortable about this break." -- Coach Pete Carroll.

What we learned about the Vikings
1. It's time for the Josh Freeman era to begin, again, in Minnesota. While QB Christian Ponder actually played pretty well for three quarters Sunday, his inconsistency reared its ugly head again early in the fourth quarter. After interceptions on consecutive possessions helped Seattle turn an 11-point game into a rout, Ponder was benched in favor of Matt Cassel. Freeman, who has made only one start since being signed as a free agent following his release by the Buccaneers, was inactive but appears to be healthy enough to play. With just six games remaining, the Vikings need to see what they have in him -- or address the position in the offseason. It became all too clear once again that Ponder is not the answer.
2. The Vikings' receiving corps could be on its way to big things. With veteran Greg Jennings sidelined and Jerome Simpson distracted by off-the-field issues, Minnesota put the game in the hands of youngsters Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday. Wright certainly did his part, with two of his three receptions resulting in touchdowns, while Patterson was targeted a team-high nine times for three receptions. The development of Wright and Patterson could be as big to the Vikings' passing game as whoever ends up being the quarterback of the future.

What we learned about the Seahawks
1. The NFC's best may have gotten better. The addition of WR Percy Harvin, who made his debut Sunday after sitting out the first 10 games following hip surgery, gives Seattle a whole new dimension on offense. He was only on the field for about seven offensive snaps Sunday but set up a pair of Seahawks touchdowns -- the second of which came after a 58-yard kickoff return late in the first half. Adding Harvin to the mix, and adding three starting offensive linemen who were out the previous weeks, could be all the Seahawks offense needs to find its rhythm heading down the stretch.
2. The Seahawks might not miss CB Brandon Browner as much as originally expected. While Browner sits out with a groin injury, replacement Walter Thurmond III had a solid game that included a 29-yard interception return. The most devastating pass play given up by Seattle's defense Sunday came not against Thurmond but against Pro Bowler Richard Sherman, who got beat for a 38-yard touchdown reception by Minnesota's Jarius Wright. Browner is expected to be out for multiple weeks, but the emergence of Thurmond might make that storyline a moot point.

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