It’s a scenario played out in backyards across the country: kicking a game-winning field goal to win in the NFL playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh had a chance to do just that, after second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater drove the Vikings inside the red zone with under 30 seconds left.
But a poor hold led to his kick sailing wide left, which sent the Seattle Seahawks into the next round with a 10-9 road victory. They’ll face the Carolina Panthers, who defeated Seattle 27-23 in Week 6.
“This was a survival game for both teams,” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll of his team’s gutsy performance.
The Vikings started the game strong, holding a 9-0 lead after three quarters of play. But Seattle QB Russell Wilson knows how to win playoff games, and is now 7-2 in the postseason after this triumph in the Minnesota tundra.
“I’ve practiced in cold weather like that before, but I’ve never played in anything that cold,” said Wilson, who played without gloves despite the kickoff temperature being negative-six degrees, the third-coldest in NFL postseason history.
Wilson made a few big-time plays, including turning a horrendous snap into a 40-yard completion, to guide the 4th-quarter comeback for Seattle.
Despite Wilson’s clutch performance in sub-zero temperatures, Bridgewater still gave Minnesota a chance to win the game after a nice pass to Kyle Rudolph put them in field-goal range late in the game.
Looking at Blair Walsh’s performance earlier in the game, three-for-three with two field goals coming from 40-plus yards, there seemed to be no doubt he could make a short 27-yarder to give the Vikings a late lead. Entering today, kickers made 98.9% of field goal attempts 27 yards or shorter this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
But none of those other kicks came with the season riding on it. Walsh never kicked in the playoffs before today, and under increased pressure, his kick never had a chance, hooking left immediately.
“The football gods were with us today,” said Seattle All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who picked up six tackles.
It’ll be a tough off-season for the 26-year-old Walsh, but he should remain in Minnesota, barring any rash decisions by the front office. He scored every point for them in this game, and led the league in made field goals this season with 34.
The Vikings surprised some people by winning the NFC North, so there is a lot to build on for next season.
“I think this team has proved a lot of things to a lot of people this year,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after the tough loss.
A good kicker is crucial to a team’s success, and one missed field goal shouldn’t result in Walsh’s departure.