If Thursday night's preseason finale was the dress rehearsal, fans didn't get the lead actors. Instead, Vikings coach Mike Tice and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren held back their star players, resulting in big yardage for the offenses but a number of first-half miscues in the red zones and plenty of penalties.
Instead of a preview of an NFC Sunday playoff game, Seattle's 23-21 preseason win was more of a preview of Sunday's waiver wire.
The Vikings took advantage of early Seahawks mistakes in the red zone en route to a 7-0 lead on Daunte Culpepper's only series, but while Gus Frerotte drove the Vikings the rest of the first half, the Seahawks finally took advantage of their offensive production and turned it into a 14-7 halftime lead.
Third-string quarterback Shaun Hill led the Vikings to a third-quarter comeback, but field goal on the Seahawks' final two drives — the last coming as time expired — led to Seattle's 23-21 win.
The game meant little to the starters (besides Culpepper going 5-for-5 on his only series), and their health proved to be the top priority to the coaches.
Minnesota's defense, missing a number of starters as a precautionary measure in the final preseason game, yielded yardage in chunks to the Seahawks. By the time the Seahawks were done, they had gained 464 yards — 359 of that in the air.
With Trent Dilfer starting at quarterback and Maurice Morris at running back, Morris started with a 30-yard run when the Vikings lost containment. A 13-yard pass to Taco Wallace got the Seahawks into the red zone, but on first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, E.J. Henderson came on a blitz and held onto Dilfer's arm as he released a hindered pass. As the ball fluttered at the line of scrimmage, defensive tackle Steve Martin came down with the interception, and the defense avoided giving up a touchdown on the opening drive.
Seattle's defense wasn't as fortunate.
Twice in Minnesota's first series it had the Vikings facing third-and-long, and both times the Vikings broke free thanks to starting running back Mewelde Moore. On third-and-9, Moore took a screen and followed his blocking beautifully, shimmying his way to an 18-yard pickup. Five plays later, on third-and-11, Moore took a dump pass from Culpepper and broke tackles en route to a 38-yard catch-and-run. On the next play, Culpepper found tight end Jermaine Wiggins wide open for a 22-yard touchdown with 5:49 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
After a turnover on their first possession, the Seattle offense went back to a heavy dose of Morris, finding success in yardage but failing to score again. Sans two plays, Morris was the workhorse on Seattle's second drive and got them to the Vikings 17-yard line. However, when Chuck Wiley knocked down the field goal attempt, the Seahawks came away empty again.
With Gus Frerotte entering the game on the second series, the Vikings used a heavy allotment of running back Larry Ned. He took six carries for 35 yards to sandwich around consecutive passes of 6, 14 and 13 yards to Wiggins, Kelly Campbell and Keenan Howry, respectively. But Frerotte made the same mistake he made last week, forcing a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Ken Lucas.
After two productive drives for yardage but no points, the Seahawks' third drive was their charm. Without enough pressure coming from the second- and third-team defensive linemen, Dilfer picked apart the second- and third-team secondary. He started it with an 18-yard pass to Jerheme Urban, who gained another first down in the middle of the drive with a 15-yard reception. Four plays later, it was Urban catching a 16-yard pass, but Jason Willis caught the game-tying touchdown on a 5-yard reception from Dilfer with 2:42 left in the first half.
A three-and-out series from Minnesota allowed the Seahawks one more chance to score before halftime — and Dilfer took advantage. On the second play of the drive, former Minnesota Gopher Antoine Burns somehow got behind the secondary and was off to the races. He was caught from behind at the 7-yard line, but on the next play Dilfer rewarded Burns with the touchdown pass with 1:15 left in the first half, a score that gave the Seahawks a 14-7 lead at intermission.
Third-string quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Seneca Wallace took the teams through the second half with different styles. Hill, a pocket passer, started poorly but led a comeback that fell just short. Wallace, a stronger-armed, more mobile QB, did just enough to lead the Seahawks to the game-ending, game-winning field goal.
After Hill gained only 3 yards on the first series of the second half, Wallace and the Seahawks picked up only two first downs, but with starting field position at their own 46-yard line, that was all they needed to give Josh Brown a successful 39-yard field goal attempt and a 17-7 lead.
Hill and Ned countered with a touchdown drive. On third-and-9, Hill hit Ben Nelson for 11 yards. Five plays later, facing third-and-7, Hill found tight end Richard Angulo for 11 yards. Three plays later, the QB converted another third down with a 13-yard pass to tight end Richard Owens to the 2-yard line. Three consecutive dives by Ned finally yielded a 1-yard touchdown with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
After the defense held, the Vikings offense went on another touchdown drive, but it would be their last of the evening. This time it was the Vikings taking advantage of field position, starting on their own 48-yard line. After a 16-yard reception by Angulo and a 19-yard outlet pass to Ned, the Vikings were inside the red zone. On second down, Ned got the call with a 10-yard TD reception with 26 seconds left in the third quarter, and the Vikings had a 21-17 lead.
An interception in the end zone by Willie Offord on Seattle's ensuing drive kept the four-point lead intact, but Wallace turned efficient in the fourth quarter. Completions of 14, 12, 11 and 6 yards put Brown in position for a 41-yard field goal with 5:21 left to play and drew the Seahawks within one point.
The Vikings needed a sustained drive to salt the game away but instead went three-and-out and gave the ball back with 2:57 to play. Burns burned the Vikings for three receptions totaling 17 yards, and when Rod Davis was called for leading with the helmet on the second of those receptions, the Seahawks were across midfield with time to spare. Two short passes to Kerry Carter were followed by two runs to put Seattle in position to win it on the 10-yard line. Brown did exactly that with a 28-yard field goal as time expired, giving Seattle the 23-21 win.
This game meant almost nothing to the starters, many of whom never took foot on the playing field, but to the second group of players trying to win a roster spot, their performance will go under heavy review. The Vikings starters, meanwhile, will look to opening day when they host Dallas.
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