The Minnesota Vikings (4-2) didn't appear to be the best team in the NFC, but they entered Sunday's game facing the defending NFC champions with league MVP Shaun Alexander on the sideline. By the time the game had ended, the Vikings also knocked Seattle Seahawks (4-2) quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out the game and proved once again that Brad Childress' Vikings can go on the road and beat a quality opponent with their new modus operandi.
With a staunch defense that allowed only 53 yards rushing and a ball-control offense that picked its spots to go deep, the Vikings left Seattle with a 31-13 win and newfound respect.
While they may have gotten or created breaks in some of their other close wins this season, Minnesota stamped a second-half statement across the face of this game with 169 yards rushing from Chester Taylor – including a 95-yard back-breaking touchdown in the third quarter – and another smothering performance from its defense.
While the Seahawks gained 290 yards in the game, 72 of those yards came on Seattle's only touchdown pass of the game in its opening drive and 70 more came on the Seahawks' last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the rest of the game, the Purple Haze ended three Seahawks drives after three plays, another drive after four plays, and forced two interceptions and two fumbles.
The Vikings stayed in the game early when Seattle had dominated so often at home, but by the end of the third quarter the domination belonged solely to Minnesota.
The Vikings continued their opening-drive successes they experienced before the bye. Johnson started with a 13-yard completion to Troy Williamson before the Vikings went to the ground game. Taylor picked up 20 yards on two rushes, but the drive stalled before Ryan Longwell put points on the board with a 33-yard field goal with three minutes, 20 seconds elapsed.
The Seahawks answered quickly. Facing their initial third down of the game, Hasselbeck called an audible and connected on a quick slant to Darrell Jackson, who beat Ronyell Whitaker to the inside and found the seam between Whitaker and safety Dwight Smith. Jackson was gone in a hurry for a 72-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead less than five minutes into the game.
The teams exchanged punts, but the Seahawks were clearly moving the ball more effectively and winning the battle of field position early. When they took their third possession of the game, they were on their way to their second scoring drive. It started with a 12-yard completion to Deion Branch, but another explosive play put them in position. Maurice Morris ran by a blitz for a 27-yard gain to put the Seahawks in Josh Brown's range and the kicker converted from 42 yards out for a seven-point Seattle lead.
This time, the Vikings responded with a 10-play scoring drive. Travis Taylor moved the chains with a 16-yard reception, and Billy McMullen achieved another first down with a 9-yard grab before Chester Taylor picked up the final first down of the drive with a 7-yard run to the 33-yard line. However, the drive started to go backwards when Leroy Hill sacked Brad Johnson and forced a fumble that Mewelde Moore recovered. Facing third-and-17 from the 40-yard line, Marcus Robinson baited the safety and found the seam in the secondary for a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10 with 7:55 left in the first half.
The Vikings defense continued put momentum with the visitors when Ray Edwards ended an eight-play drive with a 10-yard sack of Hasselbeck, and Mewelde Moore's 40-yard punt return set up the Minnesota offense on Seattle's 41-yard line. However, a fourth-down gamble resulted in an incompletion that turned the ball over to the Seahawks.
The defense continued its strong play and shut down the Seahawks in three plays, but two sacks by Julian Peterson in Minnesota's final drive of the first half kept the Vikings from advancing into Seattle territory and taking the lead.
That would all change quickly in the second half when E.J. Henderson rolled into Hasselbeck's knee, sending the quarterback to the sidelines for at least the rest of the game with what was reported as a sprained medial collateral ligament.
The Vikings took possession following a punt and never looked back.
Chester Taylor picked up the initial first down, but passes of 28 yards to Robinsonand 15 to Richard Owens put them on the 7-yard line. When Marcus Johnson was caught holding, it looked like the Vikings' troubles in the red zone would continue … until Childress got creative and Moore threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Wiggins for a 17-10 Vikings lead with 8:31 to play in the third quarter.
The Minnesota offense didn't capitalize on a Cedric Griffin interception of Seattle's Seneca Wallace when Longwell pushed a 46-yard attempt to the right, but Mike Tomlin's defense continued to deliver. It forced another three-and-out of the Seahawks, and the Vikings were about to take control of the game.
Despite poor field position at their own 5-yard line, Taylor made quick work of Seattle's formerly stout run defense when he took a handoff, bounced outside to the left and weaved his way through traffic for the longest touchdown run in team history and a 24-10 lead over the defending NFC champions.
Seattle got back within striking distance when Wallace got hot for one drive. He connected with Branch for 23 yards to start the series and Jackson two plays later for 18 yards. Jackson added two more catches for 17 yards later in the drive, setting up a 26-yard field goal for Brown that brought the Seahawks within nine points, 24-13, with 14:12 left in the game.
This time, it was Seattle forcing the Vikings offense off the field after three plays, giving the Seahawks a chance to narrow the deficit. They caught a break when Fred Smoot was flagged for hands-to-the-face on an incomplete third-down pass, but on the next big play it was the Vikings defense stopping Morris for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-1.
The next series for the defense closed the door on Seattle's hopes. It was Ben Leber delivering the knockout blow when he sacked Wallace, forced the fumble at the goal line and Kevin Williams recovered in the end zone for the final touchdown in Minnesota's 31-13 win.
While most observers thought the Vikings would have to survive their September and October schedule, they have thrived. They have one more formidable test before a national Monday Night Football audience on Oct. 30 against New England, before their schedule eases with four losing teams in November.
For now, however, they simply leave Seattle satisfied by beating the defending conference champions.
Vikings Conquer 2005 Conference Champs, 31-13
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