The task looked to be giant for the Minnesota Vikings heading into Seattle this week — and it was.
Minnesota, at 2-7, was facing the NFC’s top team in the Seahawks, who have one of the NFL’s best home-field advantages in the loud and rowdy CenturyLink Field. Seattle was getting receiver Percy Harvin and three starting offensive linemen back.
Three second-half turnovers ended any suspense and Minnesota fell to 2-8 this season with a 41-20 loss to the Seahawks (10-1).
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings’ loss:
1. Quarterback questions continue
Christian Ponder made his fourth straight start, coming back from the dislocated shoulder last week. Ponder had temporarily appeared to seize the quarterback job and end the carousel by the way he played last week in the win against Washington before the injury. Just like the rest of Ponder’s career, he couldn’t show consistency.
Coming off his best game of the season, Ponder had one of his worst. Sunday started with a fumble on his first dropback, which was recovered by the Seahawks. Ponder looked shaky early and then responded to lead a touchdown drive, connecting on a 38-yard touchdown to Jarius Wright, the longest touchdown of his career to a receiver other than Harvin. Another drive ended in a field goal and Minnesota was trailing just 17-13.
But Seattle scored in the final seconds of the half and Ponder threw two interceptions — both directly to Seahawks’ defenders and was pulled from the game. After going 9 of 13 for 114 yards passing and a touchdown in the first half, Ponder was 4 of 9 for just 15 yards passing in the second half and the two interceptions, giving him three turnovers in the game. In seven games this season, Ponder has 13 turnovers.
Matt Cassel replaced Ponder and promptly threw an interception on a tipped pass on his first drive. Cassel finished 5-of-13 passing for 78 yards a touchdown and interception. After the game, coach Leslie Frazier wouldn’t commit to a starting quarterback going forward. Ponder’s struggles might lead to another opening for Josh Freeman.
2. Defense in a bad spot
The Vikings defense deserves much of the blame for the 2-8 record. Sunday it allowed 34 points, but the situation can’t be dismissed. Minnesota’s defense was put in bad spots several times on Sunday. The Vikings held after Ponder’s first turnover, holding Seattle to minus-4 yards and a field goal. Ponder’s first interception led to a short field and the Seahawks scored a touchdown only needing to go 18 yards. After Cassel’s interception, Seattle went just seven yards and kicked another short field goal.
Minnesota still had its lapses on defense, and tackling was again an issue against Seahawks physical running back Marshawn Lynch. The Vikings were minus-4 in turnover differential. However, with Seattle’s offense at full strength, Minnesota held the Seahawks to 323 total yards and Lynch to 54 yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. The Vikings outgained Seattle, 336-323 in total yardage. The Seahawks scored 20 points off of turnovers in a 21-point win.
3. Injuries worse than expected
Minnesota had been getting good news, mostly, leading up to the game, getting back six of the nine players unavailable last week because of injuries. Ponder fought through to start. Charlie Johnson and Phil Loadholt returned to the offensive line. The secondary got back Jamarca Sanford and Chris Cook. Yet two injuries were downplayed during the week, to Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings. Peterson missed two practices because of a groin injury and Jennings was limited with an Achilles injury.
Come Sunday, Jennings — who was listed as probable — couldn’t make it and he was inactive. Peterson played but wasn’t effective and didn’t have his usual burst, though the holes were lacking as well. Peterson had 21 carries for 65 yards, gaining just 3.1 yards per attempt. After the game, Frazier admitted Peterson wasn’t 100 percent and was bothered by the groin injury. Backup Toby Gerhart ended up with the most carries he’s had in a single game this year and ended up outrushing Peterson with seven carries for 67 yards.
4. Begins with the line
Peterson might have been hobbled and slower, but the offensive line struggled to open many holes again. Peterson has not hit holes as hard as he did last year and might be missing spots — there was one instance in the second half where Peterson appeared to have a lot of room and made a few lateral moves causing the defense to close in. But simply put the offensive line has not provided the same push it did last year during Peterson’s MVP campaign.
Maybe the biggest disappointment and underlying surprise has been the play of the offensive line. The line has struggled at times to pass protect and open holes for Peterson. With Johnson and Loadholt back in the starting unit, the line that had been together every game since the start of last season before Loadholt and Johnson missed last week with injuries was reassembled. Seattle’s defense controlled the point of attack in reacting to the running game, not giving Peterson any chance to get to the second level.
5. Harvin was happy
There he was sitting on the bench at the end of the game as cameras caught him. Harvin was relaxing and had a big smile on his face while chatting with teammates. Harvin didn’t play much in his first game back from hip surgery, but he made his presence felt against his former team and he likely couldn’t be any happier.
Harvin’s first catch with the Seahawks was a falling, highlight-type grab on third-and-10 that went for a first down, extending a Seattle drive that ended up in a touchdown. Harvin wasn’t supposed to return kicks in his first game, but there he was back on the final drive of the first half. He caught Blair Walsh’s kick four yards deep and returned it for 58 yards right up the middle to give the Seahawks a chance to score a late touchdown. He also earned a pass-interference penalty against Vikings’ cornerback Josh Robinson.