Sunday kicked off with the third-coldest game in NFL history (!!), a game eclipsed in frigidity only by the -13 degree Ice Bowl of 1967 and the -9 Freezer Bowl of 1982. Temperatures hovered around -6 in Minneapolis on Sunday, with a wind chill of -25. The weather was
an the obvious and major factor, as both teams coped as best as they could with trying to hold on to the football while not dying of exposure. Jon Ryan broke his nose trying to run for a first down after an errant snap on the Seahawks' first punt, both teams' passing games were all but neutered and execution everywhere else was spotty at best. Human beings are simply not supposed to operate at temperatures like that, and it showed.
That said, it was still a pretty entertaining and competitive defensive grudge match of a game, one which Minnesota led 9-0 through three quarters. The Vikings had gotten their two-score lead on the back of three Blair Walsh field goals, but as we've seen so many times in the past, Seattle wasn't quite ready to bow out. Seattle's biggest offensive play came early in the fourth quarter on a bungled snap by center Patrick Lewis. Russell Wilson picked it up, managed to avoid an onslaught of rushers, and found rookie Tyler Lockett wide open in the middle of the field. Lockett would hustle downfield for 35 yards before being dragged down at the 4-yard line, and Seattle would score two plays later. After forcing an Adrian Peterson fumble and converting that turnover into three more points, the Seahawks carried a 10-9 lead into the game's final two minutes.
The Vikings bounced back. Teddy Bridgewater led the two-minute offense downfield and set Minnesota up for the go-ahead field goal on the 9-yard line with 26 seconds left, but inconceivably, Walsh hooked it left and Seattle survived. The defending NFC Champion Seahawks got a lucky break and will move on to balmy Carolina next week in a much anticipated matchup between two similarly built teams.
As for the Vikings, it's a heartbreaking and crushing loss but the emergence of some key players is something to build on for 2016. Bridgewater finished the season strong, Stefon Diggs looks like a potential star down the line and Anthony Barr has been outstanding at outside linebacker. Moreover, taking the NFC North division title away from the Packers was nothing to sneeze at. Things are looking up for Minnesota.
The Vikings mess up potential game-winning field goal
In the late afternoon game, Washington started things out in dominant fashion as they put together a quick 11-0 lead on the Packers, but that success was short lived as Aaron Rodgers and a rejuvenated offense scored 17 unanswered points before the half. Kirk Cousins would give Washington the lead back early in the third quarter with a keeper up the gut, but from there on out Green Bay's run game took over. Eddie Lacy finished with 63 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, James Starks added 53 and a score, and Randall Cobb chipped in an extra 24 yards on five carries from the backfield. It was too much for Washington, and the Packers' new-found rhythm, balance and a detectable confidence on offense helped them run away with it, 35-18.
It's a small sample size, but there's got to be the real fear from the rest of the NFC field that a sleeping giant has been woken. The Packers have struggled mightily on offense during the second half of the season, and while things weren't exactly perfect on Sunday, Rodgers had pep in his step and a big ole' smile on his face, a couple things we haven't really seen from him of late. Importantly too, the run game really clicked. If Green Bay can keep up some of that offensive momentum, it could give Arizona some trouble next week.
As for Washington, the big question over the offseason is the impending Kirk Cousins contract talks. GM Scot McCloughan built a team from the trenches out after taking over last January, and now could have a legitimate franchise quarterback on his hands. The negotiations there should be very interesting, but Cousins no doubt played himself into some money. Then there's the question of what happens with Robert Griffin III, who will likely move on to greener pastures next season and hope to revive his career.
I broke down what happened in the Saturday games here, and the good news out of Kansas City Sunday is that Jeremy Maclin avoided an ACL tear, as initially feared. His status for next week's tilt with the Patriots is still up in the air as he deals with a high ankle sprain, but the good news is that there's still a chance. In Kansas City's wake, Houston surely has some questions to answer over the offseason. J.J. Watt will undergo surgery on his groin, Jadeveon Clowney has a big offseason in front of him and the Texans will get the opportunity to figure out what they're going to do at quarterback after being forced to roll with a handful of disappointing options in 2015. They have a superstar receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and need to find a quarterback to throw him the ball. There's always the big question of what happens with Arian Foster this offseason as well.
The Steelers survived an ugly ending in their Wild Card matchup with the Bengals to move on to face Denver next week, but Cincinnati is going to have a long offseason to think about their end-of-game meltdown. Vontaze Burfict may face stiff penalties for his hit on Antonio Brown, and Cincy will almost certainly lose Hue Jackson to a head coaching job. Installing a new coordinator that can work magic with Andy Dalton next year will be a big focus.
Final scores for Wild Card Weekend
Kansas City Chiefs 30, Houston Texans 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Cincinnati Bengals 16
Seattle Seahawks 10, Minnesota Vikings 9
Green Bay Packers 35, Washington 18
Water Cooler talking points:
Arm yourself with a few essential tidbits from Sunday's action ... impress your coworkers around the water cooler.
With the Chiefs, Steelers, Seahawks and Packers winning over the weekend, it marked the first time since the NFL realignment in 1990 that all four road teams emerged victorious during Wild Card Weekend. So much for that home-field advantage.
Of course, the Bengals played without their starting quarterback, Washington won the weak NFC East with just a 9-7 record and the Vikings had to deal with record-low temperatures, but that perfect storm of road team wins had not happened in 26 years. Pretty crazy.
Packers offense is alive
It's not like all of Green Bay's offensive woes were cured in one fell swoop in Washington on Sunday -- they were actually still outgained by Kirk Cousins and company on the day and Aaron Rodgers' final line (21 of 36 for 210 yards and two touchdowns) wasn't exactly Aaron Rodgersesque -- but their second half was encouraging overall. The 32 points they posted in the win was their high going all the way back to Week 3, when they scored 38 against the Chiefs (Per ESPN Stats & Info).
Seahawks defense loves life on the road
Meanwhile, the Seahawks defense did a good job of carrying Seattle to a big playoff win when the offense really struggled most of the day. Seattle limited the Vikings to just three field goals while holding the NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards on 23 carries. Somewhat quietly, the Seahawks -- who have to go on the road to Carolina next week -- have now won six road games in a row and their defense has allowed just one offensive touchdown in that streak.
Russell Wilson just continues to build up his early career accolades. He's now led the Seahawks to seven postseason wins in his first four years as the Seattle signal caller, one more than Tom Brady's six postseason wins from 2000-2003. Wilson will also become the first NFL quarterback to start 10 playoff games in his first four years. Pretty impressive start and he only seems to be improving each year.
ESPN Stats & Info tweeted out another impressive stat that helps to illustrate why Wilson's late-game heroics have been so integral to the Seahawks' success over the past few years. With the come-from-behind win on Sunday, the Seahawks are now 5-2 in the postseason after trailing by nine points or more (since 2010), while the rest of the NFL is a paltry 6-41.
The Seahawks outliers
This game in Minnesota was a weird one. Seattle was out of sorts for the first three quarters and went into the final frame with a whopping zero points on the board. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Seahawks became just the third team in the league's history to win a playoff game after being shut out for the first three quarters (joining the 1978 Falcons and 1948 Eagles).
The Seahawks punter fumbled the snap, faceplanted and busted his nose open.
Doug Baldwin definitely couldn't feel his hands, yet he made this unbelievable one-handed catch.
The Seahawks' biggest play was a fumbled snap Russell Wilson somehow turned into a 35-yard pass.
Kam Chancellor used superhuman strength to pry the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hands.
The Vikings kicker shanked a 27-yard potential game-winner snapped with the laces in.
DeSean Jackson once again forgot to carry the ball into the end zone.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh handled missing a game-winning field goal with class.
You have to see this DeAndre Hopkins toe-drag catch in slow motion to appreciate its majesty.
Steelers coach Mike Munchak was penalized for yanking a Bengals player's hair.
The Texans' wildcat play with J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork was the most beautiful failure ever.
Bengals players and fans were livid after a helmet-to-helmet on Giovani Bernard.
The Bengals stunned the Steelers with a go-ahead TD strike to A.J. Green.
The Steelers committed the worst turnover of the postseason until the Bengals topped it on the next play.
The late penalty that doomed the Bengals was provoked by a Steelers coach illegally on the field.
Davante Adams suffered a knee injury vs. Washington.
Ben Roethlisberger says he's day to day with a 'sore' shoulder.
Jeremy Maclin avoided an ACL tear, but his status vs. the Patriots is uncertain with a high ankle sprain.
Bengals' Reggie Nelson, Dre Kirkpatrick left their Wild Card game with injuries.