Despite taking wildly different paths, the Seahawks and Vikings found themselves in strikingly similar situations on Monday night.

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Seahawks underwent a self-described "reset," saying goodbye to mainstays like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Cliff Avril. The Vikings, in the aftermath of a crushing defeat in the conference championship game, reloaded by giving Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed mega-contract and plucking Sheldon Richardson away from Seattle. Yet each team entered Monday night's Week 14 matchup trailing its respective division leader by a substantial margin, while remaining in control of one of the two wild-card spots the NFC has to offer. Monday night's victor would take one giant leap toward securing the fifth playoff seed while the loser would provide a target for the cluster of sub.-500 teams still in the hunt for a playoff position.

Neither team looked championship worthy in a low-scoring affair induced by both dominant defensive play and horrific offensive execution, but it was the Seahawks who took a stranglehold over the fifth seed with a 21-7 win, stretched their winning streak to four games, pushed their record to 8-5, and extended their lead over the now 6-6-1 Vikings to one-and-a-half games with three weeks remaining on the schedule. The Seahawks should be the top wild-card team in the NFC when the playoffs begin. The Vikings are still in good shape, but questions about Cousins' ability to get them over the hump remain. 

Credit the Seahawks' defense, which entered the week ranked 16th in DVOA, for making Cousins look nothing like the $84 million quarterback he's supposed to be, stymieing two of the sport's top receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, shutting out the Vikings for 58 minutes and 50 seconds, and scoring a touchdown of their own. But also blame Cousins for -- once again -- coming up short in a playoff type of game against a playoff type of team. Blame offensive coordinator John DeFilippo for suspect at best play-calling. Blame the offensive line for failing to hold up. And blame Cousins one more time for his wretched quality of play.

It was an ugly game, and the defenses weren't entirely responsible for the lack of points. At halftime, the Seahawks led 3-0 even though they were outgaining the Vikings 175 to 61. Cousins and Russell Wilson both struggled to complete passes downfield, going a combined 11 of 20 for 71 yards in the first half, which ended in hilariously awful fashion when Wilson threw one of the worst interceptions of the season to Eric Kendricks.

These two plays -- one from each quarterback -- provide a succinct summary of the first half.

Not much changed on the other side of halftime. Three punts began the second half. Finally, with four minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Vikings crossed into Seahawks territory for the first time all game. But the drive stalled at the 40-yard line when Latavius Murray got stuffed on fourth-and-1.

The Seahawks maintained their 3-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. They had twice as many yards as the Vikings (220-110). But after settling for another field goal from in close, they led only 6-0 with 13:22 remaining.

Down 6-0, Cousins finally took a deep shot, lofting up a jump ball to Diggs downfield. Diggs came down with the 48-yard reception, providing the best offensive play of the game. But the Vikings came away with no points. 

After earning a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, the Vikings got blanked on four straight plays and turned the ball over on downs for a second time. On their next series, they watched their field goal get (controversially) blocked. The Seahawks went on to score the game's first touchdown to effectively end the game, and then Cousins handed the Seahawks' defense a touchdown of their own to add even more insult to an already horrific injury.

Cousins did, at least, pad his stats with 70 yards and a touchdown in the final minutes of the game. But don't let those fraudulent yards and touchdown adorn an otherwise dreadful game. The Seahawks' defense, led by Bobby Wagner and his team-high nine tackles as well as cornerback Shaquill Griffin and his two pass breakups, induced yet another nightmare outing from Cousins and the Vikings' offense. 

It's emerged as a theme of the Vikings' season.

Another dud from Cousins

After Cousins stunk it up against the Patriots a week ago by throwing check down after check down, questions about his ability to play well in big games persisted. It was a question that followed him from Washington to Minnesota, and he's done nothing this season to prove that the question is a dumb narrative that only exists because he played on mediocre-at-best Redskins teams before signing with the Vikings.

In four "big games" before Monday night (against the Bears, Patriots, Saints, and Rams), Cousins completed 71.3 percent of his passes, averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions, and posted a 93.3 passer rating. The Vikings went 0-4 in those games.

Cousins' woes continued on Monday night. Even after that garbage-time drive, Cousins finished 20 of 33 for 208 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), one touchdown that didn't matter, no interceptions, a fumble returned for a touchdown, and an 89.0 passer rating. 

As you can see below via Next Gen Stats, Cousins continued to serve his role as captain checkdown.

NFL Next Gen Stats

He started shaky, feeling pressure before it arrived, checking the ball down like crazy, and nearly throwing an interception during the first series of the game. Later in the first quarter, Cousins turned down a downfield pass to Thielen in order to throw the ball backwards.

The Vikings' offensive line struggled to provide Cousins with adequate pass protection, but Cousins didn't help matters by lacking any sense of pocket awareness or the ability to navigate the pocket. Behind a bad offensive line, Cousins stood there like a statue.

At halftime, Cousins was 4 of 8 for 27 yards. He didn't target Thielen once. At one point early in the third quarter, Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant had more catches and targets than Thielen. Thielen didn't get a target until nine minutes into the third quarter, when Cousins hit him on a quick screen. Cousins continually refused to explore his options downfield, turning down opportunities to target Diggs and Thielen deep and instead, limiting himself to targets near the line of scrimmage.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Blame the offensive line. Blame Cousins. And blame DeFilippo, who might be coaching his way out of a head coaching job after entering the season as an enticing candidate. After the Vikings finally crossed midfield in the third quarter, they ran the Jason Garrett of fourth-and-1 play-calls by going jumbo and calling for a dive up the gut.

It didn't work. Until the dying moments of game, nothing did. 

Down 6-0 in the fourth quarter, Cousins finally took a deep shot and his aggressiveness was rewarded with 48-yard gain via Diggs, who bailed out an underthrown ball with a contested catch.

On the failed fourth-and-goal from the 2, Cousins nearly got picked when he targeted Kyle Rudolph in tight coverage instead of Thielen, who had earned separation in the end zone after the defender in coverage fell down.

At 6-6-1, the Vikings are still in a playoff position. There's still time for Cousins to play up to the level his contract demands and shake the narrative that's been building for several seasons now. But it's entirely fair to question if this Vikings team is any good. Over the past four weeks, they've lost handedly to the Bears, Patriots, and Seahawks -- three playoff teams. The Vikings might still journey into January, but at this point, they don't look like they're capable of beating playoff-caliber teams, in large part because they've yet to do it so far this season.

To be specific, the Vikings' defense looks like it's up to the task of playing playoff-caliber football. Don't blame them for the loss. They allowed two field goals and a touchdown. It's the offense -- from the quarterback to the offensive line to the offensive coordinator -- that isn't doing its part.

Russell Wilson struggles

Like Cousins, Wilson appeared to be bothered by penetration up front. Without the reliable Doug Baldwin available, Wilson struggled to make throws downfield and deal with pressure.

Against a strong defense, he went 10 of 20 for 72 yards (3.6 YPA), no touchdowns, one horrible interception, and a 37.9 passer rating. And the Seahawks still won. That's how well their defense played. That's how bad the Vikings were on offense. 

Let's watch that interception one more time, just because:

One of his best passing plays was a designed throw to Fant.

Another one of his better passing plays was an overthrow that resulted in a questionable pass-interference penalty. But that series bogged down in the red zone when Wilson took a sack he never saw coming off the right side of the line.

Let's check in with Baldwin:

Wilson's best play of the night, which put the Vikings away for good, came late in the fourth quarter when he broke containment and outran the Vikings' defense down the sideline for 40 yards, which set up a touchdown that effectively ended the game.

The game was over the moment Wilson hit top gear and Linval Joseph stopped trying to chase a quarterback he wasn't going to catch.

Seahawks go run-heavy again

The Seahawks run the kind of offense Mike Zimmer dreams of having. The league's top rushing team went with another run-heavy approach. They found success in terms of yardage, but the approach didn't lead to many points. The Seahawks attempted 42 runs for 214 yards (5.1 yards per carry).

The Wilson run above was the key moment in the game. But don't overlook Rashaad Penny's 17-yard gain that required him to run 83 yards. 

And give Chris Carson credit for icing the game with this touchdown in the fourth quarter after Wilson got the Seahawks down near the goal line.

Carson finished with 90 yards on 22 carries, Wilson totaled 61 yards on seven carries, Penny racked up 44 yards on eight carries, and Mike Davis added 22 yards on three carries.

Wagner and the officials wipe away three points

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings looked to slice the Seahawks' six-point lead in half with a 47-yard field goal. That's when Wagner, who remains one of the league's best linebackers, came through with one of the biggest plays of the game.

He jumped over the center and blocked the kick.

Even though the officials initially threw a flag on the play, they picked it up -- incorrectly. The block never should've counted.

Great play by Wagner. Not so great by the officials.


The game wasn't great, so enjoy some nice dogs.

Good dogs.

What's next?

The Seahawks close out the season against the 49ers, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so it wouldn't be at all surprising to see them go 2-1 down the stretch. The Vikings finish out the year against the Dolphins, Lions, and Bears. That Week 17 game could decide the fate of the NFC North if the 9-4 Bears stumble during the next couple weeks. But don't count on it. The Bears can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Packers on Sunday.

Feel free to relive the game with our live blog below.