SEATTLE -- Two teams with dominant running backs traded sledgehammers to the gut Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
The Seattle Seahawks also brought to the fight an efficient, poised quarterback with a veteran's feel for the pocket and the arm strength to fire the ball downfield on occasion.
That was the most meaningful difference between the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings during Seattle's 30-20 victory in Week 9. It's what matters most for Seattle as the team moves forward with rookie Russell Wilson behind center.
Wilson's three touchdown passes gave the rookie 13 through nine games, two fewer than Seattle managed all last season. He has eight touchdowns against two picks over his last four starts. He has taken one sack over his past two games and never more than two in a game since Arizona brought him down three times in Week 1.
These are the signs of progress Seattle must see this season.
The fact that the Seahawks are 5-4 with four home games left on the schedule further validates Seattle's decision to name Wilson the starter over Matt Flynn. That conversation sure did suffer a quick and decisive demise, didn't it? This team is contending not just in spite of its rookie quarterback, but increasingly because of him.
"Hats off to him," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "He's a heckuva player and he has a bright future in this league."
This was only the second time in 24 chances a Seattle team won despite allowing 155-plus yards to an opposing runner. Adrian Peterson was absurdly prolific on his way to 144 first-half yards. He left full-grown NFL linebackers flailing at his vapor trails. That stuff about Peterson undergoing ACL surgery has to be a hoax.
Peterson put the scalpel to Seattle's rush defense. The Seahawks fared much better against him in the second half, limiting him to 182 yards for the game after 200-plus appeared bankable.
The Seahawks' defense deserves a large share of the credit. Defenders who had geared up to stop Peterson showed more patience in the second half, making it tougher for the NFL's best runner to cut back into the clear. Of course, Peterson had only five carries after halftime.
Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch (124 yards) and the Seahawks' receivers and offensive line get credit, too.
Seattle led by only a touchdown well into the fourth quarter. The outcome could have swung either way. The Seahawks possessed the ball for 10:53 of the game's final 11:49, and that made it impossible for Minnesota to threaten.
Wilson to Lynch for 23 yards on second-and-13. Wilson to fullback Michael Robinson for 16 yards on third-and-1. Wilson scrambling 13 yards on second-and-14. Wilson converting fourth-and-1 on a keeper. Wilson finding Robinson for a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-4.
These were the fourth-quarter plays that let Seattle grind out the victory. Earlier, there were 6- and 11-yard scoring passes to Golden Tate and an 11-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice on third-and-9. Also, a 7-yard pass to Rice on third-and-4 and a 6-yarder to Tate on third-and-5 extended drives that would result in touchdowns.
The first-quarter bullet Wilson threw over the middle to Rice for a 23-yard gain was one he delivered on time and with authority after stepping forward in the pocket.
"He did a great job of avoiding the pressure, buying some time, scrambling a couple times, converting some first downs," said Antoine Winfield, the Vikings' three-time Pro Bowl cornerback.
The Seahawks rushed for 195 yards and passed for 190, the type of balance Pete Carroll and just about every defensive-minded coach loves to see.
What was Wilson's role in it all? The Vikings weren't going to hold a parade for him.
"When you give up 200 yards rushing, heck, I could be successful as a quarterback," said Jared Allen, the Vikings' four-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
Perhaps Allen should start for the Vikings, then. Minnesota rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vikings' second-year quarterback, Christian Ponder, completed only half his 22 attempts for 63 yards and a pick. Ponder was operating on the road against a tougher pass defense than the one Wilson faced. Still, though, 63 yards?
Allen, understandably steamed following a rough defeat, did offer some real insight.
"I mean, they don't allow [Wilson] to sit in there and drop back," he said. "They do play-action off everything. You've got run action. You've got Lynch, who is running the ball and then [Wilson] comes back and if his first read is not open, he breaks the pocket and makes plays downfield."
Wilson was playing downhill Sunday, no question.
Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant, playing for his job now that Walter Thurmond is close to returning, forced and recovered a first-quarter fumble, setting up the offense at the Minnesota 17. Later, a trick play produced a 25-yard gain, Rice to tight end Zach Miller. There were sideways passes to utilize Tate's considerable running ability.
This was not Aaron Rodgers carrying his team, obviously. But it didn't have to be.
"The guy [Wilson] knows how to make plays, he knows how to create his own windows, but you live with that if we stop the run," Allen said. "Again, you stop the run and you force him to drop back. He gets out of the pocket and he can make every throw downfield. Good for them, but that ain't what beat us. We gave up 200 yards rushing."
Wilson did lead a pass-oriented attack to a 24-point showing at Detroit last week. Before Sunday, Wilson had thrown eight of his 10 scoring passes from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That included four of five over the previous three games. He moves with purpose and can turn sure sacks into positive yardage.
The Seahawks are increasingly putting Wilson in the shotgun formation, with promising results. This was his second consecutive game with two scoring passes from the shotgun after having two over the first seven games. He completed 10 of 14 passes from the formation Sunday after using it only 52 percent of the time previously this season, an unusually low rate in the current NFL.
The Vikings, having already lost road games to rookie first-round quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, had gone 2-0 at home against the NFC West's Alex Smith and John Skelton. They hoped to force Wilson into 35-plus passes, but with Lynch flourishing and Ponder floundering, that wasn't an option.
"You have to make a rookie quarterback drop back, disguise some coverages and create some turnovers," Winfield said.
Wilson attempted 35 passes against Detroit and played well enough to win. Seattle lost that game when its defense couldn't stop the Lions on third down. Defensive breakdowns easily could have become the story Sunday without those three scoring passes from Wilson.
Luck tossed two touchdowns without a pick against the Vikings. Griffin beat them for two touchdowns rushing and one passing with an interception.
The Seahawks, after scoring three red zone touchdowns in September and five in October, produced four Sunday. They did it against a Vikings defense that had allowed opponents to score eight touchdowns on 11 red zone possessions over the previous three weeks.
Wilson did not clear a particularly high bar Sunday, in other words. All he did was provide the Seahawks with exactly what they needed, and much more than they have gotten from any other quarterback lately. This wasn't the last time.