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Clayton: On brink of clinching playoffs, it’s a new era for Seahawks

Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin had a big game in Monday's win over the Vikings. (AP)

The Monday night victory over the Minnesota Vikings, though not pretty, was a defining moment for the Seahawks.

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The 8-5 Seahawks are just one more victory away from clinching a wild-card spot in the playoffs. They have all but locked up the No. 5 seed, which puts them in the most probable position of playing the Dallas Cowboys to open the postseason.

One of bigger stories from the game came from postgame comments by defensive end Frank Clark, who responded to Richard Sherman’s statement that the Seahawks were a “middle of the road” team. His message to Sherman: “At the end of the day, this is my team now. This is my defense. Richard Sherman and his era is over here.”

Funny that the Seahawks and Sherman’s 49ers will be getting together again Sunday in Santa Clara with the playoffs in Seattle’s grasp.

This season has signaled that this is a new era of Seahawks football under Pete Carroll. A new core group is emerging, and this team is certainly looking a lot like the 2012 team that went to Washington with 11 wins and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

Let’s review what came out of the Monday night game and project ahead.

• The Seahawks’ defense clearly had its best game against the Vikings. Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins was limited to 208 passing yards, and a lot of those yards were in fourth-quarter garbage time.

What was most important was the way Seattle’s pass defense played. Cornerbacks Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin had their best games, not only in coverage but also in run stopping. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he wanted since-fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to call more running plays. Even so, Flowers and Griffin made several key run stops at the beginning of the game.

Pro Football Focus gave Griffin a 75.3 grade for the game, his season-high rating. He was targeted eight times, only gave up 26 yards and had a couple of breakups. This positive game came after a couple of weeks in which he struggled.

Flowers was also particularly sharp with his coverage, while slot cornerback Justin Coleman had a grade of 87.7, according to PFF. He was targeted five times and allowed three catches for 44 yards and only one first down.

• The bad news from the Monday night game are the reports that linebacker Mychal Kendricks suffered a broken tibia and will be out for the rest of the season. Kendricks came to the sidelines with a leg injury toward the end of the second quarter and apparently played the second half with a broken leg. He was on the field for 44 plays in his first game back from suspension.

Kendricks’ return was one of the reasons the Seahawks were able to limit the Vikings’ ability to run crossing routes and some screens. He and the other linebackers did a good job of spacing and taking those plays away.

Until K.J. Wright is able to return, Austin Calitro will be asked to handle the weakside linebacker position. Once the playoff spot is wrapped up, it’s not out to the question Shaquem Griffin would get a chance to get some playing time.

• Russell Wilson only completed 10 passes for just 72 yards passing, which some looked at as a horrible game, but I don’t.

Wilson managed a game against a tough, talented Vikings defense and came away with a win. Sure, his scrambling interception at the end of the first half was a mistake. He should have gotten rid of the ball quicker because it cost the Seahawks an easy field goal that would have made their lead 6-0 at halftime.

The Vikings entered the game knowing Wilson’s scrambling and read-option plays were vital to stop. Zimmer noted his respect for Wilson numerous times. And when needed, Wilson made big plays. His 40-yard run in the fourth quarter, as Carroll put it, was a game-changer.

• For the second time this year, Jordan Simmons had a successful day filling in for the injured D.J. Fluker at right guard. Think about it – in his two starts, the undrafted rookie has gone against two of the best defensive lines in the league, and the Seahawks rushed for 273 against the Rams and 214 against the Vikings.

Simmons’ name was barely mentioned Monday night, but he creates an interesting discussion for the offseason. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy are free agents, and while both want to return, the Seahawks also have Simmons and Ethan Pocic.

Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari likes big players. At 339 pounds, Simmons fits the bill and could be a potential starting option for the future.

O’Neil: Seahawks turn clock back to 2012 — that goes for Wilson, too

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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