Antonio Cochran rose from the rubble and raised his fist in triumph. "Sack. Done deal. Let's go home," he thought to himself. Coach Mike Holmgren took off on a premature beeline...

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MINNEAPOLIS — Antonio Cochran rose from the rubble and raised his fist in triumph.


“Sack. Done deal. Let’s go home,” he thought to himself.


Coach Mike Holmgren took off on a premature beeline toward his defensive end to celebrate a 27-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings yesterday. He made a mental note to send flowers to whoever stood up in the draft room and pounded on the table for Michael Boulware, breaking into another goodness-gracious grin after another game where the rookie saved the season.


“Normally,” Holmgren said, “I’m a little more poised than that.”


Twenty yards downfield, at the 50-yard line, running back Shaun Alexander took the whole scene in. While Cochran and Holmgren celebrated, he noticed something, a combination of confusion and commotion that made his stomach sink.


This game wasn’t over. And with the way this season continues to unfold, it was as if the Seahawks expected something to go wrong, like this call would go against them and turn their most important win this season into another loss filed under “baffling” and “bewildering” and “bound to happen.”


Officials huddled together while both teams raised their arms. They didn’t rule Cochran’s play on Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper a sack, but they did rule Culpepper’s pass to Jermaine Wiggins incomplete.


Thus the Seahawks escaped the Metrodome with a victory in front of 64,110. It was a win they’ll file under “big” if they’re playing after the regular season concludes Jan. 2.


Big because the Vikings were the first team with a winning record the Seahawks beat this season. Big because they avenged a 34-7 loss here last year. Big because they won a game they had to — on the road — after a debilitating loss to Dallas six days earlier.


Big because this is where they wake up this morning: in first place in the NFC West.


“On that last play, I wasn’t excited at all,” offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. “I was waiting to see something crummy happen. But it didn’t.”


Receiver Bobby Engram said, “We make it interesting. You never know, the way this season has gone.”


The Seahawks flipped the same old script, making plays they didn’t make the last two weeks. While St. Louis and Dallas beat the Seahawks (7-6) with fourth-quarter comebacks boosted by long passes and big plays, Minnesota came up with neither in a scoreless fourth quarter.


While Buffalo beat the Seahawks with a bag full of trick plays, the Vikings’ lone attempt at trickery fell right into the hands of the Seahawks’ safety net.


That would be Michael Boulware, a rookie making his first career start at strong safety, a converted linebacker no less. He snagged a pass from Randy Moss intended for Marcus Robinson in the Seahawks’ end zone with 2:16 remaining.


It was just the latest in a growing line of game-saving plays made by a rookie whom teammates try to find an apt comparison to, but can’t. You could argue that Boulware saved four wins — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Miami and yesterday — this season by foiling opponents in the fourth quarter.


“All season,” Holmgren said. “You build teams around guys like that. You really do.”


Boulware’s play yesterday afternoon might have been the most impressive because a linebacker’s natural instinct would be to run at Moss when it looked like he was making a move upfield.


In that respect, teammates say Boulware makes the ideal combination. He’s smart enough to remember defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes barking at him in practice, reminding him that safeties stay back as the last line of defense. But he’s also instinctive enough to always — somehow, some way — find the right place at the right time.


Boulware didn’t expect any of this, of course. Not this much. And not this early.

















ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Minnesota running back Onterrio Smith, left, looks for the ball after a botched handoff as Niko Koutouvides (53) and Solomon Bates (50) apply the pressure. Seattle recovered the fumble.
“Never,” he said. “My goal was just to help out on special teams when I can and maybe get a shot at safety every now and then.”


And the Seahawks were predicted to make a Super Bowl run, so almost none of this season has gone according to the script. This game was no exception.


Faced with a third-and-seven, holding a perilous four-point lead in a situation reminiscent of the collapse against the St. Louis Rams, Matt Hasselbeck completed the last of his 10 passes to Darrell Jackson for 37 yards.


Ahead 24-23 earlier in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Rashad Moore recovered a fumbled exchange between Culpepper and Oregon graduate Onterrio Smith. That led to the field goal that pushed the lead to 27-23.


On and on it went, a sign that these Seahawks are slowly starting to learn their lessons. Or a sign that the Vikings were playing the Seahawks’ role, depending on the viewpoint.


“It sounds so simple, but it just comes down to making plays,” linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said.


Added defensive end Grant Wistrom: “We haven’t done that yet this year.”


The Seahawks piled up 455 yards of total offense, Hasselbeck tossed three touchdown passes and the once-porous defense yielded a scant 132 yards and three points to the Vikings in the second half. With Moss in the lineup, no less.


And while Culpepper expressed shock at the final outcome, the Rams were busy losing to Carolina, falling a game behind the Seahawks.


“This one came out in our favor,” Holmgren said. “Which is something these guys really needed, I needed, we all really needed.”


Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com
































Wild NFC West
The Seahawks have a one-game lead with three games to play:
W-L Pct.
Seattle 7-6 .538
St. Louis 6-7 .462
Arizona 4-9 .308
San Francisco 2-11 .154


Seattle’s remaining games: At N.Y. Jets, vs. Arizona, vs. Atlanta



St. Louis’ remaining games: At Arizona, vs. Philadelphia, vs. N.Y. Jets