It couldn't happen again, not after 300 pounds of Antonio Cochran jumped on top of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and drove him to the ground. That alone should have...

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MINNEAPOLIS — It couldn’t happen again, not after 300 pounds of Antonio Cochran jumped on top of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and drove him to the ground. That alone should have been the end.

The Seahawks players and coaches threw their hands in the air and raced out across the Metrodome field. Karma had smiled. The villain had been slain. Time was gone. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren looked for somebody to hug. But these are the Seahawks, and Seahawks endings are like those horror movies where everybody relaxes, thinking they are safe when the evil killer climbs back to his feet, knife in hand.

Only this time the killer was Daunte Culpepper, and instead of a knife it was a football. While the Seahawks danced and Holmgren hugged, Culpepper stumbled, rose, stepped a couple of feet to the right, then heaved the ball toward the end zone, where tight end Jermaine Wiggins stood on the back line.

For a moment Wiggins had the ball, and Holmgren said “No, no, no.”

Then Wiggins dropped it.

“I thought we stole one,” Culpepper said. “I absolutely thought we stole one.”

Everybody steals games from the Seahawks, so of course Culpepper would be right in thinking this. Even after Wiggins dropped the ball, the officials stood around in the mayhem trying to determine if the joyous Seattle players had stepped off the sideline too soon.

Picture this

If the season ended today, the NFC playoff scenario would look like this:

Wild-card game: Carolina Panthers (6-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-5, NFC North champion).

Wild-card game: Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at Seahawks (7-6, NFC West champion).

First-round byes: Philadelphia Eagles (12-1, NFC East champion) and Atlanta Falcons (10-3, NFC South champion).

Later, after all the doomsday scenarios had played themselves out and no official or tackled quarterback or off-balance tight end could take this game away from the Seahawks, cornerback Marcus Trufant was asked if he could imagine what would have happened had the unimaginable occurred. He shook his head.

“No, I can’t imagine,” he snapped.

Then his shoulders slumped.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” he said,

They may never know how close they came to another disaster yesterday. Replays showed Cochran had indeed tackled Culpepper, pressing the quarterback’s knee to the turf. Had Wiggins caught the ball, it would have been reviewed and probably overturned. Then again, remember Monday night when Keyshawn Johnson’s touchdown catch out of bounds was never replayed. Because of it, Seattle wound up losing to Dallas.

When it comes to the Seahawks and the end of games, you can never assume anything. Afterward, in the locker room, Cochran knew it. The moment he felt Culpepper go down, he stood up and looked to the sideline. He never saw the vanquished killer lift himself from the dead. He never saw the throw to the end zone. He never saw Wiggins drop the ball.

Cochran said he was sure Culpepper was down — at least, he thought he was sure Culpepper was down. As he said this, he sheepishly looked around the locker room, almost as if he expected an official to come running in waving his hands, telling them to get dressed because they were going out to play everything over.

He was told the replays showed Culpepper’s knee touched the ground.

His face brightened.

“Great!” he exclaimed. “Great. Great.”

Sometimes you wonder if they even get it. The players and the coaches spout the same clichés all the time about “stepping up” and “making plays.” Then late in the game when plays need to be made, there’s never anyone to make them. In the loss last Monday, the Seahawks would have won — Johnson’s phantom touchdown aside — if cornerback Ken Lucas had held on to the Vinny Testaverde pass that dropped out of his hands in the final seconds.

Yesterday, players did make plays. Michael Boulware made the interception with 2:09 left to stave off a first Vikings comeback, then Cochran made the play to end the day.

The game is so simple, the league is so weak this year, that Cochran’s play might have been all the Seahawks needed to send them to the playoffs. It doesn’t take much. If Seattle simply beats Arizona — the lone team of their remaining three with a losing record — it would finish 8-8, which opens up a whole world of possibilities.

This will probably be good enough to win the NFC West, or if not good enough to take the division, it should at least get them a wild card. It’s not pretty, it’s not respectable, but it’s the playoffs, and the playoffs around Seattle are still a very new thing.

All they have to do is keep from blowing one more game. It shouldn’t be much to ask.

Then again, anyone who thinks that never saw Culpepper rising from the dead yesterday.

For in Seattle, Freddy always lives, and the walking zombies are never far behind.

Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or