In a season when the Vikings have shot themselves in the foot in almost every game, it was mistakes by the Redskins that led to a turning point in a hold-your-breath kind of game.
The Vikings were without wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who was deactivated prior to the game, and, with 10 minutes left in the first half, lost Adrian Peterson with an ankle injury. The Vikings were extremely limited on offense, which put the pressure on the Vikings defense and special teams to get the job done and prevent Donovan McNabb from beating them. Instead, it was Washington that did its own self-imposed damage to cost them a win against a crippled Vikings team.
The Redskins' mistakes came early and often and, as the game got deeper in, the miscues became more pronounced. Individually, they were bad enough, but heaped one on top of the next, they were devastating.
Early in the second quarter, the Redskins had a drive near midfield and, on a third-and-10 play, McNabb had wide receiver Santana Moss wide open crossing the field. Looking upfield before he caught the ball, it went right through his hands. While it merely went in the books as an incompletion, Moss had plenty of open space in front him and, even if he didn't score, he would have almost assuredly put Washington on the 30-yard line. Instead, they punted and, for all intents, took at least three points off the board.
With the Vikings ahead 14-7 late in the third quarter, a punt to rookie Brandon Banks was going to pin the Redskins deep, but an illegal block in the back on rookie linebacker Perry Riley pinned the Redskins all the way back on their 5-yard line, creating a chance for the Vikings defense to make a big play.
Given more room, the Redskins may have tried to open up the passing game, but, stuck on their own 5-yard line, it seemed obvious that the first play was either going to be a run or a short pass. It was the latter and McNabb threw a dart to Moss, who let the ball hit off his shoulder pads and bounce into the air. E.J. Henderson came down with the tipped pass, giving the Vikings the ball on the 9-yard line. The offense wouldn't take advantage of the gift, but the field position was enough for Ryan Longwell to hit a 31-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 17-7 lead in the final seconds of the third quarter.
The Redskins scored on the ensuing drive following a 66-yard kickoff return from Banks and, after a three-and-out series by the Vikings, had a golden opportunity to tie the game. On the first play of the drive, the Vikings blew a defensive assignment and McNabb had speedy wide receiver Anthony Armstrong running free down the sidelines after beating Madieu Williams at the line. An accurate throw and Armstrong is gone for a 69-yard touchdown. Instead, Armstrong had to stop and slide to make the underthrown catch. Williams was able to catch him on the ground, turning what should have been a touchdown into a 45-yard gain and a first down at the Vikings 24. The defense stiffened from there, forcing the Redskins to settle for a field goal with 10:02 to play and allowed the Vikings to retain their lead at 17-13.
With the Vikings trying to kill time off the clock, a pair of offensive penalties killed the drive quickly and they were forced to punt. Banks made what could have been the play of the season with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, but a second block-in-the-back penalty on Riley took the touchdown off the board and pinned the Redskins on the 11-yard line with 6:54 to play. McNabb would go three-and-out, force Washington to punt the ball with 6:13 to play and he would never touch the ball again.
It has been a season in which more games than not have turned on self-inflicted Vikings mistakes. However, on a day when the Vikings had no turnovers and didn't make the critical mistakes that have been their trademark this year, it was being the beneficiary of a slew of mental miscues by the other team that created the turning point in a big road win for the Vikings and interim head coach Leslie Frazier.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Turnabout on mistakes
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