With a 4-2 record, the wheels are hardly coming off the Vikings' winning aspirations, but there were several negative nuggets in their 38-26 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Leslie Frazier ended his 2-0 record at Washington as a head coach, and the Redskins snapped their eight-game home losing streak. Christian Ponder regressed to a turnover-prone quarterback that marred his rookie season. And the Vikings' second loss of the season came against the second rookie quarterback they faced this year.
But, oh, what a rookie sensation Robert Griffin III proved to be. Griffin sealed the win with an explosive 76-yard touchdown run with 2:43 left in the game, but it begged the question: Was the Vikings loss reason for concern about the defense or simply a product of an emerging quarterback that will prove difficult for any team to defend?
"Oh, he's definitely an incredibly gifted athlete," linebacker Jasper Brinkley said.
"Who knows what the future may hold, but for this game, hats off to him. Everything they did was nice."
Griffin's 76-yard touchdown run was the dagger for the Vikings, but the quarterback was sharp running and passing most of the day. He finished the game rushing 13 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 17 of 22 passes for 182 yards and another touchdown. Despite the passer rating statistic not taking into account rushing yards or touchdowns, Griffin finished with a 97.2 rating.
His combination of running and passing made Griffin "special," according to Brinkley, but the Vikings defense appeared to make one fatal error. When they needed a stop the most, trailing 31-26 on third-and-6, they decided to blitz Griffin.
The Redskins had a quarterback draw called and Griffin burst through the hole over left guard, cut toward the left sideline and easily outran the Vikings' pursuit. The Vikings knew the blitz was risky but decided that was their best hope to force a punt and give them a chance for a game-winning touchdown drive.
"Definitely with the type of athlete he is, yes, if you blitz and don't get him, you've definitely got to think that with that type of athlete," Brinkley said.
"I don't think a lot of teams are just going to call an all-out blitz," safety Harrison Smith said. "But we sent some pressure on him. We just didn't get home and didn't get him down.
"I'm not a coach. I just play the play that's called. I don't know if it's all or nothing (with that blitz)."
The Redskins took advantage of their best weapons, too. Although running back Alfred Morris only rushed for 47 yards, the Vikings went into the game well aware that he was one of the league's leading rushers to that point. Their concentration on him led to more openings behind the linebackers on play-action fakes.
"We were very concerned with him going into the ballgame. He had had some good games and he was one of the people we identified that we needed to do a good job against and we did a good job," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But, as you mentioned, they were able to get some plays behind our linebackers at times and it wasn't just our linebackers that were responsible for some of those in-cutting routes that were behind them. Part of that is what we're doing secondary-wise as well, but the combination of the two created some lanes in our defense and the style of offense that they ran, you play a lot of more zone than you might want to because you want to have eyes on where the quarterback is. So it did create some issues."
Brinkley said the linebackers needed to do a better job reacting quicker when they realize it is a pass and get back to their zones, but he admitted the Redskins' plan with play-action was to slow down a fast defense.
The Vikings defense is still ranked eighth overall – 11th against the run and 10th against the pass – but Brinkley said they need to clean up their mental errors and execute better.
"We didn't go in a little too overconfident. They just executed. They executed better than we did. The NFL, the game is about who has the most mistakes. Unfortunately, we had the most mistakes," he said.
"Our confidence has never wavered. We still know what we're capable of. This is a reality check."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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