Things were rough for the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter. After going three-and-out to start the game, the Washington Redskins received little resistance on their opening drive. The big threats did the damage.
Pierre Garcon started with a 12-yard reception, followed by a 25-yarder to Jordan Reed. Jamison Crowder pitched in with another first down and the Redskins moved inside the Vikings’ 10-yard line. On second-and-goal from the 4, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were hurt as they broke up a pass to Reed, and Washington went right at one of their replacements when Kirk Cousins found Crowder at the goal line with Emmanuel Lamur trailing in coverage. After a 10-play, 68-yard drive on their first series, the Redskins had a 7-0 lead and two more Vikings defenders hurting.
As the first quarter ended, the Redskins were driving into Minnesota territory again.
After a 10-play touchdown drive to open the game, the Redskins went nine plays and 91 yards on their second drive, with TE Vernon Davis doing most of the damage, catching three passes for 66 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown play in which he beat Anthony Barr to give Washington a 14-0 lead on the second play of the second quarter.
After the defense forced its first three-and-out, the offense finally responded. On the second play, Sam Bradford connected with Stefon Diggs for a 36-yard pass. Two plays later, Adam Thielen took an end-around 11 yards and Bradford followed that with a 13-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph to the 1-yard line. Matt Asiata was stuffed for no gain on two consecutive runs, but he finally got a push from his offensive line on the third try and scored the 1-yard touchdown with 5:39 to play in the first half and bring the deficit to 14-7.
The defense forced the Redskins off the field once again before they reached midfield and the offense continued to build a groove in the passing game. Cordarrelle Patterson and Diggs combined for a first down and Diggs got free for another catch in his homecoming game for a 23-yard reception into Washington territory. After another 10-yard pass to Diggs, Bradford found Kyle Rudolph for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 with 58 seconds left in the half.
That might have been the final score of the half, but Linval Joseph stripped Chris Thompson of the ball and Everson Griffen recovered, setting up Bradford and company on the 33-yard line. Once again, it was Diggs with the big play, faking a receiver screen and heading upfield for a 28-yard pass play to set the Vikings up on the 5-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Thielen caught a 3-yard touchdown pass to give Minnesota a 20-14 halftime lead after Blair Walsh missed the extra point.
Bradford finished the half completing 16 of 20 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and Diggs was the preferred target, catching five passes for 102 yards and Rudolph added three receptions for 53 yards.
The Redskins started with the ball and drove 55 yards with three first-down passes to Garcon, but once they got to the 10-yard line the Vikings defense stood up and forced a 30-yard field goal from Hopkins.
When the Vikings offense went three-and-out with three straight runs, the Redskins were back on the move. Robert Kelley picked up the initial first down and the running game kept the chains moving until the Redskins reached the red zone. Once again, they had to call on Hopkins for a field goal, this one from 37 yards out, to tie the game at 20 with only 38 seconds left in a third quarter that featured only four plays for Minnesota.
The Vikings’ second drive of the second half ended the same way as their first. Needing one yard on third down, Asiata was stuffed, forcing on Jeff Locke, who pinned the Redskins on the 8-yard line.
They quickly moved away from their own end zone with a 21-yard run by Kelley, then picked apart the Vikings in the passing game to move to the Minnesota 32-yard line before Hopkins drilled a 50-yard field goal to regain the lead for Washington, 23-20.
The Vikings responded by going back to their passing game, with Bradford hitting Thielen for a first down, then Diggs for two straight completions, and moved into Washington territory when Cullen Jenkins’ arm delivered a blow to Bradford’s helmet and invoked a roughing-the-passer call. But on the next play, Bradford went for Thielen and Preston Smith dropped into coverage and extended his long left arm to pick the ball out of the air and hand his offense the ball on the Minnesota 42-yard line. After picking up two first downs, Hopkins came back on for a 28-yard field goal and a 26-20 Redskins lead.
The Vikings drove into Redskins territory with five straight completions to Diggs and made it to the 21-yard line before disaster struck. Bradford was sacked on two of the three final plays, including on fourth down to end the game after Jake Long left the field on a cart.
The 26-20 loss would mark the fourth straight loss for the Vikings, dropping them to 5-4 and into a tie with the Detroit Lions (who beat them last week) for the NFC North division lead.
The loss took the joy out of Diggs’ homecoming after his second straight game with 13 catches, this time for 164 yards. And Bradford’s second interception of the season still didn’t drop his passer rating below 100 as he completed 31 of 40 for 307 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 104.9 rating.
Cousins, however, avoided an interception, completing 22 of 33 for 262 yards, two touchdowns and a 110.9 rating, with Pierre Garcon his favorite target. He had six receptions for 81 yards.
The big difference was the balance the Redskins were able to establish with Kelley rushing 22 times for 97 yards and the Vikings rushing for only 47 yards as a team.