Early last week, on the heels of a 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers, which lost the division for the Vikings, Minnesota head coach Mike Tice said it didn't matter how his team got into the playoffs — backing in, running in or doing cartwheels.
They chose the former, losing to Washington 21-18 — going 3-7 in their last 10 games — but getting the needed assistance from New Orleans to get into the postseason for the first time since Dennis Green left the Vikings.
Carolina's 21-18 loss to the Saints allowed the Vikings to claim the NFC's sixth seed and set up a rematch of Minnesota and Green Bay in the first ever playoff meeting between the two teams. The Vikings will travel to Lambeau field for a 3:30 p.m. start on Sunday.
The Vikings-Redskins game started exactly how the Redskins wanted. Kick returner Antonio Brown went untouched until he was brought down at the Vikings 32-yard line — after a game-opening 66-yard return. From there, Washington pounded the ball at the Vikings with backup running back Ladell Betts. On an eight-play drive, he took runs of 5, 4, 2, 2 and 3 yards. Mixed in was one incompletion, an 11-yard completion to James Thrash on third-and-8 and a drive-capping 6-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Chris Cooley for a 7-0 Washington lead 4:19 into the game.
The Vikings responded with only a four-and-out drive after a screen to Michael Bennett picked up 11 yards on first down, but the ensuing third-down pass was pressured into an incompletion.
The Redskins once again drove into Vikings territory, but this time it was the passing game that picked up most of the yardage. Patrick Ramsey went to Thrash for 20 yards on second down, then Taylor Jacobs for 12 yards on the next second down for another first down. After another 20-yard pass for a first down, Kevin Williams finally ended the Redskins' advance. Ramsey dropped to pass and tried to set up the screen under heavy pressure from Kenechi Udeze. Instead, Williams dropped just far enough to pick the pass and give the Vikings offense another chance.
This time, the Vikings drove deep into Redskins territory, but a key penalty forced them to settle for a field goal. Using a nice mix of the pass and the run, Randy Moss started with an 8-yard reception, and Bennett converted with a 3-yard run. Bennett then turned a screen and a run into 13 yards, and Culpepper added another 14 with a scramble to the 35-yard line. Three straight plays to Onterrio Smith netted 14 yards, and after a 13-yard pass play to Nate Burleson the Vikings were at the Washington 8-yard line. After getting to the 1-yard line, a false start on Randy Moss and a third-down incompletion forced a 23-yard Morten Andersen field goal with 11:32 left in the second quarter.
The teams exchanged possessions, and the Redskins took over with 7:12 left in the second quarter. Joe Gibbs' ball-control offense did exactly what it was supposed to, driving for a touchdown and taking the clock down to 1:17 remaining in the process. Through controlled passing, Ramsey picked up the first down with a 6-yard pass to Cooley. Laveraneus Coles picked up the next first down with an end-around. Then Thrash and Coles moved the chains on consecutive passes of 15 and 14 yards, putting the ball on the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Ramsey capped the drive with a 4-yard pass to tight end Robert Royal for a 14-3 lead with 1:17 to play.
The Vikings drove across midfield, but cornerback Shawn Springs ended the half with a sack as time expired.
Washington's defense picked up in the second half where it left off in the first half — pressuring Culpepper often. He managed two first downs, with a 2-yard run by Moe Williams and a 17-yard pass to Moss on third-and-16, but consecutive sacks by Lavar Marshall and Cornelius Griffin — the second and third sacks of the drive, respectively — ended the opening series.
The Vikings defense shut down Washington's offense in three plays, and Minnesota's offense finally found the big play. With Smith in the game, he picked up the initial first down with a 6-yard catch, then moved the chains again with a 24-yard reception on the next play. One play later, Culpepper went deep to Moss in double coverage in the end zone. Moss made a terrific adjustment and caught the ball in front of safety Sean Taylor for a 28-yard touchdown to pull the Vikings within four points, 14-10, with 5:41 to play in the third quarter.
Kevin Williams continued his big game, putting an end to the Redskins' next drive with a sack and forced fumble that Kenechi Udeze recovered at the Minnesota 21-yard line.
This time, the Vikings couldn't find the big play on offense. Only a defensive penalty gave them a first down, but, after a punt, Williams' second sack of the game brought down the Redskins' next drive.
On the following drive, Culpepper went deep for Moss on the second play and they connected for a 62-yard touchdown — one that was called back because of holding on Adam Goldberg. Two plays later, the Vikings punted away again.
The Redskins didn't continue the punting trend, moving for a touchdown in five plays with a 45-yard pass to rookie Taylor Jacobs the big play to the 1-yard line. From there, Betts finished it with a touchdown plunge for a 21-10 Washington lead with 10:41 to play.
Once again, a touchdown pass didn't get into the books for the Vikings. After a Burleson picked up a first down with a 13-yard reception on third down, he dropped what looked to be a sure touchdown pass two plays later. Culpepper lofted a bomb for Burleson from the Vikings 46-yard line and the receiver simply dropped the pass at the 22, where it looked like he would be able to run into the end zone untouched. On the next play, on third down, Moss bobbled a first-down pass and didn't gain possession until he was out of bounds. For the fourth time in the second half, and the third consecutive time, the Vikings punted the ball away.
The defense allowed Washington into Vikings territory as the Redskins picked up three first downs on eight straight running plays and milked the clock. When Keith Newman sacked Ramsey on the drive's only pass attempt, the Vikings got the ball back with 1:58 left and needing at least two scores while trailing 21-10.
After a 17-yard pass to Burleson picked up a first down and made him the only 1,000-yard receiver for the Vikings this season, Culpepper went to Wiggins for 26 yards on fourth down. That moved the ball to the 38-yard line, where Culpepper went deep to Marcus Robinson for a Hail Mary touchdown with 2 seconds remaining. After a shovel pass to Smith for the two-point conversion, the Vikings trailed 21-18.
But when Washington covered the onside kick, the game was done and the Vikings needed help to get into the playoffs. Fortunately for them, they got the needed assistance a few minutes later when New Orleans knocked Carolina out of playoff contention with the identical 21-18 win.
Now it will be up to the Vikings to find a rhythm and start their offense moving forward after backing into the playoffs. That will have to happen in Green Bay, where the Vikings lost 34-31 earlier this season on in another rivalry game filled with excitement and questionable calls. Minnesota will need those calls to go their way in the first-ever playoff meeting between the two teams.
Vikings Lose; Back Into Playoffs
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