There are plenty of turning points in any 19-16 football game, but pinned against their own goal line the Vikings defense proved to provide the Turning Point of the Game in Monday night's season-opening win against the Redskins.
The Vikings got inside the Washington red zone just twice Monday – scoring a touchdown on one opportunity and running the clock down at the end of the game without taking a shot at the end zone in the other. Some could argue that technically that shouldn't have counted, much in the same way a runner in baseball isn't credited with a stolen base when it is deemed to be part of "defensive indifference."
But for the Redskins, it was a very different story. Washington got into the Vikings' red zone four times, and three of those times were turned away on field goals thanks to the Vikings standing up on defense when needed.
Each was important to the outcome of the game and helped determine the outcome, as players stepped up and were counted when it mattered the most.
First Quarter – With the Vikings leading 6-0, the Redskins mounted a long drive of their own to get to the Vikings 11-yard line with a third-and-5 situation. The Redskins called a timeout to pick the play they believed could work – a screen pass to running back Clinton Portis. The play was diagramed properly and executed well, but linebacker E.J. Henderson slipped in between blocks and tripped Portis. He had a convoy in front of him and, even if he hadn't scored, he likely would have picked up a first down and given the Redskins a chance to take a 7-6 lead. Instead, they settled for a 27-yard John Hall field goal to cut the Vikings lead to 6-3.
Second Quarter – With the Redskins leading 10-6, a 37-yard pass to Santana Moss had the team with a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line and threatening to blow the game open. On first down, Kevin Williams blows over his blockers and hits quarterback Mark Brunell, causing a fumble that is recovered by the Redskins on the 9-yard line. On second down, Brunell rolls to pass and is chased by Erasmus James, forced to throw the ball away to avoid a sack. On third down, it appears as though Brunell has a touchdown pass to Santana Moss, but the receiver is leveled in mid-air by Darren Sharper and the ball falls to the ground. Again, the Redskins have to settle for a 27-yard field goal and, instead of being up by 11 points at 17-6, their advantage is just seven at 13-6.
Third Quarter – Trailing the Vikings 16-13, the Redskins had a second-and-3 from the Vikings 4-yard line. Portis got the call for what they hoped to be a second touchdown of the night, but he is stood up by Henderson for no gain. On third down, Brunell opted to try to pass for the score, but is flushed out of the pocket by Kenechi Udeze. Instead of risking an interception, Brunell threw the ball away and the Vikings defense held again. Hall kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 16-16.
There were plenty of game-changing moments in Monday's thrilling Vikings win, but it was the determination and strong play of the Vikings defense when it had its back to the wall (or at least the goal line) that provided the Turning Point of the Game.
Turning Point: Red Zone 'D' Does It
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