And the Brad Childress era has begun with a clutch win.
In his first regular-season game as a head coach, Childress joined Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches to beat Joe Gibbs for their first head-coaching wins in the National Football League.
Childress did it with a statement about discipline. He deactivated free safety Dwight Smith for the game after Smith's citation for indecent conduct during the preseason and started a rookie fifth-round draft pick, Greg Blue, in his place.
Even with that limitation, Childress' Minnesota Vikings overcame a first half filled with a lack of discipline on the field (with penalties and dropped passes), a missed extra point on his team's first possession and still won a hard-hitting 19-16 game on the road against a quality Washington Redskins team.
The Vikings fell behind 13-6 late in the first half because sometimes sloppy play, including a botched extra point whenChris Kluwe couldn't handle the holding duties seven Vikings penalties for 45 yards, compared to Washington's one penalty for 5 yards in the first half.
And then came the second-half turnaround.
The Vikings had only two more penalties and shut out Washington in the second half, thanks to a ball-control offense that didn't always get the big gain but continued to pound it. The Redskins easily won the battle for rushing average, 4.1 yards to 2.5 yards, but the Vikings controlled the game when it counted, and, ironically, used the help of a 15-yard penalty against the Redskins' Sean Taylor to get into position on their final drive.
Tied at 16-16 with 5:34 left in the game, the Vikings committed to the running attack on their game-winning drive. After getting across midfield with a balanced attack – three rushes, Taylor's 15-yard penalty, and two passes in the first five plays – running back Chester Taylor and the offensive line were determined to pick up one more first down, move into field goal position and force the Redskins to use all three of their timeouts surrounding the two-minute warning.
When the statement drive was complete, Minnesota had a 19-16 lead on a 31-yard Ryan Longwell field goal with one minute remaining. The Redskins had their opportunities in the final minute as well, as a 27-yard kickoff return and a 23-yard completion helped put them in field goal position, but John Hall – who played for Wisconsin when Childress was there – pulled a 48-yard attempt to give Childress his first win.
The Vikings were more balanced to start the game. In their first drive of the game, the offense showed what it hadn't all preseason – the ability to run the ball – and quarterback Brad Johnson continued to move the chains with smooth decisions. He started the offense with a 12-yard pass to Travis Taylor, then handed off the ball to Chester Taylor for 7 yards. From there, it was all Troy Williamson and Chester Taylor. Johnson and Williamson converted a first down with a 12-yard pattern between traffic, and after a 3-yard run from Taylor, Johnson found Williamson deep down the right sideline for a 46-yard gain to the 6-yard line. Taylor moved it to the 4, and after an incompletion from Johnson, Taylor cut back behind a block from Steve Hutchinson and slithered into the end zone. After a botched hold from Chris Kluwe and his failed run for the end zone, the Vikings had to settle for a 6-0 lead 4:55 into the game.
Washington countered with a long play of its own but couldn't find the end zone. They did it methodically, with only the first play of the drive longer than 10 yards – a screen pass to Santana Moss that picked up good blocking and went 23 yards. Eight plays later, Moss had the second-longest play of the drive, a 9-yard reception to move the Redskins into the red zone. They couldn't convert from there, however, and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from John Hall with 1:55 left in the first quarter.
Just as Williamson was the field-stretching star of the first drive, he had the opportunity to be the hero of the second drive as well. After tight end Jermaine Wiggins moved the chains with a 7-yard reception, Johnson went deep for Williamson – this time down the left sideline. The pass was right on target … and went right through Williamson's hands to turn a would-be touchdown into a fourth-down punting situation.
The teams exchanged punts after three downs each before Washington went on a touchdown drive. Needing only 51 yards for paydirt after winning the battle of field position, Washington kept a conservative offensive approach, but three 6-yard passes – to running back Ladell Betts, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and tight end Chris Cooley – set up the big play of the drive, a swing pass to Betts that he broke down the left sideline for 25 yards, setting up Portis's 5-yard touchdown run for a 10-6 Redskins lead with 8:06 left in the first half.
Another dropped pass by Williamson on third down ended Minnesota's ensuing drive, but Washington's offense left the field just as quickly. When the Vikings followed suit, the Redskins' field-position advantage showed again, as Randle El's 15-yard punt return set up Mark Brunell's offense on the Vikings' 43-yard line and he went for the jugular right away. He found Moss in a seam down the right sideline for a 37-yard gain to the 6-yard line. After fumbling around for the first two plays inside the 10-yard line, Brunell dropped back to pass and found Moss in the back of the end zone, but a jarring hit from safety Darren Sharper knocked the ball loose before Moss could establish possession. That forced Hall onto the field for another 27-yarder and a 13-6 Redskins lead with 1:05 left in the first half.
Williamson finally gave the Vikings offense good starting position when he returned a kickoff 44 yards, setting up the opportunity to move into field goal position with less than a minute to operate and three timeouts. Wiggins got the initial first down by pleading for a defensive holding call, then picked up another one with a 15-yard reception in the middle of the field at the 34-yard line. After a quick screen to Williamson for game-management 6-yard pickup, Longwell came on for a 46-yard field goal to bring the Vikings within four points as the first half time expired.
A cleaner second half helped the Vikings win the game.
Their offense continued to move in its first possession of the second half. A defensive holding call on former Viking Kenny Wright, starting for the injured Shawn Springs, gave Minnesota its initial first down of the second half before Billy McMullen moved the chains with a 22-yard reception on third-and-9. A 5-yard run by Taylor put the Vikings at the 20-yard line, where Johnson pump-faked and hit Marcus Robinson for a 20-yard touchdown and a 16-13 lead with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
The Redskins answered with another field goal drive. Portis started with a 15-yard run before Brunell hit James Thrash for a 19-yard reception into Minnesota territory at the 28-yard line. Once again, the Redskins battled their way inside the Vikings 10-yard line, but a third-down incompletion brought on Hall for a 22-yard field goal to knot the game, 16-16, with 4:25 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings followed with a nine-play drive thanks to Taylor's running. He had gains of 4, 7 and 8 yards, but he provided a big third-down catch for 24 yards to move the ball across midfield. But when the drive stalled at the 36-yard line, Childress opted to have Longwell attempt a 54-yard field goal, which came up short and to the right.
However, the field-position giveaway didn't hurt Minnesota. After forcing a Redskins punt and taking over at the 2-yard line, Minnesota moved the ball across midfield on a personal-foul penalty on Sean Taylor for leading with the helmet on a defenseless receiver on an incompletion and a 24-yard completion to Travis Taylor two plays later. Despite moving the ball again, the Vikings were forced to punt after two incompletions.
Five plays later, the Minnesota offense took advantage of another opportunity. Taking over on their own 33-yard line, the Vikings opted to play smash-mouth football once they got into field goal range and it worked. Taylor remained the workhorse, starting with runs of 4 and 10 yards for a first down. Then Johnson connected with Williamson for a 13-yard comeback that moved to the Redskins 24-yard line with another personal foul on Sean Taylor, this time for a facemask. With less than three minutes to play, the Vikings milked the clock and moved the chains one more time after runs of 9 and 4 yards by Chester Taylor – taking it down to the 11-yard line. With Washington stacking the line of scrimmage to defend the run, the Vikings made no attempt to bring trickery into the equation. Three straight rushes gained minus-2 yards, but the strategy forced Washington to burn all of its timeouts before Longwell connected on a 31-yard field goal for a 19-16 Minnesota lead with one minute remaining.
A 27-yard kick return by Betts and a drive-opening 23-yard completion to Brandon Lloyd gave the Redskins a shot. Their hurry-up offense gained 9 more yards on two completions before they were forced to bring Hall onto the field for a 48-yard field goal attempt, one he pulled to the left to give Childress his first win in front of a road crowd of 90,608.
And the Childress way is 1-0.
Childress Era Begins with 19-16 Road Win
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