The Vikings had to win and they were in the playoffs. Instead, the team that dismantled them in front of a national television audience is now the team they need to lose next week to make the playoffs.
The Washington Redskins took full advantage of two first-half interceptions, compiling a 22-0 halftime lead before the Vikings offense could even convert its fourth first down of the half. The early misery resulted in a 32-21 loss for the Vikings, and the potential loss of a playoff berth. Now the Vikings are reliant on at least a Redskins loss to the Dallas Cowboys and a Minnesota win at Denver next week in order to work back into the playoff equation.
This loss, the Vikings' first in six games, could be squarely placed on the turnover factor – a 3-0 deficit.
The last two first halves of prime-time games have not been kind to Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Last Monday night, he got away with two interceptions and a fumble in a come-from-behind win. This Sunday night, the Redskins wouldn't let him get away with sloppy play without paying for it.
For Jackson – and therefore the Vikings – bad things came in twos during a first half in which the Vikings fell behind 22-0. Jackson threw two interceptions – both on the second play of drives and both of them in Minnesota territory, directly leading to two touchdowns and putting his team in an early hole.
His brutal first-half performance could be displayed with his 34.5 passer rating. It wasn't all on Jackson – as Minnesota's running game was held down to 20 yards on 11 carries in the first half while the Redskins had 43 yards on the ground and two touchdowns through the air – but the second-year quarterback showed his inexperience with poor passes into coverage.
With the line of scrimmage stacked to limit Adrian Peterson to 27 yards on nine carries and Chester Taylor to 14 yards on six carries, Jackson needed to perform and couldn't reach the needed level.
The game couldn't have started much more ominously for the Vikings offense. After a 2-yard run by Peterson, Jackson locked onto Robert Ferguson and overthrew his first pass of the game, one that Fred Smoot intercepted and ran back to the 8-yard line before Anthony Herrera knocked him out of bounds.
After a penalty, the Vikings need a couple of big tackles near the end zone. On first-and-goal from the 11-yard line, Charles Gordon tripped up Portis at the 2-yard line. When Pat Williams stopped Portis for a 4-yard loss, it wasn't over yet. Santana Moss caught a pass and was stopped just short of the goal line and Joe Gibbs elected to go for the touchdown with inches to gain. When a handoff to Mike Sellers was originally ruled a touchdown, Vikings coach Brad Childress challenged and won, giving the Vikings the ball in the shadow of their end zone.
No matter for the Redskins, as they would come away with points on the next play anyway. Fullback Tony Richardson didn't get the ball back across the goal line and the Redskins tallied a safety and a 2-0 lead with four minutes, 17 seconds into the game.
After the free kick, the Redskins used a heavy dose of Portis on the ground and Reche Caldwell converting two consecutive third downs to move the ball past midfield. From there, tight end Chris Cooley found the seam between E.J. Henderson and safety Darren Sharper for a 33-yard touchdown and a 9-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Vikings' self-destruction act looked like it would continue on the next play when Aundrae Allison fumbled at the end of a 39-yard kickoff return, but Heath Farwell recovered. It wouldn't translate into a first down, however, after Troy Williamson came up 1 yard short of the sticks on a third-down reception.
The defense did its job and forced Washington off the field and, after an 11-yard reception to Ferguson to open the drive, the Vikings were already in potential scoring position, but a 53-yard field goal attempt went wide left and the Redskins maintained their eight-point advantage.
However, the Redskins returned the favor with a bobbled hold of a low snap during their 51-yard field goal attempt on their ensuing possession and the teams traded punts until Jackson's errant ways struck again. On the second play of the ensuing drive, he unloaded another ill-advised pass to a covered Bobby Wade. This time, Shawn Springs came away with the interception in Vikings territory. Two plays later, the Redskins were on top 15-0 with a 32-yard pass to Santana Moss with 7:43 left in the second quarter.
The offense continued to sputter and the Redskins continued to find the seams in the Vikings defense. On first down, Antwaan Randle-El found room for a 14-yard catch with Marcus McCauley in coverage. Three plays later, Sellers was converting another first down with a 2-yard run. When Portis took a 14-yard outlet pass and El got McCauley again, Washington was back in scoring position. But it wasn't going to settle for a field goal. Portis took a 14-yard run, but it was his arm that did the ultimate damage on the next play. He took a pitch to the right and tossed a 15-yard pass to Randle-El for the 22-0 lead with 44 seconds remaining the first half (the pass on the two-point conversion failed).
When the Vikings settled for a Peterson run and headed into the locker room without another play, they did so to a chorus of boos.
The Vikings opened the second half looking to get Peterson untracked, and he had his longest carry of the game with an 18-yarder on the second play of the drive, but Peterson was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 try shortly thereafter and the Redskins kept momentum.
They rode that field position into scoring position with completions of 20 yards to Randle-El and 11 yards to Moss, followed by rushes of 7 and 10 yards by Ladell Betts. Eventually, the Redskins had to settle for a 26-yard field goal, but a 10-play drive helped run the clock down to 4:53 to play in the third quarter with a 25-0 lead.
The Vikings finally responded with an offensive series that picked up only their fourth first down of the game on Peterson's 14-yard run on the second play of the drive. From that point on, the Vikings didn't go to another player more than once the rest of the drive, with Williams, Taylor, Richardson, Wade, Ferguson and Jim Kleinsasser all getting involved. Wade and Ferguson had the big gainers, with receptions of 19 and 16 yards, but Kleinsasser's catch capped the drive with a 2-yard catch in the end zone to make it 25-7 with 2:54 to play in the third quarter.
When Farwell recovered an onside kick, the Vikings still had life, but a third-down sack brought a quick end to the drive and caused an exchange of punts. However, when Mewelde Moore had a 17-yard return on Washington's punt and a late hit tacked on, Minnesota still held out hope, taking over the ball at the 49-yard line.
Jackson started with a 14-yard pass to Taylor and, three plays later, got a first down with a 3-yard scramble. After a defensive holding call, Wade picked up a first down with consecutive receptions of 9 and 6 yards to the 5-yard line. Following a 1-yard loss on a Taylor run, Jackson dropped back to pass and scrambled up the middle, diving across the goal line for the touchdown to cut the deficit to 25-14 with 10:18 to play.
The next possession brought some game-deciding calls to the field. On second down, Moss made a toe-dragging catch along the sideline for a 23-yard reception that had a chance to be challenged. It wasn't, but the Redskins hurried to the line to get another play off and fumbled the snap. When Kevin Williams recovered for the Vikings, the Redskins alertly challenged that Minnesota had 12 men on the field and the video showed Spencer Johnson not getting to the sideline on time. The Redskins maintained possession and ran it right down the Vikings' throats on the all-important drive. Portis followed with runs of 4, 11, 9 and 13 yards, the final one for a game-clinching touchdown with a 32-14 lead and only 5:12 to play.
With little chance of a comeback, the Vikings surged through Washington's prevent defense with a 10-yard pass to Taylor, a 10-yard Jackson scramble and passes of 9 yards to Taylor and 7 yards to Peterson. After a penalty, Jackson resumed the pass-and-scramble show, with connections of 6 yards to Shiancoe, an 11-yard scramble and an 11-yard completion to Ferguson. After getting a fourth-down pass interference call in the end zone, Jackson scrambled for the final yard and a 32-21 deficit with 1:58 to play.
When Longwell's next onside kick went out of bounds, the Redskins were able to have the Vikings use their remaining timeouts and get the ball with less than a futile minute play.
After working their way back into control of their own playoff destiny with a five-game winning streak, the Vikings' one loss in the last six weeks has given the Redskins control of their own destiny – and the Vikings' playoff hopes. The Vikings need to win and have Dallas do what Minnesota couldn't – beat the Redskins.
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