For the first three quarters, Robert Griffin III had seemingly resuscitated his 2012 magic. In the fourth, he came up mere inches shy of a game-tying drive Thursday night.
The Vikings sacked Griffin four times, stopped him on a goal-line stand, and Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder each scored two touchdowns, as Minnesota came from behind to defeat the Washington Redskins, 34-27, at Mall of America Field.
Taking the ball down a touchdown with 3:36 remaining and no timeouts, Griffin methodically led the Redskins up the field. Attacking the middle of the field with patience, Washington rushed the ball on six of its first seven plays, including a critical 12-yard scamper from Griffin on a 4th-and-1 from the Redskins 49-yard line.
Griffin then hit three straight passes to the Vikings 8-yard line, and Roy Helu ran for four yards on first down, but the drive halted there. Griffin threw three straight incompletions in close quarters to close out the game. On Washington's final play, Griffin seemingly completed a pass to Santana Moss, but Moss was only able to get one foot in bounds before his momentum took him to the sidelines.
It was Minnesota's first win this season on American soil. The Vikings (2-7) won their first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at London's Wembley Stadium in Week 4.
The much-maligned Christian Ponder spearheaded the Vikings' offensive attack for much of the night. After opening the game with an interception on the fourth play of the game—one that led to a Kai Forbath field goal to put Washington ahead 3-0 midway through the first quarter—Ponder quickly settled down.
The former first-round pick picked Washington's defense apart with a succession of short and intermediate passes. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards, tossing two touchdowns against that one interception.
Cordarrelle Patterson caught his first career touchdown on a two-yard strike from Ponder two minutes into the second quarter, giving Minnesota the 14-10 lead. John Carlson's 28-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter helped the Vikings begin their comeback, as Washington had opened up a 27-14 lead with 17 unanswered points following Patterson's score.
Carlson finished the game with seven catches for 98 yards, eclipsing his yardage total (61) for the season.
Ponder was injured on the drive that gave Minnesota the lead for good. Scrambling out of the pocket as Washington's pass rush and coverage broke the play, Ponder scampered down the left sideline for 15 yards before diving toward the Redskins end zone. Connecting head-to-head with Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the ball was dislodged from Ponder at the 1-yard line and the entirety of his weight came crashing down on his left shoulder.
He was taken to the locker room and did not return after such a promising start.
Luckily, the Vikings had the best closer in the game ready to churn out a victory. Peterson scored his second touchdown of the game one play later, giving the Vikings a 28-27 lead with 1:12 remaining in the third quarter that they would not relinquish.
Coming off just his third 100-yard game of the season, Peterson surprisingly had only limited success against a Redskins defense that came into the game as a bottom-10 unit against the run. He carried the ball 20 times for 75 yards, but his two scores played a big role in Minnesota's win.
Following Forbath's opening field goal, Peterson's 18-yard touchdown in the first gave Minnesota a 7-3 lead. He's now scored a touchdown in three consecutive contests, and Thursday was his third multi-score game of the season.
But the first half belonged to Griffin.
Coming off last week's overtime victory against San Diego, Griffin picked back up where he left off. He led the Redskins to scores on each of their first five drives, including three touchdowns of his own through the air. Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen each caught a score, as the Redskins walked into halftime with a 24-14 lead.
Griffin, who last threw for three touchdowns in Week 2 against Green Bay, threw for 281 yards on 24-of-37 passing.
However, he wouldn't lead the Redskins to a touchdown in the second half, as the Vikings D ramped up its pressure. Kevin Williams shot gaps inside for 2.5 sacks, Everson Griffen added another, and the defense accumulated eight QB hits. After scoring on their first five drives, the Redskins didn't manage a point over the game's final 24:27.
Now 3-6 on the season, Washington is in the exact spot it was a year ago without the positive momentum. The NFC East has widely been recognized as the worst division in football, but with the struggles and inconsistency on both sides of the ball, it's hard envisioning Mike Shanahan's squad running off seven straight wins again.
The Vikings' dreams of a repeat playoff berth, meanwhile, has long died. Their seven losses would likely keep them out of the playoffs even if this win were to start a late-season surge. But for one night, Minnesota can take solace in spoiling the dreams of another 2012 playoff squad.
Robert Griffin III (QB, Washington Redskins): A-
Those on the Beltway might not be happy with their quarterback taking so many hits, but it's hard to argue with the results. Griffin was in season-top form for Thursday Night Football, making good, quick reads and looking steadier than ever on his injured knee.
The Vikings came into Week 10 with the fourth-worst pass defense in football, so it's hard to assume any long-term run of success. But going back to Griffin's stellar outing against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6, the second-year star now has three solid outings in his past four games.
Subtract the Denver game, in which he looked worse than he ever has, and there are plenty of indicators of a stellar second-half run. Griffin is running with nearly the same aggression (if not the same speed) as before, and it's readily apparent just how much he and the Washington offense is reliant on him as a dual threat.
Watching this version of RGIII can make you have a coronary, but maybe that's the point.
Alfred Morris (RB, Washington Redskins): A-
Slowly but surely, chugging along in much the same way as his oft-discussed ride, Morris continues to work his way toward another 1,000-yard season.
After this latest 139-yard performance on 26 carries (5.3 YPC), Morris has only averaged fewer than four yards a carry once this season (and that came in Week 1). The second-year back has made his season quietly Pro Bowl-worthy despite the inconsistencies of his quarterback, demonstrating patience while blocks develop and never wavering after his first cut.
Morris isn't the type to bust off the Chris Johnson-length bursts, or even the Peterson-esque freakish runs where he carries three and four defenders for a first down. But in an offense where variance has been regular, Morris' steadiness has been welcomed.
Adrian Peterson (RB, Minnesota Vikings): B+
It's not too often that Peterson takes a backseat to his quarterback. OK, it never happens. Until Thursday night.
With Washington's defense struggling to contain Vikings receivers over the middle, Ponder stepped into the leading role while his MVP-winning running back was consigned to mostly secondary work. After receiving five carries in the first quarter, Peterson's attempts slowed to a trickle as the Vikings found success through the air.
Of course, it's not like All Day struggled when he was toting the rock. He's now scored a touchdown in three straight weeks and is on line for another season approaching 1,500 yards on the ground. While he hasn't been quite as good as he was during his historic 2012 campaign, it's impossible to quibble with his status atop the NFL's running back totem pole.
Christian Ponder (QB, Minnesota Vikings): B
Ponder's game started with an interception and ended with a fumble. The in-between stuff? Well, that was surprisingly good.
Ponder, showing accuracy and some elusiveness in the pocket, completed passes on the run and looked like the quarterback the Vikings hoped they had drafted in 2011. Most of his throws were check-downs, as they're wont to be. But they were check-downs that went for first downs, extended drives and got the Vikings into the end zone, rather than the garden variety six-yard gain on 3rd-and-10 that Minnesota fans have become accustomed to.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Ponder won't be the long-term answer for Minnesota. The Vikings will likely draft high enough to have their shot at a Marcus Mariota or even Teddy Bridgewater if things break the right way. When Ponder goes looking for his new team, though, showing them film of Thursday's outing wouldn't hurt a bit.
Washington will try to get back to its winning ways next Sunday, when the Redskins make a critical trip to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The Vikings, meanwhile, won't have an easy time making it a winning streak of two, as they will take on the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field next week. Seattle hasn't lost at home since the 2011 season.
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