The Thursday Night Football game from the Mall of America Field between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins marked the first time two teams played each other in four consecutive regular seasons in a row. Washington was looking to win two in a row for the first time this season, and the Vikings came into the game at 1-7 on a four game losing streak. In the end, the Redskins were unable to hold on to a 10-point halftime advantage. The lead changed hands a total of five times, back and forth until the Vikings took over in the second half. Minnesota finally has a win on American soil this season, winning by a score of 34-27.
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Quarterback Christian Ponder, starting for the third game in a row, had yet to win a game this season. His performance over the last two games seems to have put him back at the front of the quarterback carousel in Minnesota with Matt Cassel as back up. The Redskins came out of the gate dominating the first half. Quarterback Robert Griffin III looked at ease in the pocket and out of it, and put his famous mobility on display.
RG3 led the ‘Skins on scoring drives for every one of their first five possessions to take a 24-14 halftime lead. The Vikings secondary left wide receiver Pierre Garcon open over the middle time after time, and RG3 took full advantage of their inattention. Garcon caught seven passes for 119 yards and scored a touchdown.
Running back Alfred Morris had his way with the Vikings defense as well. He had 26 carries for 139 yards with a 5.3 average. Last Sunday’s unsung hero, Darrel Young was not as active Thursday, but his blocking assistance helped keep the pocket secure so RG3 could get the passes down field to open receivers.
Like always, Griffin did his part to contribute to the running game, taking off seven times for 44 yards. Most times he aimed for the sidelines, but he did get hit enough to remind him he is fair game when he’s on the move.
On special teams, Kai Forbath managed to keep the ball away from lightning bolt returner Cordarelle Patterson for most of the game. Using squib kicks and getting the ball through the back of the end zone, Forbath and punter Jeff Locke did an excellent job shutting out Patterson on special teams. The few times Patterson did get his hands on the ball, the Redskins caught him before he was able to break loose and do serious damage.
Ponder was sacked by Brian Orakpo on the Vikings first possession which led to a punt. The defense was able to hold the Redskins to a field goal, but Ponder brought the Vikings back down field to score the first touchdown of the game. The ‘Skins defense helped that drive along with a helmet to helmet hit flag that gave them 15 yards. Ponder handed the ball off on 2nd and 13 for an 18 yard score to take the lead, 7-3.
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Washington struck back with an 8-yard pass to Garcon to retake the lead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. Ponder answered with a yard-eating drive powered by Peterson and Patterson to reclaim the lead for the Vikings 14-10.
RG3, Garcon and Morris carried the march down field for Griffin’s second touchdown pass to Reed in the end zone, putting the Redskins back on top 17-14. Griffin drove back down field and hit Paulsen in the end zone for another touchdown to end the half with a 10-point lead 24-14.
That was all in the first half, however. In the second half, the Redskins looked like a completely different team, and so did the Vikings. Adjustments were obviously made during the halftime chat in the locker room, because Minnesota’s D-line got after Griffin in a big way. He was sacked four times in the second half. Morris and Garcon were under constant guard and all but shut down.
The momentum swung sharply to the Vikings’ side as they held the Redskins to just 3 points on a 40-yard field goal in the second half. Ponder utilized Jarius White and Peterson to work down the field to score on a pass across his body while on the run to Carlson. The drive was 74 yards long but the Vikings covered all the ground in nine plays.
In the third quarter, Ponder took off for the end zone and dived head first as Washington’s secondary converged on him at the goal line. DeAngelo Hall collided with Ponder as he reached for the pylon, knocking the ball loose, but the ball went out of bounds. Ponder was slow to get up and in obvious pain as he held his arm.
After review, the touchdown was reversed by officials but the ball was placed at the one foot line. As Ponder was checked out on the sidelines, Matt Cassel stepped in and Peterson walked in on an easy touchdown. With the extra point, the Vikings had the lead again 28-27. Ponder was walked into the locker room with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
He left the field after completing 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards, averaging 8.3 per pass. He passed for two touchdowns and one interception, finishing with a QBR of 113.1. The run that put him out of the game was his second, totaling 13 yards. During the fourth quarter, NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan reported that Ponder would not be returning to the game due to an injury to his left shoulder.
Cassel did not do much in the final quarter but he didn’t have to. Ponder’s performance made it smooth sailing for the Vikings. Blair Walsh kicked a 39-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 31-27 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. With 3:40 left, Walsh kicked another field goal from 40 yards out to go to 34-27.
The Redskins attempted a last-minute push for the end zone to tie the game, covering over 70 yards in more than 10 plays. In the red zone, Minnesota’s defense went all out, pressing Griffin and his receivers to a 4th a goal. With 28 seconds left, RG3’s pass to 13-year veteran Santana Moss was caught in the end zone. Moss was unable to get both feet down in-bounds, handing the Vikings their second win of the season at 34-27.
The Redskins seemed to have some kind of mental breakdown in the second half. They had this game in control but let it slip through their fingers. With Ponder knocked out, they should have taken advantage of the change in leadership to keep the Vikings off balance but instead, lost their way and the game.
Reports indicate Ponder’s collision caused a dislocation of his left shoulder, thankfully his non-throwing shoulder. The shoulder was popped back into place and he hopes to be back in time for the Vikings’ next game in nine days. The last time Cassel lead the Vikings to a win was in London in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His last game was against the Carolina Panthers, where he completed 32 of 44 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately Cassel also threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. This was when the Vikings went shopping for Josh Freeman. Cassel finished this game with a 90.3 QBR.
The Vikings remained positive and kept to their game plan. They made the needed adjustments to take control of the game and come back to win decisively. Now that they have doubled their wins, it now falls to the Vikings to carry this momentum forward into the remaining games in the season.
Both teams are off until Nov. 17, when the Vikings will travel to CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Seahawks. The Redskins will play the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Each team has work to do, and are well aware of it. The Vikings cannot depend on a second half comeback with the Seahawks, and the Redskins have no idea which version of Nick Foles they will be facing, the Beast That Threw 7 Touchdowns or his pre-concussion persona.
This win puts the Vikings at 2-7 and the Redskins down to 3-6. Ironically, Washington was in a similar position around the same time last season, and went on to sweep the remaining seven games to earn entry into the playoffs. If the charm is still there, they may have another shot at the contention. The Vikings have cracked the code on winning. Now they have to apply it with consistency to regain their footing.
By Brandi Tasby