The Minnesota Vikings’ strong start and big late rally weren’t enough as mistakes were the issue against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Minnesota (4-2) had its three-game winning streak snapped with Sunday’s 38-26 loss at Washington (3-3). Numbers won’t tell the whole story of Minnesota’s loss because of the start and rally. Mistakes, mainly three turnovers to one, a disfunctioning red-zone offense, and not being able to corral Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on one key play ultimately led to the disappointing loss.
Here’s how the Vikings stacked up in each area against Washington: Pass offense: C-
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder threw a career-high 52 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns. He also had several poor passes, overthrew and underthrew open receivers and threw two interceptions, both at critical points. He completed 35 of his passes, 67.3 percent, based mostly on success in the fourth-quarter furious comeback attempt. He finished with 6.77 yards-per-attempt, continuing the season-long trend of being unable to pass for big plays down the field. One interception was returned for a touchdown and the other effectively ended the game, an interception in the end zone on a third-and-3 play with 31 seconds left.
In between the solid start and late success, Ponder couldn’t sustain drives and the lack of a downfield threat at receiver was very apparent again. The offensive line, which had played so well in recent games, allowed four sacks against a Redskins’ defense that has had trouble pressuring the quarterback and Ponder seemed hesitant to throw at times.
The big yards and the comeback was part of the game though and Ponder lead three key drives in the fourth quarter, going with a hurry-up offense. Receiver Percy Harvin continued his amazing season, battling through injuries to catch 11 passes for 133 yards.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph caught six passes for 56 yards, a touchdown and two-point conversion. Michael Jenkins, starting for the inactive Jerome Simpson, had six catches for 67 yards. Adrian Peterson even had seven catches for 50 yards, but they came as desperation dump-offs most often.
Run offense: C
Peterson looked strong early and finished with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. He had 17 carries for 79 yards, but the big deficit took him out of the game plan a bit. He had eight carries for 48 yards in the first half, including a 32-yard run that helped set up the first field goal — and first stalled drive in the red zone. Peterson looked primed to have a big game in the stadium where he suffered the horrible knee injury less than 10 months ago. Most of his damage in the second half was on receptions.
Backup Toby Gerhart only had one carry, and Harvin had two carries for one yard. Ponder ran four times for 13 yards. After the first couple of drives, the Vikings couldn’t sustain a running game and the big deficit later forced them to go away from their run-first philosophy.
Pass defense: C
Griffin was efficient and Minnesota’s defense was on its heels trying to decipher if he would run or pass. He ended up 17 of 22 passing (77.3 percent) to extend his league-leading completion percentage. Griffin had 182 yards passing and hit six passes of 15 yards or more. During the first quarter, when it appeared the Vikings would dominate both side of the ball, cornerback Antoine Winfield did come up with an interception of Griffin. But from there, it was all Griffin and the Redskins.
Griffin led three touchdown drives of 72 yards or more, mixing the run and pass. Blessed with the big lead, Griffin wasn’t forced to be one-dimensional and stay in the pocket and pass. Griffin was sacked by Jared Allen in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t end up costing the Redskins. If the Vikings had taken advantage of the three early red-zone possession and scored touchdowns, it could have forced Griffin to attack more with the pass and help Minnesota focus on limiting him.
Run defense: D
This ranking boils down mostly to one play. Having cut the lead to five points in the fourth quarter and putting the Redskins in a third-and-6, Griffin read the Vikings’ blitz and took off right up the middle after getting the snap, broke outside and 76 yards later Griffin scored the touchdown that essentially finished off Minnesota. Griffin demonstrated his unique ability as a running quarterback and speed unmatched at the position. He finished with 13 carries for 138 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The Vikings’ run defense had returned to elite status after bottling up several big-name backs during the first five weeks. Washington rookie Alfred Morris entered the game fourth in the league in rushing. Minnesota might not have been able to corral Griffin, but Morris was held to 47 yards on 16 carries. The Vikings defense handled the running back. It was the quarterback’s unique ability that caused the trouble.
Special teams: A
This loss can’t be pinned on special teams at all. Minnesota has had little troubles on special teams all season and the solid play continued Sunday. There was nothing out of the ordinary for the Vikings, which can be a good thing. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was 4 of 4 on field goal attempts Sunday and is now 16 of 17 this season. He also had put each of his kickoffs out of the end zone, seven touchbacks for Minnesota, which already has more touchbacks than all of last season.
Punter Chris Kluwe averaged 50.5 yards-per-punt and put each of his two punts inside the 20-yard line. In all, the Redskins only had one return attempt, punt or kickoff, for one yard. Percy Harvin had three kick returns for a 33.3-yard average and nearly broke one return in the third quarter.
There were simply too many mistakes for Minnesota to win a road game. The three turnovers and the early failures in the red zone were the biggest culprits. The Vikings also had some untimely penalties and were penalized five times for 29 yards in the game. All three turnovers are credited to Ponder, the fumble was caused as he was bumped into by Peterson while trying to pull the ball back. Minnesota now plays two straight home games and have the chance to put another loss behind quickly. The Vikings will play their next two games in the span of five days, starting with next Sunday’s game against Arizona and the Thursday night game against Tampa Bay. This loss will sting if it lingers. If Minnesota can recover and win the next two home games, the loss can be chalked up to one poor effort against a quarterback the likes of which the Vikings likely won’t see again this season.