Vikings' defense 'running on fumes' comes up clutch
NOV 08, 2013 1:20a ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Cordarrelle Patterson sat on the bench and looked away. Adrian Peterson kept his eyes glued on the field, half praying, half convincing himself this wasn't happening again.
For the fourth time this season, Minnesota faced the same scenario that already cost it a chance at contention. The offense, despite its inadequacies, produced a lead, and its counterparts required one stop to seal victory.
At Chicago, failure. Against Cleveland in this same Metrodome, the same thing. Four days earlier in Jerry World, the Vikings had yielded a go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds left for their fourth straight defeat.
But Thursday night against Washington with little else but dignity and draft position on the line -- both dubious motivators halfway through a football season -- was different. Rather than do enough to get by for most of a contest only to wilt late (or just get blown out entirely), Minnesota reversed course and finally mustered a game-sealing stand.
It came about a month overdue, in the Vikings' first victory on American soil. But, at long last, it came.
"That's been the story all year," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "Key drives, key quarters, we don't execute.
"Shoot, we had to do it eventually."
Three straight incomplete Robert Griffin III passes from Minnesota's 4-yard line inside the final 38 seconds clinched the Vikings' 34-27 triumph and, for at least a week, quelled conversation about their down-the-stretch ineptitude. Washington drove 76 yards in 3 ½ minutes before Griffin's tosses toward Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss all went wanting in succession.
The last came on fourth-and-goal. Moss gained a step on cornerback Marcus Sherels and corralled Griffin's over-the-shoulder lob the back left corner of the end zone but was out-of-bounds by the time he gained full control.
That allowed a crowd of 64,011 to witness a Vikings victory in the fading dome's final season -- London, England served as the setting for their only other win.
"To be with our backs standing on the goal line, to get three incompletes or however many it was at the end was huge," said Williams, who played somewhat out of position but registered 2 ½ sacks. "We were running on fumes trying to hold them, but we got it done."
For that reason, coach Leslie Frazier called a pair of perplexing timeouts after Washington marched into the red zone with 1:28 remaining. The visitors had no timeouts of their own, but Frazier elected to stop the clock twice to ensure his defenders were set and had caught their breath.
"That's the only reason you could think of," Williams said. "Coach was trying to give us a blow. We was trying to get set, not be in chaos, and it paid off in our favor."
So did a halftime meeting that caught the attention of the entire team and inspired a much sharper defensive showing in the second half than the first, Frazier said. After Minnesota -- the NFL's third-worst scoring defense coming in -- yielded points on all four of Washington's first-half possessions, defensive coordinator Alan Williams openly challenged his unit.
Peterson said the offensive players sat and listened as Williams lamented the Vikings' lack of execution.
"He was more fired up than I’ve ever seen him," Frazier said of Williams. "We needed it, because we needed a kick in the pants. We were not doing the things that we had talked about in this short week, how we felt like we needed to defend some of the things they were doing.
"Our guys responded, so that was good."
To start, they eclipsed an accomplishment not seen around here since Week 6 against Carolina: an adversary punted in the Metrodome.
Washington punter Sav Rocca's boot to Sherels with 3:08 left in the third quarter broke a streak of 14 opponent possessions at home that ended in either a score or a kneel-down. Even Frazier -- who's mild-mannered to begin with and hasn't had much to celebrate as onlookers contemplate his future with the franchise -- couldn't suppress his jubilee.
"I was going, 'Hurray, hurray, hurray'," the coach said during his postgame press conference, lifting his arms in the air.
Griffin (24-for-37 passing, 281 yards, three touchdowns), Alfred Morris (139 yards on 26 carries) and the rest of Washington's offense converted 9 of their first 11 third-down conversions. They were held without a first down on their final five tries.
Everson Griffen broke through on third-and-long for a sack in the third quarter, and Jared Allen and Williams converged on Griffin to coax a third straight Washington punt. Both sacks set up insurance-providing Blair Walsh field goals.
"We got another one and we got another one, so we’re going to do this the second half of the season," Frazier said. "We’re going to make people punt the second half of the season. That’s the goal.”
So shifts the paradigm for a defense as beleaguered as that of the Vikings.
With six active linemen and a handful of other injuries clogging up the inactives list, Williams played mostly nose guard in place of Fred Evans and Letroy Guion. Even in a spot he says isn't his favorite, Williams tallied his first multi-sack game since 2009 against Baltimore.
It was a positive culmination to a testy week for Williams, 33, who along with defensive end Brian Robison questioned some of Minnesota's late play-calling in its loss Sunday at Dallas.
"When Kevin speaks, everybody listens, right?" Allen said. "He's a powerful man; he's a hell of a player still."
Pressure from Minnesota's front four caused Griffin to throw rapidly on all three of his final-drive attempts from the 4. Linebacker Erin Henderson broke up the first, the second went through Garcon's hands on a slant, and the third led Moss just a little too far.
Had they come up with similar stops earlier this season, the Vikings might be in the thick of the NFC North race. Instead, they had to settle for smiles and pats on the back from owner Zygi Wilf outside the locker room and in-stadium pyrotechnics that for once weren't solely associated with the national anthem.
And Peterson could breathe again.
"I was just sitting there just like, 'have faith,' and believing in those guys that they was gonna get a stop, and they did," Peterson said. "They kept fighting. They kept swinging, and they was able to stop them on the goal line. That was huge for us."
Huge. Just too late.
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter