Taylor Heinicke had drifted between miracle and disaster over the course of the Washington Commanders' Week 9 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, but his luck, which had helped propel Washington to two of its three straight wins, ran out in the fourth quarter.
Washington, which had a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead, allowed the Vikings to score 13 points in the last 11 minutes of the contest and saw its three-game winning streak snapped with a 20-17 defeat.
Washington (4-5) had been saved by its grit and ability to come down with plays that defy logic, and it looked like that was going to happen once again, starting with the 49-yard touchdown to Curtis Samuel, which was the second-longest receiving score of his career, that seemed to provide a jolt to the offense.
That put the Commanders up 10-7 in the third quarter, and while it was still rocky at times, the unit looked more relaxed after the play that saw a defender run into an official, which helped avoid an interception.
While plays like that were enough to overshadow the inconsistent nature of the offense in previous games, that was not the case against the Vikings. The Commanders were outgained, 301-263, and could only convert three third downs on 10 attempts, the last of which came after the Vikings had tied the score.
Heinicke completed 15-of-28 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Kirk Cousins, who made his return to FedExField for the first time in five years, finished 22-of-40 for 265 with two touchdowns and a pick.
As in the previous three contests, the defense did an admirable job of keeping Washington in the game while the offense tried to find its footing. After the Vikings took a 7-0 lead on their opening drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson, the visiting team found little success in the first half. A chunk of this credit goes to the defensive line, which hounded Cousins all afternoon and got two sacks on the signal-caller in addition to 11 quarterback hits.
Even when the Vikings began to get some traction in the closing seconds of the second quarter, which has been the norm for them all season, the defense made plays when it mattered most. An interception from Danny Johnson off a deflected pass by Benjamin St-Juste in the end zone stopped a five-play, 49-yard drive and kept the score 7-3 at halftime.
After Washington's opening score, followed by a Vikings punt, the Commanders got down to the Vikings' 38-yard line and tried their hand at a fourth-down conversion, but the play, which saw Heinicke boot out to the right, resulted in an incompletion.
Fortunately, the defense bailed Washington out by forcing another Vikings punt. That allowed Washington to go on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that ended with Heinicke tossing a six-yard touchdown pass to Dax Milne.
That was where things started to fall apart for Washington. A pick six on third-and-11 by St-Juste was wiped away by a pass interference call, and the Vikings used that to cut into the Commanders' lead with a 25-yard field goal.
Things continued to slide from there. Heinicke overthrew a pass intended for Logan Thomas, and the ball flew into the hands of Harrison Smith, who then returned it to the Washington 12-yard line.
Two plays later, the Vikings tied up the score with a 12-yard pass to Dalvin Cook, who finished the game with 56 yards of total offense.
After a three-and-out by Washington, the Vikings bled the clock all the way down to 12 seconds left, unfortunately with some help from the Commanders themselves. John Ridgeway was called for unnecessary roughness on a 22-yard field goal attempt by Joseph with 1:52 left. That put the Vikings' offense back on the field, and with only one timeout, Washington could only watch as Minnesota made the score 20-17 once again with essentially no time left for a comeback.