Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Thursday Night's battle with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn.:
After a win on Sunday, the Redskins find themselves very much in control of their own destiny with nine games remaining in the season. They are presented with the opportunity to double their win total in just four days as they take the field tonight against the Minnesota Vikings on the road.
Much like the Redskins, the Vikings are a playoff team from a year ago that has failed to meet expectation this season, particularly their own. At 1-7, they are technically still alive with long odds to recover.
They look to play spoiler as the Redskins look for their first winning streak of the 2013 season. Which team will win this battle of wills? Likely the one that prepared best on a short week.
This game took all 60 minutes to see through to its final end, and it was not a pretty outcome for the Washington Redskins. Marching the length of the field, the Redskins felt the reverse of Sunday's situation, stalling near the goal line with the ball-game on the line. The Redskins had a balanced attack to the final minute and managed their time well, but they simply did not execute with first down at the 8-yard line and getting no closer than the 4-yard line. With the game on the line, the Redskins elected to go with the fade route to Santana Moss in the back corner of the end zone. He was single covered, he secured the catch, but he just didn't have enough room to get both feet down in bounds. A very disappointing end for what seemed to be a winnable game.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Redskins fans love it when Robert Griffin III makes plays, but fear the repercussions of him putting himself out there, and rightly so. But what everyone should remember, is that with the ball in his hands, Robert Griffin III is still one of the best playmakers in football, and he showed that again tonight right before the half. Wanted to score a touchdown in the waning minute of the second quarter, Griffin III rolled out of the pocket to find no one open. Despite the safeties lurking near the goal line, he had space and took off running. As the defenders closed in, he did not slide, he did not back down. He lowered his shoulder and dove, getting the ball all the way down to the 1-yard line. On the next play, proving that he was alright, he passed for his third touchdown of the game to Logan Paulsen.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Pierre Garçon has been nothing short of sensational this week piling up 14 receptions for 291 yards and a touchdown, terrorizing the Chargers' and Vikings' secondaries. Send him deep and he's open. Cross him over the middle and he's open. Put him behind the line of scrimmage on the outside and he's open. He was the playmaker the Redskins needed and tallied his first back-to-back 100-yard games as a member of the Redskins, and his first of any kind since Weeks 4-5 of the 2011 season in Indianapolis.
The Redskins have a trio of talented tight ends, with Jordan Reed the receiver, Niles Paul the special teamer and Logan Paulsen the blocker. That's the role he was signed for, that's the role that he has filled, but when called upon, Paulsen is a very sure-handed receiver and showed that tonight. He caught only two passes for three yards, but one of those was for a one-yard touchdown, which padded the Redskins' halftime lead. This was far from Paulsen's only contribution to the cause, as he did what he does best, opening holes for teammates to make plays. But just like fullback Darrel Young got his moment in the sun last week, Paulsen deserves the recognition today.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--Each week, rookie tight end Jordan Reed looks more and more like an established veteran, already owning the Redskins records for rookie tight ends and becoming Robert Griffin III's go-to option in short yardage. He has come up big on third downs so far this year, but converted one of his biggest yet with a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 11-yard line in the second quarter. Griffin III hung in the pocket and waited for him to get open, something he was able to do with ease today. He finished the day with six receptions for 62 yards and a score. Even on plays where he didn't get the ball, he was frequently running free in the secondary when the ball was thrown.
--The Redskins have run the bubble screen to perfection this year, getting the ball in Pierre Garçon's hand and turning him loose down the sideline. This play is dependent on the defense playing off, something that most corners are inclined to do against Garçon's speed, and then a number of blocks by players like Jordan Reed, Leonard Hankerson, Logan Paulsen, Joshua Morgan and Trent Williams. His 32-yard pickup off the screen was pure effort on the part of his teammates, and Garçon, who doubled the run with a few stiff arms and broken tackles. Great execution, great call.
--Robert Griffin III continued his tour de force this week, throwing for three first-half touchdowns for only the second time in his career. The other time? Thanksgiving Day last year. Clearly Thursdays mean fast starts for Griffin III, who finished the first half with a stat line of 16-for-21 (76.2 percent), 179 yards, three touchdowns, 140.7 passer rating. He also led the Redskins to 288 first half yards, the most since Week 3 of the 2006 season when they had 299 vs. Houston. That's a span of 117 regular season games. A stellar start for the boys in burgundy and gold, just an effort that they would like to have maintained.
--Does anyone remember Alfred Morris struggling early on this season? When the wheels had fallen off and his rookie season was a mirage? Fans may not, but he does, as he continues to fuel himself to greater heights. After carrying the ball a season-high 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, Morris rushed 17 times for 88 yards tonight…in the first half. He reached the century mark in sensational fashion, taking a second-half carry 14 yards up the middle. He finished the day with 26 carries for 139 yards, giving him 51 carries for 260 yards and a touchdown in a calendar week. Today was just another day in the office for Redskins No. 46.
--Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has been quiet of late, not registering a sack since his two-sack performance vs. Oakland in Week 4. He was long overdue and got his first out of the way in the first out of the way on the first drive of the game. This was a tough night for both he and Ryan Kerrigan, who were held and subject to illegal hands to the face all night. Not many calls went in their direction, but they made the most of the opportunities presented.
--The Redskins stayed balanced on attack late in the game, mixing in punishing runs by Alfred Morris with the slash-n-dash style of Roy Helu Jr., and even designed quarterback keepers. This was a game that they needed to win on the ground and they did that tonight, neutralizing a powerful Vikings pass rush by staying mobile on the ground. Even though they were ultimately unable to capitalize on their final offensive drive, the playcall played to the team's strengths and gave them a chance to win the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The Redskins were in the drivers' seat at halftime, holding a 24-14 lead that they soon after extended to 27-14. Considering the success the team has had of late, playing with leads, the Redskins let the Vikings back into the game with two second-half touchdowns. They were never successful in making the Vikings one-dimensional, and even after Christian Ponder left the game, the damage had been done.
--The Redskins have played clean football recently, but got into sloppy mistakes early in the game, with nose tackle Chris Baker collecting two penalties on the first Vikings touchdown drive (roughing the passer, neutral zone infraction). Both of these are careless penalties that do much more to hurt the team than their unflagged benefit would have helped. On the next Vikings possession, the Redskins again put themselves in a hole when linebacker Perry Riley drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a cheap hit after the play. Riley was nowhere near the Vikings player on the play and had to go out of his way to draw the penalty. That is just poor judgment, and the Redskins paid for it with another Vikings touchdown.
--While the Redskins were able to keep running back Adrian Peterson contained for the most part, he matched his 45-yard career average vs. the Redskins in the second quarter, as he had 44 yards by halftime. The Redskins have been fortunate to take him out of the gameplan in previous meetings, but the luck ran out and he made his impact tonight. He had 20 carries for only 75 yards, but his pair of touchdowns made all the difference in the game.
--In a bizarre turn of events, the Redskins special teams tried a fake punt throw by Sav Rocca in which Niles Paul never turned around to see the ball. It bounced to the turf near midfield and there was a scrum for the football. Fortunately for the Redskins, there was a pre-snap penalty on the Redskins that necessitated a redo. This time, the Redskins kicked away, but the punt was short, the coverage was late, and Marcus Sherels returned the ball 20 yards. There was some confusion on the tackle, as fullback Darrel Young thought the ball was fumbled and crashed the pile. This led to another scuffle on the field and he was flagged for 15 yards. At the end of it all, the Redskins would have been better off with the spot of the botched fake punt.
--Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has made a career of shedding right tackles on screen passes and intercepting the football (then running the ball back for a touchdown). This time, Kerrigan was a few steps ahead of himself, as the ball clunked off his hands. It will go down as a pass defensed for Kerrigan, but he will be the first to tell you that should have been his third career touchdown.
--After not giving up a sack on Sunday, the Redskins offensive line gave way to the talented front seven of the Minnesota Vikings, allowing four sacks, including back-to-back drive killers in the fourth quarter. Especially after Griffin III took a number of body shots earlier in the game, these big blows changed the tide of this contest.
--Both teams paid for a Ponder scramble for the pylon, as Ponder was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was removed for concussion testing. He returned to the game, but the Redskins were unable to exploit backup Matt Cassel while trailing. The Vikings played keep away and the Redskins were unable to recover.
Santana Moss continued his march into the history books, snagging his 550th career Redskins reception, which pushes him past Gary Clark and into third in franchise history. He surely would have liked to have caught 551 with the would-be game-tying touchdown at the end, but that will have to wait for another time.
The Redskins finish the calendar week 1-1 and looking forward to a much-needed 10-day break before their Week 11 contest vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Having already played the birds once this season, there should be no surprises with personnel or scheme, as either Michael Vick or recent world-beater Nick Foles will host the Redskins at home. Throw out the records and stats, as division battles are always a fight to the death. Now staring at a 3-6 record for the second consecutive season, the Redskins will now look to build their run to the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles, where the magic started last year.
There is no such thing as an easy win in the NFL, and the Redskins did not expect one tonight in Minneapolis. While not terribly balanced, this is a very talented Minnesota Vikings roster and they showed fight under the bright lights of primetime.
The Redskins played some of the best football in the second half, but will likely find valuable film study in the final 30 minutes. The missed opportunities to score touchdowns on the first and last drives of the second half were ultimately the difference in the game, and the Redskins have 10 days to ponder the reasons before Philly.
Ultimately, it is a tall task to win twice in a calendar week and even harder on the road. The Redskins got only a day and a half to implement a gameplan, and did not have a recent bye week as they did in 2012. Is it possible that the Redskins' overtime contest took its toll on the Redskins today? Possibly, and it will certainly be a subject for debate among members of the media over the next 24 hours.
The simple fact is that the Redskins needed a win tonight, and it proved elusive. How this team bounces back in 10 days vs. Philadelphia will decide their fate down the home stretch of the season.