The Washington Redskins didn't play a perfect game Sunday, but they had a lot of their prayers answered. That might be the next-best thing, might get them headed – after years of struggle and false starts – in the direction they want to be headed. (Read: due north.)
Let's face it, the Redskins were one needy ballclub when they kicked off at FedEx Field against the Minnesota Vikings.
They needed their young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, to show no lingering effects from last week's concussion. They needed to convert some third downs — boy, did they ever need to convert some third downs. They needed to contain a Vikings attack that's functiononal but not particularly frightful. They needed their new kicker not to mess up like so many of his predecessors had. They needed to snap an almost incomprehensible eight-game home losing streak. And for good measure, they needed to beat a winning team — and Minnesota, at 4-1, was certainly that.
A pretty lengthy to-do list, you have to admit. But wonder of wonders, the Redskins accomplished everything on it in their 38-26 victory over the Vikes. It was the kind of mental housecleaning that can change the course of a season — or at the very least, allow everybody to take a deep breath.
After bending but not breaking on three Minnesota field goal drives in the first quarter, the Redskins rode Griffin's arm (97.2 rating) and legs (138 yards rushing, including a for-the-ages 76-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes) — and their most opportunistic defense in eons — to as complete a win as we've seen in the Mike Shahanan Era, one that evened their record at 3-3.
After all, the Vikings, in knocking off San Francisco, Detroit and Tennessee in succession, had been looking a little like last year's San Francisco 49ers. That is, they'd been kicking field goals, playing defense and giving themselves a chance to win every time out. And they started the game against the Redskins the same way, jumping to a 9-0 lead.
"We really talked about [making] a four-quarter effort," Kory Lichtensteiger said, "but unfortunately we came out a little flat. The defense did a good job of keeping us in the game, or it could have gotten real ugly real fast."
As it turned out, Griffin, who threw his second interception of the season in the second series, was just warming up. In the second quarter, after newcomer Kai Forbath had booted a 50-yarder to make it 9-3, Robert hit four straight passes on a 90-yard drive that put the Redskins ahead. The biggest was a 30-yard toss to Santana Moss that, according to Moss, "showed his progress [as a QB]. He threw it in the second window [instead of going with his first read]. When we ran that play in the preseason, he didn't do that."
Seconds later, Lorenzo Alexander recovered a Christian Ponder fumble at the Minnesota 6, and RG3 flipped a TD pass to Darrel Young to increase the cushion to 17-9 — and really get the crowd of 78,476 going. It was more of the same at the outset of the second half. Another long march, this one 71 yards, ended with a 7-yard Griffin run that put the home team up 24-9. (And in that series, you'll be pleased to know, the officials continued to take very good care of RG3, calling Harrison Smith for a horsecollar tackle after hitting erstwhile Maryland Terp E.J. Henderson with a roughing-the-passer penalty in the first half.)
We haven't often seen this kind of performance since Mike Shahanan came to town. The Redskins the past three years have tended to win ugly and lose uglier. But against a Minnesota club that had been playing at a high level much of the season, they were solid in virtually every respect. They even batted .500 on third down (6 for 12).
For the first time, we got an inkling of what the Redskins can be when all pistons are firing, when they aren't behaving too self-destructively. They can move the ball, almost at will, against an upper-tier defense, and they can create turnovers that lead to even more scoring.
Seven days after having his cranium severely rattled, Griffin once again was The Man. Not only did he throw as accurately as he ever has (17 for 22), he didn't shy from running the ball, either. In fact, he outrushed Adrian Peterson (138-79) ... and everybody else. He even avoided contact a few times by sliding or ducking out of bounds or throwing the ball away. But it was interesting to note he played in the same style he always does — as a passer first but also as a runner you can never turn your back on.
The Sunday before, when he was knocked out of the Atlanta game, "I felt like I let a lot of people down." He made sure he didn't feel that way again with his late dash down the sideline, past the screaming Washington bench. The best part about it, other than the touchdown it resulted in? "I got to prove to those guys that I still have that track speed."
But it wasn't all RG3, even though it might have seemed that way in the final moments. Alexander's recovery at the Minnesota 6 produced seven easy points, and Madieu Williams' interception and 24-yard return in the fourth quarter produced seven even easier points — he ran it in himself.
When your defense basically hands you two touchdowns, you'd better win. One of the more puzzling aspects of the Redskins' season so far, though, was that they'd lost all three games in which the 'D' had scored. Maybe I should have added that to my List of Needs at the beginning: The Redskins needed to score on defense and actually win the game. Anyway, check that one off, too.
The road doesn't get easier from here on out. The Giants — in New York — are on tap next week. But these aren't the same old Redskins, that's for sure. And they don't seem nearly as needy now as they did Sunday morning.
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