MINNEAPOLIS – Niles Paul never saw the signal. Or maybe he just didn’t believe it. It was tough to tell who knew what in the chaos of a fake punt that failed late in the third quarter of a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
With another second-half lead slipping away, the Redskins took a big risk. On 4th-and-3 at its own 35-yard line, Washington tried a fake punt. Sav Rocca handled the snap, saw Paul uncovered on the right side and threw a poor ball short, but in his general direction. If Paul turned around he could have still made the catch for a first down.
But he didn’t know the play was on and so he ran downfield oblivious to the throw coming his way. The ball landed incomplete, though a disaster was briefly averted, ironically, by a false start penalty against the Redskins.
A traditional punt followed. But again, Washington found a way to hurt its own cause. A 20-yard return by Marcus Sherels put the ball at the Minnesota 44. A personal foul on Darrel Young pushed it all the way to the Washington 41. Five plays later the Vikings scored the go-ahead touchdown en route to a 34-27 victory that left the Redskins reeling.
Reed Doughty, special teams captain, indeed touched his helmet to apparently signal to Rocca and Paul that a play was on.
“We wasn’t supposed to run it,” Paul said. “I didn’t see a call. That’s why I took off straight down the field. No clue at all.”
Indeed – they weren’t supposed to run it, Rocca said. But the signal from Doughty meant they would. Paul missed it and was alone on the outside – too far to hear. It became a footnote, but if the Redskins hit that play, if they avoid the false start, they’re in business with a six-point lead. Instead, Minnesota grabbed the momentum and, eventually, the game.
Davis sits again, loses money
That has serious financial consequences for Davis, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract in March. It includes a base salary of $1 million and could be worth an additional $1.25 million in incentives. Part of that is a $500,000 roster bonus if he is on the active 46-man roster for 12 games. That can’t happen now.
Pondering what went wrong
Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder has taken plenty of heat during a disastrous first eight games. He’s appeared in only six thanks to a serious rib injury. For a time he was replaced by Josh Freeman, who was signed off the street in late September after a disastrous start to the season in Tampa Bay led to his release.
Ponder looked strong on Thursday against the Redskins, however, before leaving the game late in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Even that play was indicative of his night (17-for-21 passing, 174 yards, two touchdowns). Ponder eluded pressure, scrambled 15 yards to the left and dove for the pylon. A play originally ruled a touchdown was really out at the 1. No matter. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson pushed the ball home one play later. Ponder was sporting a sling after the game on his right arm, but believes he can play next week at Seattle.
3 and out
For the first 35 minutes, Washington was almost unstoppable on third down. A problem early this season, the Redskins appeared to have figured it out. They converted on nine of their first 10 third-down plays against Minnesota. But their luck didn’t hold. The Vikings stopped them on the final six third-down tries of the game.