On Thursday night, the Vikings had 434 total yards of offense, including 161 on the ground. They won the turnover battle. They didn’t punt the entire game. They ran 29 more plays and held the ball for over 13 minutes more than the Redskins. They had more than twice as many yards as Washington. Their offense, defense, and special teams all had positive expected points.
Kirk Cousins threw three incompletions all night; one was a drop by Dalvin Cook and the other two were throwaways after being pressured. Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 235 yards from scrimmage. Stefon Diggs set a franchise record for most receiving yards over a three-game stretch, beating out Hall of Famer Randy Moss to set the mark.
Yet somehow, the Vikings scored only 19 points in what most would consider an “ugly” win. And to be honest, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game, especially after the fireworks display the offense had been setting off over the past three weeks. After giving it much thought and poring over the tape, I believe I have come up with the only logical explanation:
Thursday night football is really damn weird. So let’s just enjoy the fact that the Vikings finished a perfect October with an imperfect win and hope the players enjoy their well-earned mini-bye before traveling to Kansas City next weekend.
Let’s put a bow on going 6-2 at the midway point of the season by going through the five biggest plays from the win over Washington.
Play 1: Redskins ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 47. First quarter, 9:04 remaining. C.Keenum sacked at WAS 46 for -7 yards (D.Hunter). FUMBLES (D.Hunter) [D.Hunter], RECOVERED by MIN-S.Stephen at WAS 46. S.Stephen to WAS 46 for no gain (A.Peterson).
The opening drive of the game looked very promising for the Vikings, until an surprisingly familiar scene occurred: a Diggs fumble. Da’Ron Payne hustled over 30 yards down field from his defensive tackle position to pop the ball out. Ryan Anderson recovered, and the Vikings failed to score on their opening drive for the first time in four home games this season.
Washington had already moved the ball past midfield on their opening drive before former Viking Case Keenum returned the favor with a little help from Danielle Hunter.
Hunter got just enough of the ball to poke it out while bringing Keenum down. Shamar Stephen pounced on the ball and the Diggs fumble was officially neutralized. After getting the ball back, the Vikings had a bizarre eight-play, 14-yard drive that ended with Dan Bailey nailing a 50 yard field goal for the game’s first score.
Washington answered back with a long drive that took the remainder of the first quarter. Vikings fans were none too happy with how Xavier Rhodes performed on the drive. Keenum found Terry McLaurin twice for 23 yards in front of Rhodes before McLaurin drew a 19-yard pass interference penalty on Rhodes with the first play of the second quarter. Suddenly Washington had a first & goal with a chance to take the lead.
Play 2: Redskins ball, 2nd & goal at the Minnesota 2. Second quarter, 14:52 remaining. (Shotgun) A.Peterson right guard to MIN 3 for -1 yards (A.Barr, L.Joseph).
We could have chosen any of three stops the defense made on this series. For instance, we could have gone with the first down play, where the Vikings defense perfectly played Washington’s bunch left formation. Mike Hughes defended McLaurin perfectly, and Keenum was fortunate to get away with only an incompletion.
(You may notice Rhodes blanketing Trey Quinn in the flat as well. It wasn’t all bad for Rhodes on Thursday night. Just mostly bad.)
We could have also gone with the third down play, where Keenum was forced to throw the ball into the ground and an offensive holding call would have negated a score anyway. But let’s go with the second down play, when Washington tried to give Adrian Peterson a touchdown in the city he played in for ten years.
Anthony Barr beat Jeremy Sprinkle on the left edge while Linval Joseph made sure there was no room for AP to sneak through. It was a big hold by the defense that kept the score at 3-3 early in the second quarter.
The next drive for the Vikings was the Cook and Diggs show. They combined for 77 yards to get as close as the Washington 3 yard line, but two sacks made the Vikings settle for another field goal. Keenum and the Redskins answered with an impressive drive of their own, getting deep in Minnesota territory once again.
Play 3: Redskins ball, 2nd & goal at the Minnesota 5. Second quarter, 2:53 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum sacked at MIN 11 for -6 yards (L.Joseph). FUMBLES (L.Joseph) [L.Joseph], recovered by WAS-E.Flowers at MIN 12. E.Flowers to MIN 12 for no gain (S.Stephen).
The sack from Joseph was a big play because it forced Washington to settle for another field goal. It turned out to have even more of an impact because it proved to be Keenum’s penultimate play of the game. A screen pass to Wendell Smallwood was thwarted by Eric Kendricks on the next play, and Keenum never saw the field again due to a concussion. It appears that the concussion was suffered on the sack. Keenum’s head ran into both Hunter’s arm and the turf on the way down.
Dwayne Haskins Jr. took over in the third quarter, which definitely changed the dynamic of the game.
After Dustin Hopkins tied the game at 6-6, it was suddenly past the two-minute warning. The game was flying by and Washington was still hanging around. The Vikings needed a score before the half.
Enter Dalvin Cook.
Play 4: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Washington 39. Second quarter, 1:02 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short left to D.Cook pushed ob at WAS 8 for 31 yards (J.Norman).
The first four plays of the two-minute drive from the Vikings:
- Short pass to Cook for 5 yards.
- Screen pass to Cook for 15 yards.
- Pass to Olabisi Johnson for 16 yards.
The left side of the offensive line did well on the initial blocks for the screen pass, and then Cook conjured up some magic to turn it into a 31-yard gain.
After Mattison gave him a breather with two runs, Cook finished off what would turn out to be the game’s only touchdown drive with seven seconds remaining in the half. The Vikings took the lead into the locker room despite a less than stellar performance.
The Vikings started the second half well, forcing the game’s first three-and-out and then driving from their own 9 yard line to Washington’s 9 yard line on the next drive. Unfortunately, they sputtered in the red zone again and had to settle for another field goal. Washington answered with a field goal of their own to once again make it a one-score game.
The most controversial play call of the night—perhaps the season—came from Mike Zimmer on the following drive. On 4th & 1 from his own 34, he decided to go for it with a Cousins quarterback sneak. It didn’t work.
I will vehemently defend going for it here. The quarterback sneak is a high percentage play that the Vikings have successfully converted this season. The execution wasn’t great on this one though. Payne made his second huge play of the game by plowing low through the line and stopping Cousins before he could make any forward progress. But again—the play failing does not make it a bad idea, even if Zimmer claimed it was “the dumbest call since he has been [in Minnesota].” If they had converted, everyone would have been singing Zimmer’s praises for having the testicular fortitude of going for the kill and putting the game away. I really hope that this single result doesn’t completely change Zimmer’s approach to fourth down.
Regardless of where you stand on the decision, none of it mattered anyway because the Vikings got the ball right back.
Play 5: Redskins ball, 2nd & 6 at the Minnesota 30. Third quarter, 2:05 remaining. D.Haskins pass deep middle intended for T.McLaurin INTERCEPTED by A.Harris at MIN 14. A.Harris to MIN 19 for 5 yards (T.McLaurin).
Thank goodness for Anthony Harris. (And, let’s be honest: Dwayne Haskins.)
Haskins missed McLaurin high and Harris was there to stop any threat of Washington tying the game after getting great field position.
That play happened with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Washington had the ball for four offensive plays the rest of the game.
Bonus: Vikings ball, 3rd & 19 at the Washington 41. Fourth quarter, 3:17 remaining. (Shotgun) A.Mattison up the middle to WAS 13 for 28 yards (L.Collins).
After the Harris interception, the Vikings put together a drive that lasted eleven plays and ended in Bailey’s fourth field goal of the game. The defense forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense with 8:42 remaining in the game.
The Redskins got the ball back with 26 seconds left.
It’s usually tough to pick out a single play when a team is grinding out an epic 15-play drive that consists of nothing but running plays and salts the game away. But the obvious choice here was Mattison’s ridiculous third down conversion that put the game on ice for good.
The Vikings didn’t score on the drive, but they didn’t need to because they had already ground the clock into a pulp. So yes, this wasn’t the “prettiest” win and it came against some pretty weak competition. But a win is a win is a win is a win, and four wins in a row is even better. Let’s hope the Vikings can keep this going through the second half of the regular season and beyond.
As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.
What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over Washington?
This poll is closed
Hunter’s strip sack of Keenum
Defense holding firm inside the 5
Joseph sacking Keenum
Cook’s screen pass just before halftime
Mattison’s late run on 3rd & long
Other (comment below)