Toby Gerhart (Rich Gabrielson/Viking Update)
Interim Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier was unassuming on the sidelines as the Vikings navigated injuries to star running back Adrian Peterson and others on their way to their first road win since Nov. 1, 2009.
Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings took the road less traveled – a win on the road, without star running back Adrian Peterson for most of the game.
Frazier not only got a win in his first game as an interim head coach, he got the Vikings a road victory for the first time in almost 13 months. Before the game was over, he had a Gatorade bath. Just after the game was over, quarterback Brett Favre was handing Frazier the game ball after leaving a sideline full of smiles.
The Vikings’ 17-13 win at FedEx Field over the Washington Redskins was the first time they found success on the road since Favre dismantled the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 1, 2009.
Frazier did it with a short-handed crew. The Vikings entered the game without cornerback Chris Cook (knee) or wide receiver Bernard Berrian (groin), and by the time the first half was over, they were without Adrian Peterson, who suffered a right ankle injury, and Ray Edwards, who suffered a right ankle injury as well.
In Peterson’s stead, rookie Toby Gerhart came through with his best game of the season, rushing 22 times for 76 yards, including an impressive 25 yards on seven carries on a final drive that the Vikings needed to salt away the win. Peterson left with 10 minutes left in the first half after Washington linebacker Lorenzo Alexander fell on Peterson’s foot while making a tackle in the second quarter. While Gerhart averaged only 3.5 yards per carry (Peterson averaged six yards before he left), the running game did the job overall and it was Favre’s 10-yard run on third-and-8 that sealed the win.
Favre was 15-for-23 passing for 172 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown, but he also avoided the costly interceptions that have plagued the Vikings all year. Percy Harvin ended up with five receptions for 32 yards, and Visanthe Shiancoe had 54 yards on three catches.
After each team scored on their opening drives, the Vikings made the adjustments that helped them win. Frazier said linebackers coach Fred Pagac, who assumed the duties of defensive coordinator, called a few more pressures than Frazier normally does, but the Redskins were clearly committed to throwing the ball. Donovan McNabb was 21 of 35 for 211 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but he was also sacked four times.
The Vikings did enough offensively and defensively to overcome shaky coverage on special teams. Without Eric Frampton and Jamarca Sanford (hamstrings), the Vikings allowed a 65-yard kickoff return that led to a field goal and were fortunate to have a 77-yard punt return called back because of an illegal block in the back that might not have affected the return anyways. That Redskins penalty ended up resetting them deep in their own territory and they ended up punting back to the Vikings and never getting another opportunity, thanks to Gerhart’s drive-extending runs in the final minutes.
McNabb and the Redskins offense sure looked in sync on their opening drive, but that would prove to be their only touchdown drive of the game. McNabb was 8-for-8 for 84 yards and converted four third downs, one with his legs and the final three with passing plays, as Washington drove right through the Vikings defense. He spread the ball around beautifully, but ended it with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis, who beat Husain Abdullah in the end zone for a 7-0 Redskins lead with 7:07 to play in the first quarter.
The Vikings answered with their first touchdown on an opening drive this season. Naufahu Tahi converted the initial third down, but they would never get past second down after that. Peterson was going strong on the drive, catching a short pass and taking it 34 yards. Visanthe Shiancoe got involved with a 13-yard reception inside the red zone and Peterson capped the drive with two runs, the final one a hard-charging 5-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Neither team had much success for the rest of the first half, but the Vikings suffered their two key injuries.
Peterson injured his right ankle with about 10 minutes left in the first half when Alexander fell on it while making a tackle. Peterson’s return was listed as probable, but he sat out the rest of the game.
Defensive end Ray Edwards also suffered a right ankle injury on the second-to-last play of the half and left the field limping after being checked out by trainers on the field.
Without Peterson, the Vikings offense got in a rhythm to start the second half, taking the opening series 74 yards for a touchdown. They picked up their first down with a Washington penalty, and Greg Camarillo advanced across midfield with a 12-yard reception. Shiancoe got them inside the red zone with receptions of 12 yards and 29 yards, the second coming on a play-action pass on third-and-1. But without Peterson, it was Gerhart who finished the drive with runs of 4 and 5 yards, the second one going for a touchdown for a 14-7 Vikings lead with 9:48 to play in the third quarter.
After two drives that picked up a combined one first down, E.J. Henderson set up the offense on the Washington 9-yard line with a diving interception on a tipped pass. But the offense went backwards when Favre was sacked on third down for a 6-yard loss, bringing on Ryan Longwell for a 31-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
The kick coverage unit followed with a letdown. Asher Allen over-pursued and Erin Henderson missed a tackle as return man Brandon Banks wove his way 65 yards down the right sideline to the Vikings 28-yard line. The defense held and the Redskins had to settle for a 40-yard field goal and with 13:34 to play and a 17-10 deficit.
Another explosive play set up the Redskins for another field goal on their next drive. On their first play of the series, Anthony Armstrong easily outran safety Madieu Williams for a 45-yard gain to set up a 42-yard Graham Gano field goal with 10:02 to play.
Once again the Vikings’ coverage unit had a letdown. This time, it was the kick coverage team that let Banks escape for a 77-yard punt return, but an illegal block in the back nullified the return and a would-be Redskins lead. Instead, the Vikings defense stopped McNabb and company on three plays and Washington punted it back to the Vikings with the hopes of getting one more series.
That wouldn’t happen. Gerhart not only milked the clock, he was picking up first downs by the bunch. He gained 25 yards rushing on seven carries, caused the Redskins to eat up their timeouts and delivered the Vikings a road victory for the first time since Nov. 1, 2009 in Green Bay.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.