Before Thursday night, the last time Washington had lost at Minnesota was a 41-7 whipping by the unbeaten Vikings in 1998 that dropped the Redskins to 0-7 and prompted receiver Leslie Shepherd to proclaim that they were at “rock bottom.”
Shepherd, a D.C. area native, could have easily made the same declaration last night while watching the Redskins blow a 27-14 third-quarter lead and lose 34-27 to the Vikings to fall to 3-6.
It was the third straight game in which Washington had held and lost a double-digit second half advantage. Replays that reversed San Diego’s apparent game-winning touchdown followed by a goal-line stand and an impressive drive in overtime beat the Chargers. However, against Denver and Minnesota, once Washington’s lead began to crack, it crumbled. The Redskins were outscored by a combined 58-0 the rest of the way by the powerful Broncos and the lowly Vikings.
The opening trampling by Philadelphia can be explained by the fact that Washington’s defense was the first to face new Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense while Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III hadn’t played since knee surgery eight months earlier. Losing in Week 2 at Lambeau Field to Aaron Rodgers and the rest of a healthy Green Bay offense was expected as was the defeat in Denver. Falling to Detroit in Week 3 doesn’t look as bad now that the Lions are tied for the NFC North lead with the Packers and Chicago (which Washington beat). As for losing at Dallas, the Redskins are 4-17 there dating to 1992.
But Thursday night’s defeat was inexplicable.
Griffin (24-of-37, 281 yards, three touchdowns, 114.8 passer rating) and running back Alfred Morris (26 carries, 139 yards) were terrific while Griffin’s top targets, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, combined for 13 catches, 181 yards and two touchdowns. The Redskins had the ball 50 percent longer than the Vikings while outgaining them on the ground and through the air.
Defensively, Washington controlled Adrian Peterson yet again, holding the All-Pro running back to 75 yards on 20 carries, although he did score twice.
The much-maligned special teams limited NFL kickoff return leader Cordarrelle Patterson to 37 yards on two returns while intentionally kicking away from him the other four times with equally strong results. Kai Forbath got back on track by hitting both of his field goal tries.
And yet, the Redskins lost when Santana Moss couldn’t get his second foot down in the end zone while hauling in Griffin’s pass on fourth-and-goal in the closing seconds.
When Forbath’s 40-yard kick made it 27-14 just 5:38 into the third quarter, the Redskins had outgained the Vikings 347-114 with nearly as huge a discrepancy in time of possession.
However from then on until Washington’s superb but ultimately fruitless final drive, the game was all Minnesota — 31 plays, 195 yards and 20 points to 11 plays, minus-5 yards (after penalties) and a goose egg for Washington — even while losing starting quarterback Christian Ponder (who came in struggling but was spot-on against the Redskins’ egregious pass defense) to a shoulder injury.
The floundering Vikings had come into the game minus eight injured starters. The Redskins were fully healthy, took the 17-point lead and then collapsed against a team that was winless at home and 1-7 overall.
In winning the NFC East last season for the first time since 1999, the Redskins didn’t lose to a team that finished worse than 7-9. That was also the case during their previous playoff season, 2007. In 2005, they somehow were edged by Oakland in the return to Washington of coach Norv Turner, whose 1999 division winners had fallen in Philadelphia. Those two bad losses are the only ones that a playoff-bound Redskins team suffered during the past two decades.
A victory Thursday night would’ve made the Redskins 4-2 during their last six games and coming up fast on the Cowboys and Eagles. The defeat effectively ended their hopes of making the playoffs for a second straight season for the first time since 1992, even in the NFC Least.
The Redskins are just two games out of first with four division games remaining, but they’re also just half a game out of last. They have seven games left, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s miraculous 7-0 turnaround from a 3-6 start. Washington still has to face 9-0 Kansas City and 6-2 San Francisco, which hasn’t lost since Week 3.
Face it, Redskins fans. Playoff teams don’t lose 20-point leads to 1-7 foes. The Redskins aren’t a playoff team.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.