A Chance to Advance
Monday, December 24, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 23 -- Al Saunders, the Washington Redskins' offensive play caller, heard the yelling first, a chorus of voices in the coaches box above the field screaming, "12 men! 12 men!"
Quarterback Todd Collins had fumbled a hurry-up snap in the fourth quarter Sunday night at the Metrodome, and the ball had been recovered by the Vikings. With the Redskins' 25-point lead cut to 11, quality control coach Bill Khayat, assistant coach Bob Saunders (Al's son), and team videographers were alerting Al Saunders that too many Vikings had been on the field at the snap. Saunders, communicating to Coach Joe Gibbs on the sidelines through his headset, urged Gibbs to throw a flag for a replay challenge -- chanting, "Challenge it, challenge it, challenge it."
Gibbs, previously maligned for his in-game management, threw the red flag, the turnover was replaced by a five-yard penalty and tailback Clinton Portis moments later slashed through Minnesota's tired defense for a final touchdown in a 32-21 victory that leaves the Redskins (8-7) able to clinch the final NFC playoff spot with a win Sunday against division rival Dallas.
"That was a huge point of the game," Gibbs said. The play had been hurried because Saunders was worried that the Vikings were going to challenge Santana Moss's 23-yard reception -- "I didn't think he was in bounds, so we have an automatic quick-snap that I call," Saunders said. After Collins mishandled it, the Vikings were poised to take over at midfield with momentum and a boisterous crowd behind them.
Instead, the Redskins kept the ball and now have won three in a row for the first time since 2005 -- when they won five straight to reach the postseason -- rallying after the shooting death of star safety Sean Taylor. This was their best outing yet, dominating the first half to grab a 22-0 lead. Backup quarterback Todd Collins (22 for 29, 254 yards, two touchdowns and sparkling 124.8 rating) shined again.
Minnesota (8-7) could have clinched a postseason spot with a win but its NFL-best running attack was held to a scant 1.8 yards per carry in the first half. Star rookie Adrian Peterson managed just 27 yards on nine carries in the game as Gregg Williams, Redskins assistant head coach-defense, employed tactics similar to those used by legendary defensive guru Buddy Ryan.
The Vikings, who had won five straight, began unraveling on their first drive, with erratic young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson wilting against a six-man line. Former Viking Fred Smoot, who left the team under acrimonious circumstances, nabbed his first interception of the season on an errant Jackson pass and scampered 47 yards down the sideline.
The Redskins came a few inches from scoring when fullback Mike Sellers (who suffered a concussion but was doing better after the game) appeared to score but the touchdown was overturned on replay. Minnesota took over inside its 1 and surrendered a safety on first down. Emerging defensive tackles Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery generated a powerful push, knocking center Matt Birk backward, and fullback Tony Richardson failed to get the carry out of the end zone.
"I just got as much penetration as I could," Golston said. "It was a blessing to come off the ball the right way."
After the free kick, Collins led a touchdown drive, completing all three pass attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown, hitting reserve wide receiver Reche Caldwell on two key third-down plays, then finding tight end Chris Cooley wide open down the middle of the field for a 33-yard scoring play. Cooley and Moss both ran double-moves, and the safeties went to Moss.
"It was like stealing," Cooley said. "Easiest touchdown I've ever scored."
The teams traded missed long field goal attempts, then the Vikings turned the ball over on consecutive drives. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin shot through the gap, and as he reached Jackson, the quarterback jumped as he threw and cornerback Shawn Springs intercepted at the Minnesota 32.