By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 12:18 AM
Inside linebacker London Fletcher has a knack for summarizing things well, and his postgame analysis of the Washington Redskins' 17-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon seemed on point.
There are some challenges that cannot be overcome, Fletcher said. And after a major setback against the struggling Vikings, the Redskins likely must win their remaining five games to have any chance at qualifying for the postseason.
"The thing is, this game coming up against the [New York] Giants is a make-or-break game for the season," the team's defensive co-captain said. "We're either gonna be still keeping ourselves alive for the playoffs, or we're going to be playing for pride."
Some would contend that the Redskins (5-6) were not a viable playoff contender before Sunday's poor performance. But their goal definitely became more difficult to attain with the setback against a team considered one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in front of an announced crowd of 83,602 at FedEx Field.
Before the season, the Vikings (4-7) were focused on representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Early last week, owner Ziggy Wilf fired coach Brad Childress and promoted defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who was a winner in his debut, to the interim position.
"Great win for our ballclub. Hopefully a sign of things to come," said Frazier, who embraced quarterback Brett Favre at the end of the game. "Just maintaining the right attitude all the way through, and coming away with a road win, something we've struggled to get done - a great job by our team."
Although the Vikings, who lost by three points in overtime in last season's NFC championship game, have appeared to be in disarray for weeks, they held the Redskins to only 216 total net yards - Washington's lowest total of the season. Minnesota extended its lead to 10 points, 17-7, late in the third quarter despite playing most of the game without injured Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who left early in the second quarter after his ankle was pinned under Lorenzo Alexander at the end of a run.
Redskins rookie linebacker Perry Riley committed a penalty that nullified a potential go-ahead touchdown on another long punt return by Brandon Banks midway through the fourth. On third and eight from Washington's 24-yard line with 2 minutes 25 seconds remaining in the game, Favre scrambled 10 yards for a first down and the Vikings ran out the clock.
Favre, who began the game with a league-leading 17 interceptions, did not commit a turnover. He also passed for 172 yards.
"Did I expect to run for a first down?" asked the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer. "I haven't expected to run for a first down for quite a while."
After failing on their home field against a struggling opponent, the Redskins have no margin for error in their final five games, players said.
"Yeah, man, it's gonna be hard, but we've just got to win now," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who aggravated a hamstring injury in his return to the lineup after sitting out last week and injured his other hamstring. "We've got to continue to win and hope some of these other teams lose. . . . We've still got a chance . . . even though we're 5-6. We're gonna need some help, but we've still got a chance. You've just got to win now."
The Redskins thought they had taken the lead on Banks's 77-yard punt return with about seven minutes to play. With the Redskins trailing 17-13, the diminutive rookie, who is establishing himself among the league's elite return specialists, weaved through the Vikings' punt coverage and raced along the left sideline untouched, into the end zone. Banks's big play triggered celebrations along the sideline and in the stands.
But for the second time in the half, Riley was called for blocking in the back, and his second penalty was costly. Banks had already run past the Vikings player Riley hit, Everson Griffen. "I did see that on Perry," Coach Mike Shanahan said. "It's disappointing when that happens, especially when you don't think it had anything to do with the play. But, you know, a block in the back is a block in the back."
Not surprisingly, the crowd was deflated, and Redskins players seemed to be as well. The Redskins started at their 11, ran three plays, punted and never got the ball back. The Vikings' last possession spanned the game's final 6:13.
"We turned around and saw the flag, and everybody was like, 'Man, that was the one we needed,' " said cornerback and defensive co-captain DeAngelo Hall. "That was the one big play we needed to kind of get us rolling."
After the game, Riley, a fourth-round pick from LSU, dressed, walked past reporters who were waiting to speak with him and left the locker room. A Redskins public relations official said Riley informed the team he would not comment after the game.
Informed of the situation by a reporter, Tony Wyllie, Redskins senior vice president, tracked down Riley and persuaded him to reconsider. The Redskins conducted an impromptu conference call with Riley in the press box.
On the play, Riley explained he "was trying to get position on my man. Banks did a good job setting the dude up. I thought I hit him on his shoulder rather than his back. Apparently I hit him on his back. The call was made.
"Of course, I felt bad about it. It was all in good spirit. I was thinking positive on the play. It turned out bad on my part, but that's something that I will fix. I feel terrible for the situation."
The Redskins generated little offense after opening the game with their best drive of the season. Quarterback Donovan McNabb completed his first eight attempts for 84 yards - including the final 10 to tight tend Fred Davis for a touchdown.
Five receivers caught passes. The offensive line was outstanding in protection and Washington converted its four third-down attempts.
McNabb, however, finished with only 211 yards and a 74.8 passer rating. It marked the ninth time in 11 games the 12-year veteran has had a rating below 80.
"We had opportunities," McNabb said. "We just failed to convert when we needed."
In fairness to McNabb, Washington's receivers dropped several passes. Top wideout Santana Moss had a ball carom off his shoulder pads for an interception and the running back position has been decimated by injuries.
Clinton Portis is on season-ending injured reserve and Ryan Torain sat out his third consecutive game with a lingering hamstring injury. Rookie Keiland Williams started and had a 1.7-yard average on three rushes. Second-year back James Davis, recently promoted from the practice squad, led Washington with 11 yards rushing and had a 1.8-yard average.
The Redskins rushed for 29 yards (a 2.2-yard average). Seeking a spark, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for the first time used Banks in the "Wildcat" formation. He gained six yards on two rushing attempts.
And now, the Redskins probably need a five-game winning streak. And some help.
"I don't think 9-7 is gonna get you into the playoffs this year," Fletcher said. "Not in the NFC."