Trailing by four points to the Minnesota Vikings late in the fourth quarter, the Washington Redskins were in need of a big play to jumpstart an anemic offense. They got one in the form of Brandon Banks' 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, but an illegal block in the back by linebacker Perry Riley nullified the go-ahead score. Minnesota held off the Redskins' ensuing comeback effort as Brett Favre scrambled for a key first down, icing a 17-13 Vikings win in Leslie Frazier's debut as the Vikings head coach.
The Vikings overcame an injury to star running back Adrian Peterson as backup Toby Gerhart ran for a five-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the Vikings ahead for good 14-7. Peterson was having a tremendous day with 70 combined yards on seven touches before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the first half. Gerhart led a run-based attack with 76 yards on 22 carries, including several key third down conversions to milk the clock late.
But it was Favre's run on third and eight with 2:25 remaining that sealed it. Favre rolled to his right off a playaction fake and finding no one open, he took off. Reed Doughty had a play on the 41-year old quarterback, but pulled him down past the marker. With no timeouts left, all the Redskins could do was watch as Minnesota ran out the clock.
"You either get it done or you don't and today we were off," said Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. "We were pretty inconsistent against a defense that was fairly good. They played a lot more consistently than we did and they deserve to win."
Minnesota may have outplayed the Redskins, but if not for Riley's blunder they would have been trailing late. Banks, weeks removed from knee surgery, fielded a Chris Kluwe punt at his own 23 and made several nifty moves to get by the first wave of Minnesota defenders. He burst through a seam downfield and left a trail of Vikings in his wake. As the elusive return man celebrated in the end zone, the referees proceeded to mark the ball back inside the twenty as Riley had clipped a Viking from behind covering the kick.
Riley, a rookie out of LSU, was clearly upset after his second penalty on special teams. He left FedEx Field without speaking to reporters, but Redskins PR set up a conference call with reporters shortly after he left.
"It was a return to the left side of the field, he said. "I was trying to get position on my man. [Brandon] 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 in the back and the call was made."
The return marked the second time Banks has had a touchdown called back due to a penalty. He has one touchdown on special teams this year and continued to be a catalyst in the return game Sunday.
"The guy just keeps making plays," said center Casey Rabach of Banks. "Then you see a yellow flag on the ground and it just really stings."
Following the penalty, Washington still had a chance to drive down for a score with 6:54 left in the game. But the offense went three and out, punted to the Vikings and never got the ball back.
Linebacker London Fletcher told reporters the team still expected to come back after Banks' return was wiped out, but to no avail.
"I felt like it was a situation where our offense was going to be able to go down there and get a touchdown," said Fletcher. "That didn't happen. So it was on us defensively to give our offense another chance and that was what our job was at that point. We didn't do it."
After throwing 50 passes last week in Tennessee, Donovan McNabb threw 35 times this week as the Redskins ground game continued their inefficient play. Washington ran the ball 13 times for 29 yards behind a makeshift offensive line that lost starting right guard Artis Hicks in the first half.
With the Redskins reduced to the passing game, McNabb went 21-35 for 211 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His receivers dropped six passes including one which Santana Moss tipped into the air resulting in an interception by linebacker E.J. Henderson during the third quarter. The turnover was the only one of the game for both teams and led to Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal, which put the Vikings up 17-7.
"I'm not sure exactly what it was, but he does not drop very many balls and when he does it is quite unusual," said Shanahan in regard to Moss' rough outing.
Washington got on the board first as McNabb threw a 10-yard TD pass to Fred Davis on the team's first possession. The drive was one of the most impressive of the season; a 13-play effort that used up 7:53 of clock. The Redskins even used the wildcat in the drive, featuring Banks in the shotgun with McNabb lined up out wide. However after the quick start, they wouldn't get it past Minnesota's 47 yard line for the remainder of the half.
"That's the frustrating part, especially when you go through that first drive and everything seems to be clicking," said McNabb. "Pretty much after that, it was just mistakes that we made that were self-inflicted that we couldn't control."
For the game, the Redskins had 216 yards of offense, 83 of which they amassed on their first offensive possession. They had just 3 yards in the third quarter and struggled to move the ball, moving the chains twice in the second half.
If not for a 45-yard pass from McNabb to Anthony Armstrong and a 65-yard kick-off return by the elusive Banks, the Redskins wouldn't have even managed the two Graham Gano field goals they scored on in the second half. The field goals made it a one score game, but the closest Washington could get was on Banks' nullified punt return.
"They did a great job," said McNabb. "You tip your hat off to them, but there were mistakes that we, obviously, can correct. If we correct those mistakes then maybe it's a different ballgame."
The loss drops Washington to 5-6 overall, damaging their already slim play-off hopes.
Game Notes: The Redskins touchdown on their opening series was their longest scoring drive of the year. McNabb went 8-8 for 84 yards and a touchdown on the drive.
Banks' 272 yards on punt returns are the most for a Redskin since Antwaan Randle El posted 342 in 2006.
Chris Cooley moved past Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell for seventh place on the franchise's all-time receptions list. Cooley has 397 catches, surpassing Mitchell's 393 grabs.