MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings needed most of the game to figure out how to stop Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
They finally walked off their home field a winner, too.
Adrian Peterson ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns, and the Vikings forced Griffin into three straight incompletions from the 4 in the final seconds to hold on for a 34-27 victory Thursday night.
Christian Ponder went 17 for 21 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before leaving late in the third quarter with a dislocated shoulder on his non-throwing left arm. John Carlson had seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (2-7).
“I don’t think there was a change in mindset or anything. I think we just played the way we were supposed to,” Ponder said. “We executed like an NFL team is supposed to, especially a 10-6 playoff team like we were last year. We really needed that, to help out with our confidence, and now that’s our expectation for the rest of the year.”
Griffin was 24 for 37 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers for the Redskins (3-6), who led 27-14 early in the third quarter. He also ran seven times for 44 yards, but the Vikings took him down for four sacks for 39 yards in the second half — including 2½ by Kevin Williams.
The Redskins committed eight penalties for 63 yards.
“You can’t do that,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “You’ve got to keep your poise. You make mistakes like that and so often it will cost you the game.”
With the Redskins out of timeouts, Griffin ran for 12 yards on fourth-and-1 at his own 49 right after the 2-minute warning. Jordan Reed caught a 17-yard pass to the 8 and, after a short run by the Redskins, the Vikings stopped the clock with a timeout of their own. Wide receiver Greg Jennings was livid on the sideline, but coach Leslie Frazier defended his decision to give the drained defense a rest and allow at least a few more seconds for a comeback in case the Redskins scored.
But Griffin’s next two passes were incomplete. On fourth-and-goal with 32 seconds left, his throw to the corner of the end zone was caught by Santana Moss with only one foot in bounds.
After losing three games this year in the final minute, the Vikings finally pulled one out.
“There were many times during the course of that game where they could’ve gone, ‘Oh, no, here we go again,” Frazier said.
Blair Walsh kicked two fourth-quarter field goals for the Vikings after Peterson’s second score gave them a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter.
That drive started at the Washington 41, thanks to an unnecessary roughness call on Darrel Young during the punt return. Ponder scrambled and slung a third-and-12 laser to Jarius Wright for a first down at the sideline. Then, Ponder took off for a 14-yard run that left him with an injured left shoulder, and an official replay reversed the touchdown call after he dived at the pylon and rolled out of bounds.
Matt Cassel came in, and Peterson scored to give the Vikings the lead on the next play.
The NFC East, which fittingly for this season rhymes with least, has been right there for the Redskins to take hold of.
Dallas (5-4) and Philadelphia (4-5) are barely ahead of them, and each has shown significant flaws. They’re going to have to tighten up this defense, though, if they’re going to keep this a true division race with the Cowboys and Eagles.
After Brandon Meriweather returned an interception 30 yards to near midfield to end Minnesota’s first drive, the Vikings reached the end zone with ease on their next two possessions. Peterson scored on an 18-yard run on the first one, and Ponder found Cordarrelle Patterson for the rookie’s first career touchdown catch for the other.
The Vikings were missing four starters to injury on defense, and they had no answer for Griffin or his big receivers in the first half. The Redskins scored on their first five possessions, further trampling a unit that has had all kinds of trouble this season with broken tackle after broken tackle. The Redskins converted seven of eight third downs in the first half and held the ball for more than two-thirds of the elapsed game time.
But that all changed after the break.
“You always want to be able to rush the passer with the game on the line,” Williams said. “It was nice to finish it this time.”
The latest sign of increasing pushback toward the Redskins for their nickname came before the game outside the stadium, where hundreds of American Indians and their supporters held signs, chanted slogans and beat drums in protest of what they view as a disrespectful and racist moniker. Among the printed messages they carried: “We are not cartoons!” Redskins owner Dan Synder has called the nickname a “badge of honor” and said it won’t be changed.