Pelissero: Redskins gave this one away, but Vikings seem to believe
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LANDOVER, Md. -- Wins like this tend to seem nondescript when teams don't need them so badly.
But there was Leslie Frazier, the Minnesota Vikings' interim coach, getting a water-bucket bath on Sunday afternoon. And there was Frazier again, grinning on his walk to midfield as player after player embraced him -- perhaps just embracing the clean slate his sopping-wet presence represented.
"It feels like it's a new season," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "Right now, we're 1-0."
No, this 17-13 decision over the injury-depleted Washington Redskins didn't override the Vikings' real standing -- 4-7, three games back in the NFC wild-card chase with five to play.
Truth be told, the Vikings displayed many of the same deficiencies at FedEx Field that helped trigger Brad Childress' ouster six days earlier.
Missed tackles, shoddy coverage and an impotent four-man rush propelled the Redskins' 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive out of the gate. The passing game remained out of kilter for stretches, with Brett Favre misfiring badly for Sidney Rice on several occasions. Two coverage-unit breakdowns turned Brandon Banks loose for monster gains.
When push came to shove, though, it was the Redskins who shoved themselves right off the ledge as the Vikings have so many times before -- making enough mistakes to hand the visitors their first road win in nearly 13 months.
"We need all of them," Rice said. "We can only take it one game at a time, so our focus now shifts to next weekend (against Buffalo). We'll be ready for that."
Who knows where all those good vibes would have gone if the Redskins hadn't been so determined to clown away this game?
They dropped at least five passes, including a ball that ricocheted from Santana Moss' chest to E.J. Henderson's arms, setting up a Vikings field goal.
They failed to take full advantage when Anthony Armstrong burned safety Madieu Williams deep, settling instead for a 45-yard gain and a field goal because of Donovan McNabb's awful underthrow.
They probably gave away the game after the Vikings' next possession, when rookie linebacker Perry Riley foolishly jacked Everson Griffen in the back -- wiping out Banks' go-ahead touchdown on a 77-yard punt return with a block Banks didn't need.
"You can go over a lot of different things," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "but the bottom line is you get it done or you don't."
The Vikings did it by accomplishing three of the primary goals Frazier set forth -- run the football (140 yards on 35 non-kneel carries), take care of the football (no turnovers) and eliminate penalties (three for 15 yards) -- while waiting for Washington to fold.
The injury-depleted Redskins signed four street free agents during the week, started their No. 3 halfback and suited up only two safeties. But the Vikings entered with issues of their own, including Favre's mysterious illness, compounded when All-Pro halfback Adrian Peterson departed with an ankle injury in the second quarter.
"We faced some adversity just like we thought we would on the road and they didn't blink," Frazier said. "They just continued to play and made the plays we need to make to win."
That Favre sealed the decision with a 10-yard scramble was appropriate. Percy Harvin was covered to the corner, Jimmy Kleinsasser was covered in the flat and Favre -- who entered with an NFL-high 17 interceptions this season and 6 rushing yards total as a Viking -- tucked and ran instead of forcing a throw that could have given Washington a chance.
Would Favre have made the same decision if Childress still were in charge?
That's impossible to say, but reading between the lines of players' postgame remarks made clear they felt different about the message -- the messenger? -- this week.
"Throughout the course of the week and (Sunday), he said a focused piece and kind of left it at that," Favre said. "It wasn't overkill. It was right to the point, didn't want to make it about him, and I think that's Leslie."
Shiancoe said Frazier has "the right temperament" to manage a veteran team. Jared Allen cited Frazier's "camaraderie" with players. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie provided perhaps the most telling statement of all, saying it's easy to play for a new coach "especially when it's a new coach you like -- you're gonna actually give it your all."
The box score will show the Vikings outpaced Washington in yardage (299-216), first downs (17-10) and time of possession (33:05-26:55).
The tape will show how far the Vikings still have to go to make the next five games relevant for more than Frazier's future.
Either way, a locker room that so long had shown signs it was fed up with leadership at least seems to believe in the team's new direction -- for however long it lasts.
"I feel like when (Frazier) talks, guys' ears are pinned up and listen to everything that's coming out of his mouth," Peterson said. "It's just a feeling I really can't explain, but it's a feeling of being sure about the words that come out of his mouth and just trusting."