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Updated: October 15th, 2012 12:15am
Pelissero: Vikings bought Redskins time with ineptitude in red zone

Pelissero: Vikings bought Redskins time with ineptitude in red zone

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- Adrian Peterson has repeated some version of the phrase after nearly every game this season: we've got to turn those threes into sevens.

As in, when the Minnesota Vikings get inside the opponents' 20-yard line, they can't come away with field goals.

"Today," a visibly frustrated Peterson said after Sunday's 38-26 loss to the Washington Redskins, "it finally came back and bit us."

Never mind that the Vikings entered the game with one of the NFL's best red-zone touchdown rates, having scored nine in 15 chances (60%).

On this day, Peterson's lament of choice was indisputable truth.

The Vikings offense held the ball for 10 minutes, 31 seconds in the first quarter while racking up 148 yards and three trips to the Redskins' 9-yard line or beyond.

They settled for three Blair Walsh field goals and a 9-0 lead the Redskins turned into a 17-9 deficit by halftime before an increasingly vocal crowd that had seen the home team lose eight straight games at FedEx Field.

"On the road, you want to take advantage of every opportunity you can to keep the crowd out of it," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We talked about it. We knew that. We know that. Anytime you let a team stay in it and you have some opportunities, you create some potential problems."

Instead of pressuring the Redskins' offense to play catch-up, the Vikings bought them time to get the zone-read game going behind dynamic rookie Robert Griffin III, who ended up accounting for 320 yards and three scores.

Instead of chewing clock with Peterson, the Vikings tried to counterpunch after Alfred Morris' 1-yard touchdown plunge gave Washington the lead lead late in the first half, leading to a Christian Ponder fumble and second Redskins touchdown in a 13-second span to swing the momentum.

Instead of going home with a fourth consecutive victory and sole possession of first place in the NFC North Division, the Vikings fell to 4-2 with an uneven performance that echoed their previous loss on Sept. 16 at Indianapolis.

"Offensively, we need to turn those three points into sevens. Period," Peterson said. "It's not a game if we do that."

Peterson took some of the blame on himself, pointing out two of his first-down runs in the failed sequences lost yardage and saying he should have been more aggressive hitting the holes.

There were puzzling play calls in each series, too -- a play-action slant for Devin Aromashodu on second-and-goal from the 5, a screen to Peterson on third-and-12, a draw to Toby Gerhart on third-and-4, no targets or touches for Percy Harvin or Kyle Rudolph -- and Christian Ponder's wavering accuracy didn't help.

The bottom line was a lack of production, even after a rare Griffin mistake led to a sprawling Antoine Winfield interception and possession at the Redskins' 35-yard line.

"That's a great thing, creating turnovers," Winfield said. "We need that. It puts our offense on a short field. But we need to score more touchdowns."

The deficit was 24-9 after the Redskins opened the second half with another protracted drive -- 10 plays, 80 yards -- extended by breakdowns and penalties from the Vikings defense.

The Vikings never forced another turnover and seemed to lose their edge once Griffin began exploiting soft coverage on the corners to dice them with quick, in-breaking passes once play fakes froze the linebackers.

"The first quarter, we smashed them," defensive tackle Kevin Williams. "Then, the second quarter, they started (running) the little zone reads and then play-action off of it. They just dictated the game."

The Vikings answered in the third quarter with another efficient drive that reached the Redskins' 19-yard line -- only to sputter when Ponder overthrew Harvin on third-and-6.

A pop-fly pick-six for Madieu Williams pushed the score to 31-12 early in the fourth quarter before the Vikings snapped back to life, sandwiching a pair of Ponder touchdown passes to Michael Jenkins and Rudolph around a Washington three-and-out.

Griffin's 76-yard touchdown scramble past a failed blitz all but iced the decision, though, and Rudolph's false start wiped out a 1-yard Peterson touchdown run before Ponder appropriately threw another pick in the end zone with 22 seconds to go.

"Now we've seen where we're ailed," Peterson said. "I'm going to make sure I harp on it all week and we really take it personal, because it's happened for four weeks in a row."

The Vikings won the first three of those games, of course, and scored five touchdowns in eight red-zone trips to do it.

They finished Sunday's game with advantages in net yards (421-361), first downs (27-20) and time of possession (31:32-28:28).

In a league where breaking even on the road is usually considered a success, there is no inherent shame in losing to a seemingly ascending Redskins team with a budding star who had fans chanting his initials as they left the stadium.

What the Vikings will remember about this defeat, though, probably will have less to do with the heroics of "RG3" than the three chances they missed in the early going to bring on the boos.

"You don't want the fans in the game, and we had an opportunity to really silence the crowd and change the Redskins' approach," Frazier said. "But as time went on, they got some momentum and we weren't able to adjust and make some things happen to offset some of the things they were doing.

"That's part of playing on the road and winning on the road. We know that, and we just weren't effective in getting it done."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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