There aren’t too many games a team can give away when they’re In the middle of a playoff chase, but the Washington Redskins did just that against the Minnesota Vikings Nov. 28. Washington lost a 17-13 heartbreaker to the Vikings, dropping the team to 5-6 and giving Minnesota its first road win since last season. Washington had its share of opportunities to ice the game but, as has been the theme this season, the home team came up just short.

First Down: Banking on a Return
The blocking penalty that wiped out Brandon Banks’ fourth quarter 77-yard punt return touchdown was a killer. Linebacker Perry Riley’s blocking penalty was exactly the type of miscue that has flat-lined Washington all season. With the offense once again struggling, a big play in special teams would’ve likely won the game thanks to a solid effort by the defense. The letdown after the flag was evident amongst the home crowd as a collective sigh filled FedEx Field—maybe the fans knew a loss was on the way.

Second Down: Running Away from the Run Game
Four different runners gained just 29 total yards on the ground for Washington. With an offensive line that struggles in pass protection and allowed four sacks against the Vikings, getting it going on the ground wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Coach Mike Shanahan’s bread and butter have been the run game, so it’s surprising the headman would only allow for 11 attempts by his trio of designated runners. The Redskins are missing key players at the running back position, but Shanahan has made a living by turning no-names into stars. At 5-6, Washington isn’t completely out of the playoff hunt, but expect Shanahan to make the running game a priority going forward.

Third Down: Something’s Missing
The Minnesota Vikings didn’t play outstanding football against the Redskins. The Vikings passed for only 162 yards and rushed for a mere 137 yards—a huge number in comparison to Washington’s pedestrian 29 yards. The Vikings didn’t commit a turnover, however, and received a bonus three points when Donovan McNabb’s pass bounced off his receiver’s chest and into the hands of a Minnesota linebacker, and the ensuing drive resulted in a field goal. Still, the Vikings played the type of lackluster game that typically means a loss against a playoff-caliber club, a title that the Redskins clearly don’t possess at this point.

Dropping a contest to a team that hasn’t won a road game since 2009 will surely come back to haunt Washington later in the year. The team has to play with a greater sense of urgency or they will continue to come up short in games they can, and should, win.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO