MINNEAPOLIS -- Battered and bruised, the Minnesota Vikings' defense finally made a stand.
Pushed around for two-plus quarters Thursday at Mall of America Field, the Vikings pushed back, holding the Washington Redskins scoreless over the final 20-plus minutes in Minnesota's come-from-behind, 34-27 victory.
The Vikings (2-7) forced Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III into three consecutive incompletions from the Minnesota 4-yard line in the final seconds.
"We needed a win," said veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who had 2 1/2 of Minnesota's four sacks of Griffin, all of which came in the second half.
Following a last-minute loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Williams criticized the defensive play-calling. On Thursday, he backed up his words with his actions.
"We didn't do very well in second halves (this season), and we decided we need to either lay down or come out fighting," Williams said.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, in his best performance of the season, completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception before leaving the game late in the third quarter. He injured his left shoulder on a 14-yard scramble to the Washington 1.
Matt Cassel replaced Ponder and completed the comeback that saw the Vikings score the game's final 20 points.
Griffin went 24-for-37 for 281 yards and three scores, but he couldn't prevent Washington (3-6) from falling two games behind Dallas in the NFC East. After leading the Redskins to scores on their first five possessions, culminating with a Kai Forbath field goal that gave Washington a 27-14 lead in the third quarter, Griffin was hounded by Minnesota's pass rush.
"You saw it just like I did," Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. "We got ourselves shoved back, and that last drive we just didn't get in the end zone. It's disappointing, and you go back to work to make sure you get it done (next time)."
With Washington down by seven in the final minutes, Griffin drove the Redskins from their 20-yard line to a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 8. Running back Roy Helu gained 4 yards on first down, but Griffin then went 0-for-3. The final pass, intended for wide receiver Santana Moss in the corner of the end zone, was long. Moss made the catch but got only one foot in bounds.
"It was disheartening," Griffin said, "but I don't think anyone on this team is going to quit."
What the Redskins said
"We did not play well enough defensively to win. The offense gave us a chance, but we couldn't close it out defensively." -- Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan.
What the Vikings said
"With his leadership and his accomplishments in the league, when he talks, you listen. And he backed it up." -- Defensive end Jared Allen, on defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who complained about the Vikings' lack of aggressive defensive play-calling in a last-second loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week, then recorded 2 1/2 sacks Thursday against the Redskins.
What we learned about the Redskins
1. This team is going nowhere until the defense improves. The Vikings' offense, moribund for much of the season, converted on six of 10 third-down plays, averaged nearly 6 yards per offensive play and scored the game's final 20 points.
2. Even in a loss, and even with the way the game ended -- with the Redskins knocking on the door -- it appears quarterback Robert Griffin III's knee is getting better and better. Griffin ran seven times for 44 yards and was able to buy some time in the pocket -- at least until the end.
What we learned about the Vikings
1. The quarterback situation is far from settled. Just when you thought Christian Ponder had absolutely no future with this organization, he turned in easily the best performance of his season before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. If the injury proves serious and Ponder misses significant time, Thursday's performance will at least give the Vikings something to think about going forward.
2. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, at age 33, is far from done. Williams had 2 1/2 of the Vikings' four sacks Thursday, his first multi-sack game since 2009. He criticized the team's play-calling last week, then took matters into his own hands Thursday.