Commanders were on their way to legitimacy in Week 9 — then the fourth quarter happened

Commanders were on their way to legitimacy — then the fourth happened originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Commanders were so close on Sunday to passing what Ron Rivera — as well as everyone who's followed the club this year — viewed as a true test against the Vikings.

Instead, Rivera's squad saw its three-game winning streak flame out with a 20-17 loss to Minnesota in a result that'll spark additional questions about where the franchise is heading in 2022 and beyond.

For a little more than 45 minutes at FedEx Field, Washington was standing up to the Kirk Cousins-led visitors, who entered the matchup as one of the few real contenders in the NFC. Taylor Heinicke tossed two touchdowns — one that was unbelievably fluky and one that was legit — while the defense more than held its own versus a proficient offense.

When Heinicke found Dax Milne early in the fourth quarter for a six-yard six-pointer, the Commanders boasted a 17-7 lead. On top of that, their home stadium was actually rocking.

The Vikings registered a field goal in response to Milne's touchdown, though, and then Heinicke — who had, as usual, been walking the line between riveting and risky — overthrew Logan Thomas and was picked off by Harrison Smith. Two snaps later, Cousins linked up with Dalvin Cook for a perfect, painful score, and the ensuing PAT tied the contest at 17.

From there, Heinicke and his offense's cold streak continued in the form of a three-and-out, which forced the Commanders to give the ball back to Cousins' unit with six minutes on the clock.

Thanks to strong execution, deft clock management by Minny and one ghastly Washington penalty, the Vikings were able to kick what proved to be the clinching field goal with 12 seconds remaining.

"Enough mistakes to go around for everybody," a dejected Rivera told reporters postgame.

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The loss will be tough to process for the Commanders, who would've eclipsed the .500 mark and garnered real consideration as a Wild Card threat in a muddled conference.

The poor fourth quarter, however, pushes them to 4-5. With a Monday night tilt with the Eagles looming, the Commanders are in danger of losing the brief momentum they had recently discovered.