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."
It was a remarkable turn of events.
Despite spirited play by the Vikings' offense, the Redskins looked unstoppable early, scoring 17 consecutive points from the second quarter into the third.
After that, it was all Vikings.
Ponder's 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson (seven catches, 98 yards) pulled the Vikings within six. Then the Vikings defense held, forcing the first Washington punt of the game.
Marcus Sherels' return, plus a personal-foul penalty, put Minnesota on a short field. Ponder hit wide receiver Jarius Wright for 28 yards on third-and-12 to the 14. Then Ponder scrambled around left end to the 1, getting injured in the process.
Cassel came in and handed the ball to Adrian Peterson, and the running back walked in for his second touchdown of the night, giving the Vikings the lead for good, 28-27. Peterson ended the night with 20 carries for 75 yards.
The Vikings' defense made sure the lead stood up. Griffin was sacked three times on the Redskins next two possessions, which both ended in punts. Minnesota added two Blair Walsh field goals, the second a 40-yarder with 4:47 left.
"It's an awesome feeling," Peterson said. "The defense stepped up and made plays when we needed them to make plays. Though the adversity we have been going through, guys continue to fight."
It was a frustrating end for the Redskins, who wasted fine performances from running back Alfred Morris (26 carries, 139 yards), receiver Pierre Garcon (seven catches, 119 yards) and tight end Jordan Reed (six catches, 62 yards).
"We won the yardage and turnover battle, threw the ball well," Griffin said. "Receivers and everyone blocked well. But we had a couple of drives in the third quarter that didn't go our way. We can't have those drives and can't let that swing the momentum for the rest of the game."
NOTES: About 700 protesters marched from the national office of the American Indian Movement (AIM) about 20 blocks to Mall of America Field, demanding the Washington Redskins change their name. Among the protesters were Billy Mills, a Sioux Indian who won gold in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Olympics; U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum; former Vikings star Joey Browner and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. ... With G Charlie Johnson (elbow) and T Phil Loadholt (concussion) inactive, the Vikings had new starters at left guard (Joe Berger) and left tackle (J'Marcus Webb). Injuries also kept Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Chris Cook, S Jamarca Sanford and DT Fred Evans out of the lineup. ... Washington TE Fred Davis missed a fifth game as a healthy scratch. ... Leonard Hankerson started at wide receiver ahead of Joshua Morgan for Washington. ... Former Vikings star Cris Carter was at the Metrodome. The long-time wide receiver received his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony.