MINNEAPOLIS -- The battered, bruised, beneficent Minnesota Vikings defense finally made a stand at Mall of America Field on Thursday night, in the most dramatic way possible.
After falling into a 13-point hole in the third quarter, the Vikings shut down the Washington Redskins, allowing Christian Ponder, and then Matt Cassel, to lead Minnesota to a 34-27 victory.
Down by seven points in the final minutes, the Redskins drove from their 20-yard line to a first-and-goal at the Vikings 8. Four plays later, on fourth down from the 4, Robert Griffin III's pass to wide receiver Santana Moss in the corner of the end zone was long, preserving the Vikings' victory and ending Minnesota's four-game losing streak.
It was one of the most unlikely turnarounds imaginable. Griffin led the Redskins to scores on Washington's first five possessions, the final one a 40-yard Kai Forbath field goal early in the third quarter. The score gave Washington 17 straight points scored and a 27-14 lead.
After that, it was all Vikings.
In his best game of the season, Ponder completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with a left shoulder injury.
Ponder marched the Vikings 74 yards, and Minnesota (2-7) pulled within 27-21 on his 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson, who finished with seven catches for 98 yards.
The Vikings' defense responded by forcing the first Redskins punt of the night. Marcus Sherels' 20-yard return plus a personal-foul penalty on Washington put the ball at the Redskins 41. Ponder hit wide receiver Jarius Wright for 28 yards on third-and-12 to the 15. On the next play, Ponder scrambled around left end to the 1 but was injured. He was replaced by Cassel, who handed off to Adrian Peterson, and the running back ran off right tackle for his second touchdown of the game and a 28-27 Vikings lead with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
After Minnesota forced another Washington punt, Cassel's 25-yard completion to wide receiver Jerome Simpson on third-and 9 set the Vikings up for Blair Walsh's 39-yard field goal with 9:54 left that pushed the Vikings' lead to 31-27. Another punt led to another scoring drive, ending with Walsh's 40-yard field goal with 3:36 left.
And then, the drama. The Redskins (3-6) drove to a first down at the Vikings' 8. Running back Roy Helu gained 4 yards on first down. On second down, Griffin, under pressure, threw incomplete. On third down, his pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon was high. On fourth down, Griffin hit Moss, but the receiver didn't get both feet down before going out of bounds.
Griffin finished 24-for-37 for 281 yards and three TDs. He threw for just 102 yards in the second half and was sacked four times; Vikings tackle Kevin Williams had 2 1/2 of the sakcs. Garcon finished with 119 receiving yards and a score on seven receptions, and Alfred Morris ran 26 times for 139 yards.
And it was all wasted.
Cassel was 4-for-6 for 47 yards in relief. Peterson finished with 75 yards on 20 carries.
Griffin completed 16 of 21 first-half passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns as the Redskins build a 24-14 lead.
The game's first possession ended with safety Brandon Meriweather's interception of a Ponder pass. Washington drove 50 yards to a first-and-goal at the 1 but had to settle for a field goal.
The Redskins reached the end zone on the rest of their first-half drives.
The Vikings traded punches with the Redskins for most for the half, with Ponder completing 10 of 13 passes and leading the Vikings on 65- and 73-yard scoring drives, the second ending with a 2-yard pass to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson for a 14-10 Minnesota lead late early in the second quarter.
The rest of the half belonged to Washington.
Griffin was 5-for-6 for 61 yards in a drive that ended with his 11-yard TD pass to tight end Jordan Reed and a 17-14 lead. After a Vikings punt -- the first of the game -- Griffin completed all five of his passes for 55 yards and ran twice for 15 more in an 80-yard drive. The march ended with Griffin's 1-yard pass to tight end Logan Paulsen with 10 seconds left in the half to give the Redskins a 10-point lead.
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.