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Vikings-Commanders Game Observations: Harrison Smith Strikes with INT in 20-17 Comeback Win

LANDOVER, Maryland — Harrison Smith went hunting for a pick and then rolled a strike.

Smith picked off former Vikings teammate Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter and returned the ball 35 yards.

Vikings defenders gathered and pretended they were bowling pins, allowing Smith to roll the football toward them. Everyone fell down but Jordan Hicks, who gave a wobble like that final pin before falling.

It marked the third consecutive game with a pick for the safety who made his 151st career start. That trifecta is a first in his storied career.

Minnesota capitalized with a game-tying touchdown two plays later when Kirk Cousins connected with Dalvin Cook on a 12-yard pass.

The Vikings defense then forced a three-and-out, giving Minnesota the ball with 6:12 left in the game.

Minnesota played keep away with a 15-yard drive that lasted 6:00 and set up a 28-yard field goal by Greg Joseph for a 20-17 victory Sunday at FedEx Field.

The Vikings (7-1) won their sixth game in a row (all by one score) and dropped the Commanders to 4-5 on the season, snapping Washington's three-game win streak.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders at FedExField on Nov. 6.

Here are four more observations presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud LASIK Partner of the Minnesota Vikings, followed by a scoring summary:

1. Middle eight was less than great

Since his arrival, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell has emphasized the middle eight minutes of games. The Vikings have been good at those areas for much of the season, but Sunday was a departure.

View action photos from the Week 9 Vikings vs. Commanders game at FedExField on Nov. 6.

The Vikings allowed a field goal in the final minute and then suffered an interception in the end zone that prevented the opportunity to add points before halftime and neutralize the field goal by Washington.

The Commanders then took the opening kickoff of the second half back 45 yards and scored two plays later on a 49-yard pass from Heinicke to Curtis Samuel for their first lead of the game.

Minnesota then punted on its following possession, giving the ball back to Washington with 11:48 remaining.

2. Cousins opens ablaze, bounces back at end

Cousins was playing in Washington for the first time since signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2018.

He opened the game 9-for-9, spanning Minnesota's first three possessions.

Cousins finished 22-of-40 passing for 265 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 81.8.

The QB stayed tough despite multiple hits and made key throws late.

3. Run game disparity

The Vikings struggled to run the football throughout the game, finishing with 56 yards on 22 carries.

The Commanders racked up 137 yards on 30 carries, staying within the flow of their offense for much of the day.

Minnesota was able to offset Washington's day on the ground by limiting Heinicke to 15-of-28 passing for 149 yards. He threw two touchdowns and the interception by Smith, finishing with a passer rating of 77.8.

Danielle Hunter sacked Heinicke twice for Minnesota.

4. Hockenson helped offense immediately

Newly acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson stepped into the lineup and immediately made an impact for Minnesota's offense.

He started the game and converted Minnesota's first third down with a 19-yard reception during the Vikings opening drive.

The reception was the longest by a Vikings tight end to that point, topping 17-yard receptions by Irv Smith, Jr., and Johnny Mundt and a 12-yarder by Ben Ellefson.

Hockenson added an 18-yard reception to start Minnesota's final possession of the first half, moving the ball from the Minnesota 25 to the 43. Unfortunately, that possession ended with an interception of a tipped pass.

Hockenson totaled 42 yards on four catches in the first half, matching Smith for the highest yardage total in a game by a Vikings tight end in 2022.

Hockenson finished with nine catches for 70 yards.

Scoring summary

Q1, 9:17 remaining

Vikings 7, Commanders 0

Justin Jefferson catches a 9-yard pass from Kirk Cousins (Greg Joseph kicks PAT) [10 plays, 75 yards, 4:51 time of possession]

Fuel the Jet: Jefferson recorded four catches for 48 yards during the drive.

Q2, 0:37 remaining

Vikings 7, Commanders 3

Joey Slye kicks a 44-yard field goal [11 plays, 49 yards, 4:08 time of possession]

Key stop: Minnesota was able to draw a line at its own 26 after a timeout by Washington, forcing three consecutive incompletions to lead to the field goal.

Q3, 14:01 remaining

Commanders 10, Vikings 7

Curtis Samuel catches a 49-yard pass from Taylor Heinicke (Slye kicks PAT) [2 plays, 52 yards, 59 seconds]

Just like that: The Commanders opened the second half with a 45-yard kickoff return by Antonio Gibson, and Heinicke heaved a deep one that Vikings safety Camryn Bynum was camping under until a collision between Bynum and the back judge. The official knocked Bynum to the ground, and Samuel came down with the ball and made his way into the end zone before he was touched, and just like that, Washington claimed its first lead

Q4, 14:14 remaining

Commanders 17, Vikings 7

Dax Milne catches a 6-yard pass from Heinicke (Slye kicks PAT) [10 plays, 78 yards, 5:18 time of possession]

Three thirds: The Commanders were able to move the chains with a 14-yard pass to Samuel and a sweep by tight end Armani Rogers that gained 14 on third-and-1. It appeared Minnesota was going to force a field goal, but Za'Darius Smith was flagged for a facemask penalty that negated a sack on third-and-10 from the Minnesota 23. Washington scored two plays later.

Q4, 10:46 remaining

Commanders 17, Vikings 10

Joseph kicks a 25-yard field goal [9 plays, 68 yards, 3:28 time of possession]

Taking shots: Cousins stayed tough in the pocket and delivered a beauty downfield to Jefferson for a gain of 47. The deep connection was one of two shots on the play. Cousins was injured after taking a big hit at the end of the play. He was replaced by Nick Mullens for one snap and then returned.

Q4, 7:46 remaining

Commanders 17, Vikings 17

Cook catches a 12-yard pass from Cousins (Joseph kicks PAT) [2 plays, 12 yards, 0:10 time of possession]

TD off turnover: The Vikings got their best starting field position of the day thanks to Harrison Smith's 35-yard return of an interception. Minnesota followed with Cook running a wheel route and securing the catch in the end zone.

View pregame photos as the Vikings prepare to take on the Commanders at FedExField in Week 9.

Q4, 0:12 remaining

Vikings 20, Commanders 17

Joseph kicks a 28-yard field goal [15 plays, 44 yards, 6:00 time of possession]

Penalty helps run down clock: Joseph first kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1:52 remaining, but Washington's John Ridgeway struck long snapper Andrew DePaola and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The infraction allowed Minnesota to run another 1:40 of clock before positioning Joseph for the winner.