LANDOVER, Maryland — Repeat after me: Do not score.
The Vikings found themselves in a situation Sunday where time became more important than points.
Tied at 17, Minnesota received a fresh set of downs when Washington's John Ridgeway was flagged for unnecessary roughness for making contact with long snapper Andrew DePaola during a field goal by Greg Joseph that split the uprights.
Instead of keeping those points on the board with 1:52 remaining, the Vikings opted to return their offense to the field at the 2. The end zone was so close, but Vikings players made sure to burn seconds during plays and bleed the clock down.
Joseph's 28-yard field goal went through with 12 seconds remaining, and Minnesota's defense tackled Antonio Gibson on a 10-yard pass from Taylor Heinicke as time expired on a 20-17 victory at FedEx Field.
"We were in a no-score situation," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said, "because I figured if we were going to take the points off the board and put our offense back out there, situationally knowing they had the one timeout. You can do the math on it. We didn't want to just take knees. We wanted to work as much of the clock as we could. Every second matters, just in case we could run that thing all the way out. [Washington Head Coach] Ron [Rivera] did a great job with his timeout there, and then we were able to make it more of a desperation mode.
"I love the way we handled it. Situationally it's not always the prettiest in those moments, but we did what we had to do," O'Connell added.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders at FedExField on Nov. 6.
Minnesota claimed its first lead of the second half on Joseph's second field goal of the day.
The Vikings had trailed since early in the third quarter when Washington scored on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Heinicke to Curtis Samuel, who secured the ball that Vikings safety Camryn Bynum was camping under, primed for an interception. Instead of a pick, Washington took a 10-7 lead two plays into the third quarter.
"Really proud of our team. We talked a lot last night about being at your best when it's required," O'Connell said. "How do you do that? You've got to first and foremost be able to overcome adversity — some of which we self-inflicted and caused on our own, didn't play the best complementary football today.
"What we saw was we continue to find ways to win football games, down 10 again in the fourth quarter and really bounced off that Harrison Smith interception — his third game in a row [with a pick] — the right way by kind of capturing the momentum of the football game and the way it went at the end. I'm proud of our team to get a win of that magnitude when you're down 10, and nobody one time flinches. We've got that mentality."
Minnesota claimed its sixth victory in a row (all one-score games) and improved to 7-1 on the season by coming back from a 10-point deficit.
A 47-yard pass from Kirk Cousins, on which the QB had the wind knocked out of him with a huge hit by Daron Payne, to Justin Jefferson set up a 25-yard field goal with 10:46 remaining.
Smith ended Washington's next possession with an interception he returned 35 yards to the Washington 12-yard line, and Cousins found Dalvin Cook with a brilliant pass to end a dazzling out-and-up route by the running back.
Cousins put the ball in a tight window where only Cook could make the catch for his fourth career receiving touchdown.
"It was an awesome design by our coaches," Cousins said of the play. "They sit there late Thursday night and draw up those red zone plays, and to create that design is outstanding. Then, Dalvin executed perfectly and made the play.
"Certainly, the throw has got to be there, but Dalvin making the catch and keeping his feet in bounds—he got up and sprinted like he was shocked he caught it, so it was funny. It was awesome to see his reaction."
Making his first start at Washington against the team that drafted him in 2012, Cousins opened the game 9-for-9 that included 5-for-5 on Minnesota's game-opening touchdown drive. The Commanders were able to apply pressure and were credited with 11 quarterback hits, but Cousins showed his resiliency on an emotional day.
He said he appreciated the memories, as well as the opportunity to leave with a victory that was again claimed on the margins.
"I think finding the inches is important, and I think it's important to find those in situations," Cousins said. "Third down, red zone, 2-minute, end of half, end of game. I think that's probably, some of the areas we've been finding success in is end of half, end of game.
"Certainly not today with our interception at the end of the half, but even that was shaping up to be a positive drive – you get down in field goal range and then had a turnover," Cousins added. "But that's where we've kind of found the inches, is at the end of half, end of game."
The Vikings defense forced a quick three-and-out after the game-tying touchdown, capping that drive with Danielle Hunter's second sack of the day.
View action photos from the Week 9 Vikings vs. Commanders game at FedExField on Nov. 6.
Minnesota then picked up third downs with a 10-yard run by Justin Jefferson on third-and-1 and a 9-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who had a heavy workload and impact in his first game with Minnesota.
"It's the belief. It's the connection with this team," linebacker Jordan Hicks said of Minnesota's comeback. "It's understanding we've been there before and we're going to make the plays. We all believe we're going to make the plays. I've been around special teams before, and there's one consistent thing, that togetherness with the team. We have that foundation where when it comes to those hard moments, we're able to finish them.
"For us, it's no flinch. It is what it is," Hicks added. "You've got to move on and keep playing, and with that type of adversity, being down 10 and all of that, we needed a play, and Harry went and made it. Shout out to the pass rush for getting to Heinicke. It's what this team is about, what this defense is about. It doesn't matter what goes on. We're always ready. We're always believing."
Smith's interception extended his streak of games with a pick to three, a first for the safety who started his 151st game.
Vikings teammates lined up in more than a bowling lane's worth of pins and waited for Smith to roll the football toward them.
All fell down immediately, except for Hicks, who teetered back and forth before toppling.
"You've got to make it suspenseful," he laughed.