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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Defense Delivers Key Plays in Clutch

The yardage, passing yardage and points allowed by the Vikings on Sunday against the Redskins were uncharacteristic for 2017 and pretty much the era under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

But when it mattered most, Minnesota's character revealed itself, coming through with repeated clutch plays to stave off a Washington comeback and ultimately prevail 38-30.

Washington gained 394 net yards, including 313 through the air on a strong day by Kirk Cousins and nearly doubled the average of Minnesota's first eight opponents (16.9 points per game). The Vikings entered the game allowing only 282.1 net yards per game and 200.8 through the air.

"It was a good win on the road, NFC team, coming off the bye," Zimmer said. "We battled. We obviously made some mistakes in the ball game, but offensively, I thought we played great except for the two turnovers to kind of get them back into the ball game. I thought they did a nice job offensively. They kept us off-balance. Cousins played well. They made some great catches. It was a good win."

Minnesota limited Washington to 2-for-4 in the red zone and goal-to-go situations, meaning the Vikings forced the Redskins to settle for field goals on a pair of possessions after moving the ball inside the 10-yard line.

Stephen Weatherly recorded a tackle for loss of Rob Kelley that halted momentum late in the first quarter, and Andrew Sendejo came up with a critical pass breakup in the end zone on a third-and-3 midway through the third quarter.

The plays helped keep at least six total points — likely eight and possibly up to 10 — off the scoreboard.

There also were key plays later in the game:

Brian Robison broke up a pass by palming the point of the football as Cousins released it on a fourth-and-6 from the Minnesota 32-yard line late in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith stuffed Chris Thompson for no gain on a third-and-1 from the Minnesota 33 a play before Tom Johnson swam upstream to take down Thompson for a loss of four.

Then, up 11 with 1:47 remaining in the game, Danielle Hunter teamed up with Johnson on a pass rush move that resulted in the only sack of the day by either team. The loss of 14 pushed Washington back to the Minnesota 37, and the Redskins opted for a 55-yard field goal.

It wasn't the most customary path to a win in the Zimmer era, but it did improve the Vikings to 7-2, matching the team's start in 2015, and dropped the Redskins to 4-5.

"They're a good football team," Robison said. "I know their record probably isn't indicative of the type of football team that they are, but they're a pretty good football team over there."

Playing it safe

The Vikings worked out defensive end Everson Griffen before the game but ultimately decided to declare him inactive in hopes that missing one game would prevent re-injury of back and foot issues that landed him on the injury report this week.

"He couldn't push off at full speed, so the smart thing to do was not play him because we didn't want to lose him for more than one week," Zimmer said.

Griffen, who recorded at least one sack in the Vikings first eight games and entered Week 10 ranked third in the NFL didn't want to miss any action. He made sure to deliver a fiery speech to defensive linemen before the game.

"It was a hard decision. But it was a decision I made, to be honest, and the coaches and the training staff agreed with it," Griffen said. "I was close to playing, I'm not far from playing, but the fact of the matter is, if I re-injured it I'm out for four weeks instead of one week. I'll be able to go next week and play, and just take my time coming back.

"A big win, 7-2 today, proud of how the boys played and how they handled their business," Griffen added. "We faced a little adversity, but we came back firing, and that's the way you have to win games. Every game's not going to be easy; every game comes down to the wire."

In place of Griffen, the Vikings turned to Robison (the 103rd start of his career) and Hunter. Weatherly contributed in a rotation.

Zimmer was asked about Robison, who has shifted from a starter but remained impactful in the Vikings defensive line rotations, and the coach pointed out his effort in pursuit of a pass to tight end Vernon Davis.

"Brian played well. I think one of the best plays he made was at the end of the game there," Zimmer said. "They dumped it off to the tight end or something, and he turned and ran and sprinted and tackled the guy. Obviously he had a big knockdown on one of the fourth-down plays I guess it was, but that's Brian, too.

"We've got a great group of guys," Zimmer added. "They compete, they work hard, they practice hard, they stick together, and they don't get fazed when we throw a couple of interceptions. We just kind of keep going about our business and try and get a win."

Pair of pivotal firsts

Mackensie Alexander turned 24 on Sunday and turned over Washington during a key stretch of 21 unanswered points by the Vikings late in the first half and early in the second half.

After Case Keenum connected with Adam Thielen for a 7-yard touchdown, Alexander intercepted Cousins on Washington's next snap. It was the first career pick for the 2016 second-round selection.

The Vikings scored three plays later when David Morgan caught a 1-yard touchdown for his first NFL score, giving Minnesota 28 points in one half of football for the first time since Dec. 27, 2015, against the New York Giants.

Minnesota, who won the coin toss and deferred, then got the ball to start the second half and quickly scored another touchdown when Keenum connected with Jarius Wright for a 7-yard touchdown on a screen.

The toss was Keenum's fourth touchdown pass of the day. He became the first Vikings quarterback to throw four in a game since Teddy Bridgewater did so against the Bears on Dec. 20, 2015. Bridgewater was active for the first time on Sunday since Jan. 10, 2016, and described an emotional day.

Thielen still dealing

Thielen totaled 166 yards (his second-best showing in a game) on eight catches and extended his streak of at least five receptions per game to nine. Thielen, who has 90 or more yards in five games this season, pushed his totals to 56 receptions and 793 yards.

The yardage through nine games of a Vikings season is fourth-best in team history behind Randy Moss in 2000 and 2003 and Jake Reed in 1996.

Thielen is one of three players in the NFL to rank in the top five in receptions and yards, along with Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins.

Diggin' D.C.

Stefon Diggs has had two strong games in Washington in two consecutive seasons. The Maryland native made a mark early, catching Minnesota's first pass of the game for a gain of 8 and beating Josh Norman with a double move for a 51-yard reception two plays later.

Diggs also scored a touchdown from 3 yards early in the second quarter. He finished with four receptions for 78 yards and his fifth receiving touchdown of the season.

In two games in front of the hometown crowd, Diggs has totaled 17 receptions for 142 yards.

"It's kind of like a home game for me," Diggs said. "Especially when I come home, they show me a lot of love. It feels good."

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday.

Forbath from 50-plus again

Kai Forbath aimed true on all five extra points and also drilled an important 53-yard field goal with 7:45 remaining against his former team.

The long kick by Forbath made the margin 11 points and capped a 40-yard drive that lasted 7:02. It nearly landed him something else.

"I wanted to give him a kiss after he made that field goal," Keenum quipped. "It was awesome."

Jokes aside, Forbath improved to 5-for-5 from 50-plus this season, and he has kicked at least one from 50 or more yards in four straight games to tie a Vikings record.

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