LANDOVER, Md. – Seven of the most satisfying minutes of the season for Vikings right guard Joe Berger came shortly after Washington used two interceptions to suddenly transform Case Keenum from perfect passer into the most imperfect player on the field.
“The situation,” said Berger, “called for us to stay on the field as an offense, calm things down, burn time and get whatever points we could.”
Early in the third quarter, Keenum had the perfect passer rating, 158.3, four touchdowns and a 35-17 lead. By early in the fourth quarter, he had been intercepted on consecutive throws in what became a one-score game, 35-27.
What the offense did over the next 7 minutes, 2 seconds is why the Vikings were able to hold on and win this game 38-30. It’s also a snapshot of why the Vikings were unable to close out the Redskins when they came here last year and lost 26-20.
“Last year, we had [two] third-and-1s in the second half that we couldn’t get it, and Washington came back,” said Berger, the only starting offensive lineman left from last year. “This year, when we needed it, we got them.”
Without this rebuilt offensive line, the Vikings would have lost Sunday’s game because there’s no way they would have been able to turn the chaos from Keenum’s second interception into a crowd-crushing 13-play, 40-yard drive that resulted in Kai Forbath’s 53-yard field goal for an 11-point lead with 7:45 left.
“That drive coming out and responding was huge,” Keenum said. “Some big third-down conversions. Guys making plays. And Kai, I wanted to give him a kiss after he made that -yard field goal. That was awesome.”
For the game, the Vikings converted eight of 12 third downs. On this particular drive, they converted three straight.
The first was a third-and-4 on the third play of the drive. A three-and-out there from the Vikings 31-yard line and, well, you just knew the Redskins would score again.
It was Keenum’s first pressure throw since his interceptions. He looked extra careful on the play, making sure he steered the ball to Kyle Rudolph for a 12-yard gain.
“He was later on in the progression,” Keenum said. “But he did a good job of after his initial move making another move. And, honestly, I had enough time to be able to see him do all of that.
“You have to give credit to the offensive line. Probably one of the bigger third downs of the game and I’m sitting back there able to step up.”
The next two conversions came on third-and-1. Fullback C.J. Ham plowed forward for 3 yards on the third carry of his NFL career.
“That was pretty much the offensive line getting a great push,” Ham said. “When I saw their front seven going backwards, I knew all I had to do was go forward.”
The next third-and-1 conversion was a 2-yard pass to Adam Thielen. Four plays later, Forbath made his 37th field goal in 38 tries in 16 games as a Viking.
He also kicked his PAT woes, going 5-for-5. After the game, he discussed a tweak he’s made on his PATs.
“We moved the spot of the kick from the middle of the field to the right hash,” Forbath said. “It feels really good right now. I’m confident on all my kicks.”
A year ago, the Vikings walked out of FedEx Field after a sack ended the game on fourth down with the team driving in the closing seconds. That, coupled with a running game that mustered only 37 yards on 15 carries (2.2), made this year’s walk to the team buses so much sweeter for Berger.
“We have a lot of new faces, but we remember how last year went,” Berger said. “It was a point of emphasis. If we had third-and-short, we had to stay on the field and get points. And we did that today.”