Tuesday’s practice had just ended when Toby Gerhart was stopped coming off the field to discuss his role in perhaps the most bittersweet victory in the 53-season history of the Vikings. Suddenly, Joe Webb was moving swiftly toward the locker room when the reporter flagged him down with an assist from Gerhart.
“Come on over, Webber,” Gerhart said. “He’s asking about our glory days in Washington.”
Vikings fans would call it their franchise’s “gory” day in Washington, for it was that victory over the Redskins in 2011 that cost the Vikings the opportunity to select Heisman Trophy- winning Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III No. 2 overall in 2012.
Two years later, it’s still the pain that keeps on throbbing. The Vikings are 1-7 and very much unsettled at quarterback as Griffin and those Redskins (3-5) visit Mall of America Field for Thursday night’s game. Griffin revived the Redskins while winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors a year ago and is now starting to look like his old self as his surgically rebuilt knee gets closer to full strength.
“I remember right after we beat Washington [in 2011],” Gerhart said. “Everybody is like, ‘Why’d you beat Washington?’ We’re trying to play well and get a win for each other and the fans. Then we finally get a win and they say, ‘Ah, man, you should have lost because we’d get a better draft pick.’ But that’s RGIII. It’s a no-win situation.”
Christmas Eve 2011
The Vikings were 2-12 when they walked into FedEx Field to play the 5-9 Redskins on Christmas Eve 2011. The Colts were 1-13 and had the inside lane on selecting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Rams, meanwhile, were 2-12, but they didn’t have a need for Griffin, having taken Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010.
The Vikings had selected Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011, but couldn’t be ruled out as a suitor for Griffin. Of course, we will never know what would have happened, but Griffin is pretty sure he knows where he would have ended up had the Vikings been on the clock at No. 2 instead of No. 3.
“I didn’t have any contact with the Vikings before the draft, although I was told not to rule anything out,” Griffin said Tuesday during a conference call with Twin Cities reporters. “Not by anybody in their front office or their head coach. But obviously I know Adrian [Peterson] and we have the same agent [Ben Dogra]. Specifically, I was told by a few people from the outside that if I had fallen to No. 3, [the Vikings] weren’t going to leave me on the board. But nothing as far as them wanting to move up or just dying to have me. Just kind of if I was there, they were going to take me.”
Griffin admitted he and Peterson talked about the possibilities of ending up in the same backfield.
“We did,” Griffin said. “But I wasn’t a basketball player and this wasn’t free agency. It’s not like I had a choice. We didn’t have any control over that. It would have been awesome but I feel blessed to be in the situation that I am in and to have the players around me that I have.”
Toby & Joe show
Gerhart is a former second-round draft pick whose opportunities have been minimal the past four seasons. Webb is a former quarterback who is now the Vikings’ No. 5 receiver. But for 25½ minutes on Christmas Eve 2011, they played like a couple of Hall of Famers when Peterson and Ponder went down because of injuries on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter.
With 14 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter and the score tied 10-10, Peterson took a simple handoff up the middle. Safety DeJon Gomes flashed in from the left side with a direct shot that blew apart the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in Peterson’s left knee. His season ended and his unprecedented comeback was set to begin.
On the next play, Ponder was shaken up on a sack. He would stay in only one more snap, throwing an incompletion before leaving because of a concussion.
The Vikings punted the ball away and the Redskins responded with a field goal and a 13-10 lead that certainly wouldn’t be challenged with Ponder and Peterson both done for the day. Right? Well, not exactly.
On the next play from scrimmage, Gerhart broke loose for a 67-yard gain to the Washington 8.
“Was it the best half of football I’ve had as a pro?” asked Gerhart, repeating the question this week. “I think it would have to be. But I still wish I would have scored on that long run.”
No matter. Webb took care of that with a 9-yard run two plays later. The Vikings led 17-13.
The Redskins returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards and marched down the field en route to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Jabar Gaffney. The Redskins led 20-17.
But the Toby and Joe Show wouldn’t be denied. Webb’s first pass of the day came on the next possession. It went 17 yards for a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings led 23-20.
Grossman responded with a 10-play, 79-yard drive that netted a field goal. Tie score, 23-23.
But, sheesh, Webb just wouldn’t give up. He went 3-for-4 for 67 yards on the next series, finishing with an 8-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin, and the Vikings led 30-23 with about 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Things get really odd
By then, everything started to get out of whack from how the Vikings had played up to that point of the season. On the ensuing Washington possession, safety Mistral Raymond intercepted Grossman. Before that pick, the Vikings had gone without an interception in 298 pass attempts over an NFL-record nine consecutive games. And to this day, it’s still the only pick of Raymond’s career.
Raymond returned the interception to the Washington 24 and the Vikings turned it into a field goal and a 10-point lead that would hold up en route to the 33-26 upset.
When it was over, Gerhart had rushed for 109 yards, including 105 on nine second-half attempts, while Webb had posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Webb completed four of five passes for 84 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He also ran for 34 yards and a touchdown on five carries while leading the Vikings to three touchdowns and a field goal on four consecutive possessions.
“Now I can go enjoy my Christmas,” coach Leslie Frazier said after the game.
Had the Vikings lost that game, they would have finished 2-14, the same record as St. Louis. But the Vikings would have won the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker and gotten the No. 2 pick.
The Rams didn’t take RGIII, but they did trade the pick to Washington for the Redskins’ sixth overall pick in 2012, first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 and a second-round pick in 2012.
But to this day, Frazier said he doesn’t look at that victory any differently than any other win he’s had. After all, he is paid to win games.
“Come on,” Frazier said with a smile when asked essentially if he regrets that victory. “Next question, please. Anybody else got a question? We just want to win! 2011, 2010, 2013, a win. I’m not looking at what’s happening at the draft. I just want us to win. That might be a question for [General Manager] Rick Spielman and [owners] Mark or Zygi [Wilf], but not Leslie Frazier. Every game we play, I’m going to tell you this, ‘We’re going to try to win.’ ”