LANDOVER, MD. - The stern coach allowed himself a brief moment of emotion, not quite overcome but clearly affected as he left FedEx Field. The edgy quarterback headed to the team bus with defiance surprising even for him, taunting one of his former teams by leaving the building with a Redskins jerseys on his back.
Brad Childress teared up, Brad Johnson mouthed off and the Vikings took a fourth-quarter lead in a road game -- yes, at night, and yes, on grass -- and held on for a decidedly uncharacteristic 19-16 victory Monday night over Washington. What's next? Zygi Wilf plays Vegas?
Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal with 1 minute remaining gave the Vikings their final lead of the night, but it was not over until John Hall was wide left on a 48-yard attempt with 17 seconds left. The victory gave Childress his first regular-season victory, granted Johnson a level of well-deserved redemption and presented a Vikings team with a poised and tough-minded identity.
"This game can keep you humble," Childress said. "It got a little emotional for me after the game. You win a game like that, against a team like that and a Hall of Fame coach [Washington's Joe Gibbs], you don't always get that chance. You wouldn't usually permit yourself that. You try to be businesslike."
Not even Childress could restrain himself after a game in which the Vikings reversed most of the habits that led to losses in eight of their past 12 night games on the road, dating to the 1999 season.
They absorbed blows from the Redskins in both the second and third quarters, came back from a 13-6 deficit and did not commit a turnover.
They did commit nine penalties, but it was a Washington mistake that fueled perhaps the night's biggest play. With the score tied 16-16, the Vikings faced a third-and-9 at their 48-yard line.
Johnson, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 223 yards in his return to Washington, found receiver Troy Williamson about 6 yards downfield. Williamson caught the ball -- no small feat on a night in which he dropped three, including a potential 59-yard touchdown -- and slipped underneath cornerback Carlos Rogers' tackle attempt. Williamson dashed another 6 yards for the first down, and Washington safety Sean Taylor's 15-yard facemask penalty put the Vikings in Longwell's range at the 24-yard line.
The Vikings calmly ran more than a minute off the clock, forcing the Redskins to use all three of their timeouts, before Longwell drilled the game-winner.
For center Matt Birk, the series of events brought to mind one of Childress' favorite themes since he took over as coach: understanding that close games naturally give both teams a chance to win at various points.
"Good teams find a way to win down the stretch," Birk said. "This is a veteran group. In the huddle, it's pretty even-keeled. Coach was just talking last night about the ebbs and flows of the game, especially on the road. You're going to have to hang in there and sneak off with one in the end."
Which is exactly what the Vikings did Monday night. They managed to minimize the impact of the penalties, as well as an aborted extra point after Chester Taylor's 4-yard run in the first quarter. Although they punted on four consecutive series in the first half, they rebounded to drive 28 yards in the final 56 seconds of the second quarter to get an important 46-yard field goal from Longwell as time expired.
They even stayed with a running game that netted 34 yards in the first half, and Taylor responded by grinding out a crucial 40 yards in the fourth quarter. Taylor, in his Vikings debut, finished with 88 yards on a career-high 31 carries.
Showing their mettle, the Vikings scored both touchdowns -- Taylor's run and Johnson's 20-yard pass to Marcus Robinson -- on third down. They converted nine of 17 third-down attempts overall, while their defense held Washington to four conversions in 13 attempts and 266 total yards.
"There is plenty we know we can do better," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "But when you can walk off a field like this, against a team like that, with a win, that's big and you know you can build on it."
Winfield and his defensive teammates held the Redskins to one touchdown, Clinton Portis' 5-yard run in the second quarter, and forced Washington to attempt three field goals inside 28 yards. Free safety Darren Sharper saved one touchdown by breaking up a pass in the endzone intended for Santana Moss, and rookie defensive end Ray Edwards saved a likely third-down conversion by tipping a Mark Brunell pass at the line of scrimmage.
The Vikings were the livelier team in that final quarter -- and not by accident, said receiver Travis Taylor.
"We complained about it, but the physical training camp we had really paid off," Taylor said. "We didn't always want to be doing it, but look what happened. We won this game in the fourth quarter. That's why Coach Childress did it that way."
And what a change it was.