1. Hunter: Nasty and clean
Six plays after another puzzling Stefon Diggs turnover fumbled away the game’s opening drive, teammate Danielle Hunter bailed him out with a strip sack. Shamar Stephen recovered the ball and the Vikings took a 3-0 lead on a 50-yard Dan Bailey field goal en route to a 19-9 victory over Washington at U.S. Bank Stadium. The sack was vintage Hunter — he reached out a big mitt and lowered the boom to Case Keenum’s chest. Nasty, but perfectly clean. It sent this fella to the stat books to see if Hunter has ever had a roughing penalty. Nope. In 70 games, he’s had only six penalties for 42 yards. His only 15-yard infraction came in 2015, his rookie season, when he was called for grabbing a facemask. By comparison, Everson Griffen has been penalized 30 times for 172 yards since 2015 — and he’s played 14 fewer games than Hunter.
2. Peterson red-zone call botched
On his first five runs, former Viking Adrian Peterson wasn’t hit behind the line of scrimmage. The 34-year-old was making a positive impact with 20 yards and a 4.0-yard average. He also was a factor on Washington’s first offensive play when Keenum went play-action and completed an 18-yard pass. Peterson’s sixth carry came on second-and-goal at the 2. He was hit in the backfield for the first time and lost 1 yard. And it wasn’t his fault. The man has been playing 13 seasons, and the world knows he can’t run effectively when taking handoffs flat-footed out of the shotgun. The Redskins blew an opportunity to have Peterson running downhill inside the 3. They settled for a field goal and a 3-3 tie. On his only explosive play of the first half, Peterson was trapped in the backfield by two defenders but escaped for 14 yards.
3. Weak third downs bog start
The Redskins came in with the league’s third-worst third-down defense (49.5% allowed). So how did the Vikings respond early to this woeful third-down defense? They started 1-for-4 while keeping the 1-6 Redskins in the game. After converting their first attempt, the Vikings failed three consecutive times, including an ugly sack on third-and-goal from the 3. Jonathan Allen blew up that play when he essentially carried left guard Pat Elflein on his way to sacking Cousins. Later, after four consecutive conversions, the Vikings failed on third-and-12 and then fourth-and-1 when a Cousins sneak was stopped for no gain at the Vikings’ 34 with 2:41 left in the third quarter and the Vikings leading 16-9. For the game, the Vikings converted 8 of 15 third downs (53.3%), including a 28-yard run by Alexander Mattison on third-and-19 in the closing minutes.
4. Linval’s painful game-changer
Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph played a pivotal role in bailing the offense out of Cousins’ failed fourth-down conversion late in the third quarter. No, Joseph didn’t do anything special on Washington’s ensuing possession. But it was his hit on Keenum late in the first half that put the veteran in Washington’s concussion protocol, ending his evening and putting rookie Dwayne Haskins in the game to start the second half. Joseph’s violent 6-yard sack came on second-and-goal from the 5. Keenum stayed in for one more play, an incompletion that led to a field goal and a 6-6 tie. When Cousins was stopped on fourth down, Washington, trailing 16-9, got the ball at the Vikings’ 34. Two plays later, the raw Haskins threw high to Terry McLaurin. The ball went through McLaurin’s hands and was intercepted by safety Anthony Harris.
5. Line scraps, but Elflein struggles
It’s hard to pick nits about the offensive line when a team puts up 434 yards. Or when it converts over 53% of its third downs. Or has a quarterback with a 112.3 passer rating. Or a running back posts 171 yards from scrimmage. But … Elflein had a game he’d rather forget. Or use to play better in Kansas City next week. Elflein was flagged three times for holding. One of them was declined when Cousins threw incomplete on third-and-long. The other two were accepted. One of them turned a 10-yard run by Mattison into first-and-20. The other one turned second-and-7 into first-and-20. He also was dominated on the sack by Allen. Overall, coach Mike Zimmer was happy with the line, saying, “None of [the great runs] could have happened without the way the offensive line continues to fight and scratch and open up some seams.”