LANDOVER, MD. - From the moment he was named interim coach of the Vikings last Monday, Leslie Frazier told his players to clear their minds of everything but the game against the Washington Redskins.
Frazier had no interest in reflecting on the Vikings' 3-7 record or dwelling on what got Brad Childress fired as coach. He didn't want to get into why a season that began with such promise had turned ugly and become filled with one distraction after another. All Frazier wanted his team to do was focus on Sunday.
It turned out to be a sound strategy as the rejuvenated Vikings beat Washington 17-13 at FedEx Field, ending a nine-game road losing streak.
"I thought Les did a good job this week coming in, getting us ready to play, forgetting about the past 10 weeks," Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "I think that was crucial for us."
Not all the news was positive, however. Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson injured his right ankle early in the second quarter, did not return and will be examined Monday.
"A great win by our ballclub, just, hopefully, signs of things to come," Frazier said. "Just a great win, great effort, offense, defense, special teams, hanging in there, fighting through adversity as a group, all the things we talked about all week long."
The most important thing was the Vikings did not commit a turnover for the first time this season -- they entered the day last in the NFL with a minus-13 in takeaway-giveaway ratio -- and were able to turn Henderson's third-quarter interception of a tipped pass by Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb into a 31-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell that made it 17-7. The Vikings also attempted a season-high 38 runs as they worked to establish the ground game.
Frazier indicated there would be tweaks in the offense and defense in the week leading to his first game as an NFL head coach. Quarterback Brett Favre appeared to roll out more often, and Fred Pagac, who is serving as de facto defensive coordinator, called more blitzes than Frazier had when he was coordinating that unit. McNabb was sacked four times.
Favre passed for only 172 yards, but one of his most important plays came with his feet late in the game. That's right: A 41-year-old playing with a stress fracture in his left ankle, another fracture in his heel and a head and chest cold he speculated might be pneumonia took off on a 10-yard scramble that produced a first down at the Redskins 14 with two minutes left and effectively secured the game.
"That's always the best play in the playbook," Favre said after taking a knee three times to run out the clock. "It felt good to be able do that. [We] did that a lot last year. This year we haven't played with the lead. We had the lead most of the game, but it didn't really seem like it. We were up, but we're just missing that knockout punch. Once again we hung in there [and] collectively each and every guy had a part in it."
Rookie running back Toby Gerhart played a bigger role than most. The second-round pick from Stanford finished with 76 yards on 22 carries and had a 5-yard touchdown run as the Vikings scored on their first possession of the third quarter.
The Vikings, who generated 299 yards of offense against a Washington defense that was giving up an NFL-worst 411 yards, also had a bit of luck on their side.
The Redskins appeared to take a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter when Brandon Banks returned a Chris Kluwe punt 77 yards for an apparent touchdown. But Washington's Perry Riley was called for an illegal block in the back on Everson Griffen, and the Redskins ended up starting what turned into a three-and-out series at their own 11.
They wouldn't get the ball back.
The Redskins, who drove 83 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on their opening drive of the game, were held to 133 total yards of offense for the rest of the game. The 216 yards of offense was the least given up by the Vikings this season, and Washington had only 29 yards on the ground. The Redskins were missing starting running back Clinton Port and his backup, Ryan Torain, because of injury.
As he walked off the field, Frazier was presented with the game ball by Favre. The coach returned the favor by saying that not only would he give a game ball to ownership but also would make sure every member of the team got one.
Players have been careful not to say anything disparaging about Childress, but it's clear they are enjoying having Frazier as their leader. "He's a man of God," Peterson said when asked about the biggest difference under Frazier. "He's well-respected. I feel like when he talks, guys' ears are pinned up and listening to everything that coming out of his mouth. It's just a feeling I really can't explain, but it's a feeling of being sure about the words that come out of his mouth and just trusting."
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who was among the angriest players following the Vikings' embarrassing 31-3 loss to Green Bay a week earlier, admitted there was plenty of emotion in the postgame locker room.
"It feels like it's a new season here," he said. "Right now, we're 1-0. We've got to go 6-0 or 7-0. A lot of football left to go here. There are a lot of smiles on people's faces around here. A great job, and a great effort from this team, collectively."
Judd Zulgad • email@example.com