By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – On any given Sunday, an injury-ravaged team can fly across the country with less than a full game-day roster and defeat a presumptive Super Bowl contender in one of the league’s most inhospitable venues.
On any given Sunday, a team can virtually dominate a visitor for most of the first half and lead with four minutes before intermission, yet find itself trailing by 18 points before fans have returned from the concourse and settled in their seats.
And on any given Sunday, a defense that specializes in bending without breaking, coming off impressive effort the prior week in a season-saving game, can be gashed and gouged by purple-clad opponents with a quarterback whose name sounds like an “American Top 40” radio host.
Minnesota’s Case Keenum didn’t play any tunes on the FedEx Field sound system Sunday, but he played the home team like a drum in the Vikings’ 38-30 victory. The journeyman QB completed 21-of-29 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns, connecting on four deep balls that alone went for 176 yards.
Washington coach Jay Gruden said he wasn’t surprised by showing, though he mistakenly referred to deceased disc jockey Casey Kasem instead of the very-much-alive Vikings passer.
“You haven’t had a big dose of Casey [sic] Keenum,” Gruden said. “But I’ve always thought he was a tough, accurate quarterback and he showed that again today – very accurate.”
He had a lot of help, too. His receivers exploited huge holes in Washington’s secondary, where beer vendors were sometimes closer than defensive backs. When his line wasn’t providing ample time to throw – the Skins failed to record a sack for the first time in 32 games – it was opening holes for halfbacks Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon (a combined 27 carries for 100 yards).
Keenum did the rest on his own, moving around and extending plays with his legs as the Skins totaled just two hits on him. With Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater activated for the first time this season, Keenum played like a man intent on keeping the job.
“I’ve got a plan and we’ll just see how it goes,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Sometimes plans change but we’ll see how it goes.”
The Vikings left town to deal with their quarterback situation while the Skins lamented a lost opportunity to win back-to-back games and climb above .500. The defeat was an emotional letdown following the huge win against Seattle. Washington’s defense held the Seahawks to 12 points.
Minnesota had 28 points at the half, the fourth touchdown capping a 23-yard drive that was set up by a Kirk Cousins interception. Washington went from a 17-14 lead late in the second quarter, to a 35-17 deficit two-and-a-half minutes into the second half.
“That was a big swing that we couldn’t tip back,” Gruden said.
The four-minute span laid waste to good things that went the Skins’ way. The replay gods were with them, twice reversing on-the-field rulings that had denied touchdowns – Maurice Harris’ spectacular one-handed grab on the game’s opening possession and Cousins’ 2-yard dive that cut the deficit to 35-27 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter.
To their credit, the Skins didn’t surrender after falling behind by 18 points. Safety D.J. Swearing intercepted a pair of passes, returning the latter to Minnesota’s 2-yard line right before Cousins’ scoring run.
But they couldn’t overcome three quarters of bad defense and an inability to get off the field late. Minnesota held the ball for seven minutes on a drive in the final quarter, setting up a field goal from former Skins kicker Kai Forbath. The Vikings were 8-of-12 on third-down conversions and 5-of-5 on red zone efficiency.
“I guess we relaxed as a defense,” Swearinger said. “Maybe we got high on ourselves. I don’t know why. But they ran on us, passed on us and we weren’t ready to play.”
That’s one theory, that the Skins’ defense was feeling itself too much after the huge effort in Seattle. Going against a Super Bowl-winning quarterback like Russell Wilson will get your adrenaline pumping.
Going against a run-of-the-mill QB like Case Keenum is the equivalent of tuning to an easy-listening station.
Just as likely though, Washington’s inconsistency simply reflects it averageness. In case you haven’t noticed, the NFL is experiencing an epidemic of ordinary teams this year and the Skins are no exception.
They can look like bona fide playoff contenders one week, sorry also-rans another week, and something in-between a third week. Sunday was somewhere in the middle
It all depends on which Sunday you give them.