LANDOVER, Md. (AP)—Two days before his 38th birthday, Brad Johnson was the one handing out a very nice present. In the locker room, the quarterback gave the game ball to new head coach Brad Childress, whose mission to transform the Minnesota Vikings is off to a winning start.
Ryan Longwell’s 31-yard field goal with one minute remaining gave the Vikings a 19-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Monday night. For now, Childress has at least some temporary bragging rights over Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
“I am tremendously humble and was a little emotional after the game,” Childress said. “I’m just happy for those guys in the locker room. … They faced a lot of adversity tonight. It was an away game, a Monday night, Hall of Fame coach, I’m just pleased with what they accomplished.”
Johnson deserved much of the credit himself for doing what he’s been doing throughout his NFL life: win, win and win some more.
He has won an impressive 61 percent (66 of 109) of his starts with four teams in his 15-year career—including two years with the Redskins. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown Monday, and kept bailing out his team, completing 10 of 15 passes on third down.
“That’s Brad,” center Matt Birk said. “He’s just so smart, and he’s obviously crafty to have played in the league this long.”
The loss subdued a Washington crowd that turned the stadium into a sea of fluttering red, white and blue as they waved American flags to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Big things are expected of the Redskins this year, a confidence reflected in an attendance of 90,608 that set a new record for the largest stadium in the NFL. Even Hollywood made an appearance: Actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were guests of owner Dan Snyder, who has recently entered into a partnership with Cruise’s production company.
Nothing in the sideshow helped the Redskins win. They did have a chance to send the game to overtime after Longwell’s kick, but John Hall—who has struggled with leg injuries for the last two years—was wide left with a poorly hit 48-yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds remaining.
“There were some plays, yards and even some touchdowns that we left on the field,” said Mark Brunell, who was 17-for-28 for 163 yards. “How far off we are I’m not quite sure yet, but I do know that we’re a throw away, a block away and a run away from really doing some good things tonight.”
Childress has vowed to change the culture of a Vikings team that was belittled following last year’s infamous “Love Boat” party involving several players. He made a statement before the game by deactivating safety Dwight Smith, who was cited for indecent conduct two weeks ago.
“A win is always good,” receiver Troy Williamson said. “It’s going to be even greater for coach Childress.”
Chester Taylor, the Vikings’ free agent signing from Baltimore, rushed 31 times for 88 yards and a touchdown, upstaging Clinton Portis’ surprise return for Washington. Portis, who spent the week downplaying his chances for the game because of a shoulder injury, entered the game late during the Redskins’ first drive and finished with 39 yards on 10 carries and scored his team’s only touchdown.
A game that had no turnovers was decided with a winning Vikings drive that began at Minnesota’s 33 with 5:34 remaining. A 13-yard pass to Williamson converted a key third down, and 15 yards were added to the play when Redskins safety Sean Taylor grabbed Williamson’s face mask.
From there, Taylor carried five straight times to the Washington 13, forcing the Redskins to use all their timeouts before Longwell’s winning kick.
The Vikings become the 10th road team to win in the NFL’s opening weekend, the most in Week 1 since 1983, when there were 12 road winners.
“That just shows how battle-tested we are,” said Minnesota safety Darren Sharper, who saved a touchdown by knocking the ball out of Santana Moss’ hands in the end zone late in the first half. “That’s what coach has expressed to us all camp—he wants a hardened unit.”
The Redskins sputtered as they unveiled a new offense designed by assistant coach Al Saunders. Saunders’ arrival meant Gibbs wasn’t calling plays for the first time in his head coaching career, and the attack relied heavily on laterals and screens, making for some odd stats. At halftime, a receiver, Moss, led the team in rushing, while a running back, Ladell Betts, led the team in receptions.
“I think, obviously, we’d like to have more points,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think anybody in there from an offensive standpoint is satisfied.”
Redskins S Pierson Prioleau hurt the ACL in his right knee on the opening kickoff. Gibbs said the injury was “pretty bad.” Prioleau will have an MRI on Tuesday. Redskins DT Phillip Daniels bruised his knee, and TE Christian Fauria had a lower leg injury. … Portis, recovering from a left shoulder that was partially dislocated on Aug. 13, played as a backup for the first time since Sept. 30, 2002, the fourth game of his rookie year with Denver.