Four yards was all the Washington Redskins needed to stay alive against the Minnesota Vikings' woeful defense, and Robert Griffin III had three cracks to get it.
After torching the Vikings all night long with the kind of dynamic quarterback play that made him a sensation as a rookie last season, it was a gimme putt from 2 feet for Griffin that just rimmed out.
Griffin threw three straight incompletions from the 4 and the Vikings held on for a 34-27 victory over the Redskins on Thursday night.
His last pass of the night, a fourth down prayer, landed in Santana Moss's hands in the corner of the end zone, but the receiver wasn't quite able to get both of his feet in bounds, turning the ball back over to Minnesota and dropping the Redskins (3-6) to the same record they were at this time a year ago before they reeled off seven straight victories to win the NFC East.
"A couple inches away," Griffin said. "That's football for you. It's a game of inches. I know that's a huge cliche, but it really is, especially in that moment."
Griffin completed 24 of 37 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns and Pierre Garcon had seven catches for 119 yards and a score for the Redskins. Alfred Morris added 139 yards rushing and Washington appeared to be in complete control when it took a 27-14 lead early in the third quarter.
But Christian Ponder threw a 28-yard touchdown to John Carlson to make it 27-21, then ripped off a gutsy 14-yard run that ended his night when Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall met him at the goal line with a crunching hit. Ponder left with an injured left shoulder, but Adrian Peterson finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown for a 28-27 lead.
Blair Walsh added two field goals, but the Redskins still had a chance with the ball at their own 20 and 3:36 to play. Griffin marched them right down the field against a defense that has given up late scores to lose games three times this season. He hit Jordan Reed for 17 yards to get a first-and-goal at the 8 and Roy Helu Jr.'s 4-yard run put them in business on the 4.
But Erin Henderson broke up a pass intended for Reed, Griffin couldn't connect with Garcon on the next play and Moss just missed what would have been a game-tying catch.
"I'm not in a good mood right now so I don't have much to say right now," the normally talkative Moss said.
The offense may have come up short, but there were mistakes made all night that contributed to this one slipping away. The Redskins had eight penalties, including a couple of silly personal fouls and a false start that short-circuited a fake punt attempt. And their porous defense sunk to a new low in giving up a big lead to the mediocre Ponder.
"It's on us defensively," defensive end Brian Orakpo said. "We've got to do better defensively. We can't let a team like that score that many points. It's totally on us. We were sleepwalking at times."
The Vikings' embattled quarterback threw an interception on his second throw of the game, but rebounded to complete 10 of his first 11 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown to keep them hanging around.
"The offense gave us a chance and we didn't close it out," defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan said.
Ponder completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before he was hurt, Matt Cassel came in and was 4 for 6 for 47 yards and Peterson rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings (2-7). Carlson, a complete non-factor for most of his time in purple, had a big day with seven catches for 98 yards.
"It's disappointing," coach Mike Shanahan said. "You go back to work to make sure you get it done. There's a lot of good things that happened in that game, but we're going to reflect on the things that we did poorly because you've got to find a way to win those games. I was disappointed we couldn't pull that thing out."
Now the Redskins find themselves exactly where they were a year ago, and with Dallas (5-4) not pulling away in the muddled NFC East, they're not out of it.
"I didn't want us to be 3-6," Griffin said. "Obviously I wanted us to be 4-5. But if anyone needs something to believe in, they can look at last year."
NOTES: Reed finished with six catches for 62 yards and a score. ... Logan Paulsen caught the other touchdown from Griffin. ... Hall left briefly in the third quarter and was examined for a concussion but returned to finish the game. ... Griffin also rushed for 44 yards on seven carries. ... The Redskins scored on their first five possessions but came up empty the rest of the way.