EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Kevin Williams leaped to his feet after helping level Robert Griffin III, hopping around in the backfield with his tongue sticking out of his helmet like a kid much younger than his 33 years.
Williams and Jared Allen had just shared a sack of Washington's speedy quarterback, an 11-yard loss on third-and-3 that forced a punt midway through the fourth quarter on Thursday night with Minnesota leading by four points.
Williams was already one of the most revered players the Vikings have. His performance against the Redskins only cemented his status as the admired leader of a struggling group that overcame a pathetic first half to help deliver a much-needed victory.
"We can draw up all the plays we want, but we didn't execute they would drive us out of here," said Williams, the former first-round draft pick who in his 11th season is the longest-tenured player on the team. "We could either get embarrassed or stand up and fight."
The Vikings (2-7) picked the latter. After going the first eight games without one, Williams finished with 2½ sacks in the second half, the first time since Oct. 18, 2009, he had more than one. This powerful performance came out of position, too, at nose tackle. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were out with injuries, so Williams moved over, rookie Shariff Floyd started in his under tackle spot and Chase Baker was their only backup.
"You could see he was on edge all week and even before the game," coach Leslie Frazier said. "I hope that's the fountain of youth he's found and we're going to see it the rest of the season, because we definitely need an inside pass rush."
Williams, who is in the final year of his contract, was one of a few veteran players who expressed concern about the play calls during a defeat the week before at Dallas. The Cowboys drove 90 yards in nine plays to take the lead with 35 seconds left, the third loss the Vikings have taken this season in the final minute. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams ordered a conservative strategy with eight players in pass coverage and only three rushers. The Vikings had three sacks in the game, and Kevin Williams was upset the linemen were at a disadvantage in the closing seconds.
This time, the Redskins marched 76 yards on the decisive possession, but they needed a touchdown and stalled at the 4. There were five or six rushers on a lot of those plays, a sign the concerns of the veterans had been acknowledged. The Vikings had four sacks in the second half after trailing 24-14 at the break, and Williams was the catalyst.
"It drives me crazy when people think he lost a step," Allen said. "Unfortunately we're only judged by sacks now. What he does in the run game, with his leadership and the ability he still has to make game-changing plays, just proves how good he really is."
The problem for the Vikings is it's unclear how good their defense really is. With four original starters injured and absent against the Redskins, they offered no resistance in the first half and gave up three touchdown passes and two field goals on the first five possessions.
Finally, with 3 minutes and 8 seconds left in the third quarter, the Vikings forced a punt. The Redskins were enjoying playing offense so much they called a fake, but punter Sav Rocca's pass fell incomplete and the Redskins were called for a false start in the process. So the Vikings got the ball back for the first time all game by means other than a kickoff.
"Hooray! Hooray!" Frazier said after the game, raising his arms in the touchdown signal when asked what his reaction was to the rare defensive stand. He added: "We're going to make people punt in the second half of the season. That's the goal."
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