STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Sports Writer
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Preston Smith kept wondering if Sam Bradford was going to throw the ball, and then he just wanted to make sure he held on.
Smith grabbed a crucial interception and dropped Bradford with two sacks, helping the Washington Redskins beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-20 on Sunday for their first victory in almost a month.
After allowing 20 consecutive points in 5:39 to close out the second quarter, Smith and the Redskins (5-3-1) shut out the Vikings (5-4) in the second half of Minnesota’s fourth consecutive loss.
“We played lockdown defense,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “We got the shutout in the second half, didn’t give up any more points (and got) three-and-outs.”
Smith was a big part of the resurgence. Amid a quiet season, he was the big-play component the Redskins needed, delivering the type of production coach Jay Gruden wanted to see from the second-year linebacker.
“Jay has been riding me like one of those horses,” said Smith, who secured the victory by sacking Bradford in the final seconds. “I feel like Jay is a jockey, and I’m the horse trying to win the race and he’s just been riding me so hard and not giving me (any) break.”
Bradford finished 31 of 40 for 307 yards, two touchdowns and the interception . Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen each had a touchdown reception during the burst in the second quarter, and Stefon Diggs finished with 13 catches for 164 yards.
“Stef’s going to make plays,” said Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller, a high school teammate of Diggs. “You just have to find a way to limit him and make a play when it counts. Any game he plays he’s going to get his.”
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was 22 of 33 for 262 yards and touchdown passes to Vernon Davis and Jamison Crowder. Undrafted rookie running back Robert Kelley had 22 carries for 97 yards in his second game as the starter.
It was a well-timed win for the Redskins, who were coming off their bye week and had tied the Cincinnati Bengals in London and lost in the final minute to the Detroit Lions. Dustin Hopkins had all 12 of Washington’s second-half points, including a 50-yard field goal.
When officials didn’t call a pass interference penalty on Minnesota’s Trae Waynes when he was defending Ryan Grant in the second quarter, Cousins was so mad he sprinted down the field and had his hands on his head in disbelief. There was some contact, but it also looked like Grant, who was starting in place of injured receiver DeSean Jackson, slipped.
“It was a big play in the game,” Cousins said. “I just wanted to voice my opinion.”
Six of Smith’s 11 1/2 career sacks have been of Bradford.
Even with former No. 1 running back Matt Jones demoted and made inactive in part because of fumbles, the Redskins’ butterfingers continued. Change-of-pace back Chris Thompson fumbled at his own 32-yard line with a minute left in the second quarter, setting up the Vikings’ third touchdown.
With 5 seconds left before halftime, the Vikings opted to run a play from the Washington 3 instead of kicking a field goal. The gamble worked, with Bradford connecting with Thielen on a touchdown pass that put Minnesota ahead.
WALSH MISSES AGAIN
After Thielen’s touchdown, Blair Walsh shanked his extra-point attempt wide right. Walsh, who kept his job after Minnesota brought in six free-agent kickers for workouts, fell to 15 of 19 on the season (79 percent) on extra points.
“Honestly, I didn’t even see the kick, so I don’t know what happened on it, other than he missed,” Zimmer said.
BLACK AND PURPLE
The Vikings lost left tackle Jake Long with a potentially season-ending Achilles tendon injury, linebacker Eric Kendricks with a hip injury and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was evaluated for a concussion.
Bradford on the interception: “Just didn’t see him.”
Redskins linebacker Su’a Cravens on Smith: “I won’t be able to talk to that man for three, next four days after the game he had. He’s my ride home too, so I’ll just turn my music up.”
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