LANDOVER, Md. (AP) The Washington Redskins had a record crowd waving American flags in prime time, a Hall of Fame coach, a new offense that was supposed to rack up the points and the support of â€œMission Impossibleâ€ man Tom Cruise in the owner's box.
The Minnesota Vikings had a first time coach, a new running back, a new kicker and an old quarterback.
Think this was an upset?
The Vikings subdued the Redskins' commemorations and celebrations with a 19-16 victory Monday night. Chester Taylor ran for 88 yards and scored a touchdown, Ryan Longwell kicked the game winning field goal to cap a drive engineered by Brad Johnson, and coach Brad Childress' got a game ball to mark a successful start to his transformation of the franchise.
â€œTo win is big, but to not only win, but to win against a team that was in the playoffs last year, in their home environment, Monday night, all the things that go in their favor,â€ Darren Sharper said.
The Minnesota safety saved a touchdown by knocking the ball out of Santana Moss' hands in the end zone late in the first half.
â€œThat just shows how battle-tested we are,â€ Sharper added. â€œThat's what coach has expressed to us all camp, he wants a hardened unit.â€
Childress might want his team hardened, but he was a bit of a softy after the game. The coach, who has vowed to change the culture of a Vikings team that was belittled following last year's infamous :Love Boat'' party, couldn't help but let his guard down when Johnson presented the game ball.
â€œI am tremendously humbled and was a little emotional after the game,â€ Childress said. â€œI'm just happy for those guys in the locker room. ... They faced a lot of adversity tonight.â€
Two days before his 38th birthday, Johnson did what he's been doing throughout his NFL life: win, win and win some more. He has won an impressive 61% (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, bailing out his team repeatedly by going 10 for 15 on 3rd down.
â€œThat's Brad,â€ center Matt Birk said. â€œHe's just so smart, and he's obviously crafty to have played in the league this long.â€
Before the game, the 90,608 fans; a record for the largest stadium in the NFL, created a sea of fluttering red, white and blue as they remembered the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 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.
But nothing in the sideshow could help the Redskins. They did have a chance to send the game to overtime after Longwell's kick, but John Hall was wide left with a poorly hit 48 yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds remaining.
â€œThis game is so tough and unpredictable,â€ Washington guard Randy Thomas said. â€œWe had chances, but didn't take advantage of them.â€
Taylor, the Vikings' free agent signing from Baltimore, upstaged 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 Troy Williamson converted a key 3rd down, and 15 yards were added to the play when Redskins safety Sean Taylor grabbed Williamson's face mask.
From there, Taylor carried 5 straight times to the Washington 13, forcing the Redskins to use all their timeouts before the 31 yard winning kick from Longwell, a free agent signing from Green Bay.
The Vikings became the 10th road team to win in the NFL's opening weekend, and the Chargers were #11 with a win in Oakland later Monday night. It's the most road wins in Week 1 since 1983, when there were 12 victorious visitors.
The Redskins sputtered as they unveiled a new offense designed by assistant coach Al Saunders, whose arrival meant Gibbs wasn't calling plays for the first time in his head coaching career.
â€œThere were some plays, yards and even some touchdowns that we left on the field,â€ said Mark Brunell, who was 17 for 28 for 163 yards. â€œHow 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.â€