MINNEAPOLIS — The Dallas Cowboys may no longer be America's Team. But today at least they will be Minnesota's favorite team.
Ali Haji-Sheikh, who missed a 33-yard field goal with 46 seconds left in regulation, kicked a 26-yarder 2:09 into overtime Saturday to give the Washington Redskins a 27-24 victory and prevent the Minnesota Vikings from earning the final National Football Conference wild-card spot.
The Vikings (8-7) won't be in the National Football League playoffs unless Dallas can defeat the visiting St. Louis Cardinals today. If St. Louis wins, the Cardinals would also finish 8-7 and would be the NFC's last playoff entry based on overall conference record.
Asked if he was comfortable at the prospect of Dallas beating St. Louis, Minnesota running back Darrin Nelson said: "No. No. But right now that's all the hope we've got."
Haji-Sheikh's winning field goal was set up by a 36-yard kickoff return at the start of overtime by Ricky Sanders, who also caught 8 passes for 164 yards and touchdowns of 46 and 51 yards. After Sanders' return, he caught passes of 22 and 10 yards from Doug Williams before the winning kick.
Haji-Sheikh was confident even though he also missed a 35-yarder.
"In the five years I've been in the league, I haven't missed one under 30 yards," he said. "I was ready to go. If you can't make that kick, you should look for another line of work."
Sanders, who replaced injured wide receiver Art Monk in the lineup, said it was about time he started to carry his weight.
"All week I was thinking that I wasn't doing anything to help the team like Art was doing," he said. "Today I did. Doug and I have some type of magic out there. He can read his receivers. They leave the middle of the field open, and you can get those crossing patterns."
The Redskins (11-4) can play host to their opening playoff opponent if the Chicago Bears lose to the Raiders today.
Washington's first touchdown came on a 100-yard interception return by cornerback Barry Wilburn, the longest in Redskins' history and the longest ever against the Vikings. Wilburn's touchdown with 5:13 left in the second quarter tied the game, 7-7, after Alfred Anderson's first scoring run had given Minnesota the lead.
Williams came off the Washington bench to replace an ineffective Jay Schroeder and threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Sanders that gave the Redskins a 14-7 lead with 5:56 left in the third quarter. But the Vikings tied the score on Anderson's second touchdown, a one-yard run.
Minnesota went ahead, 24-14, on Wade Wilson's one-yard quarterback sneak and Chuck Nelson's 20-yard field goal with 9:38 to play.
Washington, which rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Vikings in overtime last year, then pulled within 24-17 on Haji-Sheikh's 37-yarder with 5:05 remaining.
The Redskins tied the score on Williams' 51-yard pass play to Sanders, who caught the ball at the 35-yard line, cut to the left sideline and stepped into the end zone with 1:46 left in regulation.
Even though a tie would have clinched a playoff spot for Minnesota, the Vikings went right to the air and Wilson was intercepted by Alvin Walton, his second of the game. Washington ran three plays and went for a field goal, but Haji-Sheikh missed wide left after Schroeder, the holder, momentarily bobbled the snap.
The Vikings' offense dominated play in the first half, and four interceptions by the Minnesota defense set up 17 points.
Wilson connected with Steve Jordan on a 23-yard pass and then scrambled for 38 yards to set up Anderson's second touchdown to make it 14-14. Two plays later, Williams was intercepted by Joey Browner, whose 15-yard return set up Wilson's go-ahead plunge.
Williams was intercepted again, this time by David Howard, and Chuck Nelson made a 20-yard field goal with 9:38 left for a 24-14 lead.
Schroeder was 9 for 17 for 85 yards and was intercepted by Ike Holt and Wymon Henderson before being replaced midway through the third period.
Williams completed 11 of 22 passes for 217 yards and was intercepted by Joey Browner and David Howard.