Go figure. In one frenetic stretch Thursday night, Christian Ponder looked like the cool-under-pressure quarterback the Vikings have desperately wanted since drafting him 12th overall in 2011.

He made critical plays with his arm and feet. He didn’t look skittish when the pocket collapsed. And he didn’t appear nervous with a double-digit deficit on the scoreboard.

But Ponder didn’t get a chance to finish what he started thanks to a shoulder injury that sent him to the locker room at the end of the third quarter.

Matt Cassel provided a steady hand in relief and the Vikings defense cranked up the pass rush after a miserable first half to end a four-game losing streak with a 34-27 victory against the Washington Redskins at Mall of America Field.

The Redskins had three consecutive incompletions from the Vikings 4-yard line in the final minute to end a potential rally. Santana Moss caught Robert Griffin III’s pass on fourth down but he failed to get both feet inbounds, allowing the Vikings and their fans to exhale.

The Vikings (2-7) secured their first victory on American soil in unlikely fashion: With Ponder leading the charge and their defense holding firm.

Strange, right?

With his trailing 27-14 in the third quarter, Ponder directed back-to-back touchdown drives. The first one ended on a 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson.

On the next possession, the Vikings faced a third-and-12 from the Washington 43. The Redskins’ pass rush chased Ponder from the pocket, but he found Jarius Wright standing along the sideline for a 28-yard completion.

Then, on the next play, Ponder scrambled to his left and then sprinted for the end zone. He dived for the goal line but was drilled hard by DeAngelo Hall, knocking the ball loose out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

Ponder got up holding his left arm and left the game. Cassel replaced him and handed off to Adrian Peterson for a touchdown run on the next play, giving the Vikings a 28-27 lead.

The Vikings defense took over at that point. Shredded in the first half, the Vikings turned up the heat on Robert Griffin III. The Vikings collected four sacks, 2 ½ by veteran tackle Kevin Williams.

The Vikings had a shaky start to the game when Ponder threw an interception on the first series. Ponder floated a deep pass down the middle to Greg Jennings into double coverage. Washington safety Brandon Meriweather rotated over for an easy interception.

Washington moved the ball to the 1-yard line after a pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the end zone. But the defense held the Redskins out of the end zone and forced a field goal.

The key play came on second down as linebacker Marvin Mitchell brought pressure and forced Griffin to scramble to his right. Griffin fired a pass toward the sideline but defensive end Brian Robison dived and got a piece of the ball to cause an incompletion.