In a game that had all the makings of a blowout early, the Vikings made a game of their eventual 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but it was Atlanta's resiliency when pressured that resulted in the turning point of the game.
The Vikings had cut a 17-0 halftime deficit to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter and had the Falcons on their heels. The Vikings had shut down Atlanta for much of the second half, allowing just one first down in the first 20 minutes of the second half, but, when the Falcons had their chances of winning a division title potentially on the line, they went to their bread-and-butter veterans to get the job done and keep the Vikings at arm's length.
Starting from their own 27-yard line with 10:25 to play, quarterback Matt Ryan went to the air to drive the Falcons to a score. He completed all six of his passes in the drive, connecting on a pair of short passes to veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez and passes of 26 and 23 yards to Roddy White to get Atlanta inside the Vikings 10-yard line. Facing his second straight third-down play and needing a touchdown to make it a two-score game, Ryan found backup tight end Michael Palmer in the end zone for a touchdown to increased the lead to 24-14 – completing a nine-play, 73-yard drive that ate almost four minutes off the game clock.
Percy Harvin gave the Vikings a huge lift with a 104-yard kickoff return, but was caught from behind on the 3-yard line, which would prove critical. After Christian Ponder was brought down for a 2-yard loss on a rollout, Harvin took two carries up the middle to the 1-yard line – the second carry which appeared to cross the goal line but wasn't challenged. It set up a fourth down from the 1-yard line and the Falcons swarmed over Toby Gerhart for a 2-yard loss to kill the drive and give the ball back to the Falcons with 4:16 to play.
With two timeouts and the two-minute warning at their disposal, the Vikings set up a third-and-8 play from the 5-yard line. Ryan dumped a short pass over the middle to speedy backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who lowered his head and bulled up the middle for nine yards and a first down. After Michael Turner carried twice to burn the Vikings' final timeout and get the clock down to 2:00, Ryan faced a third-and-4 from his own 20. He found White on the sidelines for a seven-yard gain, which gave the Falcons a first down and allowed them to kneel down to run out the remainder of the clock to preserve a 24-14 win.
The Vikings made the game a lot closer than many believed they would after trailing 17-0 at the half, but it was Atlanta's ability to make plays when their lead was significantly challenged – both on offense and defense – that made the difference, stalled the Vikings' momentum and became a back-breaking turning point.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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