PASSING OFFENSE: B — About the only thing positive to come out of this season is the fact rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has the resiliency to play the most important position in the NFL. After a sluggish first half in which the Vikings fell behind 17-0, Ponder again showed that he doesn't dwell on what's already happened in a game. In the best third quarter the team has had this season, Ponder directed a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He converted three of three third downs, including a 20-yard pass to Percy Harvin on third-and-10 from the Falcons' 21-yard line. Later, Ponder threw a perfect strike into the back of the end zone, splitting two defenders on a 39-yard touchdown to Harvin on fourth-and-13. Ponder finished with only 186 yards passing, but he had his best completion percentage (68.0) and his best passer rating (103.1) of the season. He also didn't throw an interception.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F — With Adrian Peterson out because of a high left ankle sprain, the Vikings had their worst rushing average (2.7 yards per carry) of the season. Toby Gerhart made his third NFL start and ran hard, but he basically got nowhere. He was stopped for no gain on six of his 17 carries and lost 2 yards on fourth-and-goal from the Falcons' 1-yard line late in the game. Gerhart finished with just 44 of the team's 64 rushing yards. The Vikings ran three consecutive times up the middle from inside the Falcons' 6-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The Vikings held Matt Ryan under 300 yards for the first time in three games, but Ryan also had season highs for completion percentage (78.4) and passer rating (128.2). Ryan also threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions. An already depleted Vikings secondary got even thinner in the first half when left cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) and free safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) went out for the rest of the game. That forced nickel back Benny Sapp to move outside and rookie Mistral Raymond to come in at free safety. Sapp, who was out of work two weeks ago, became the fourth left corner this season. Raymond, a sixth-round draft pick, became the third free safety. Missed tackles throughout the back seven also hurt the Vikings. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson missed a tackle at the 15-yard line on Harry Douglas' 27-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus — The two halves were completely different in this area. Before halftime, Atlanta shoved the Vikings up and down the field with running back Michael Turner, gashing the interior of the defense. But to their credit, the Vikings didn't stop fighting after trailing 17-0 at halftime. The run defense played harder and plugged more holes while holding the Falcons to 28 total yards and just one first down in the third quarter. It was the first time this season that the Vikings outscored an opponent (7-0) in the third quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Overall, the Vikings had one of their best special teams outings in a while. Of course, that's not saying much since they've been putting up some embarrassing performances of late. Harvin returned a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta 3. It came immediately after the Falcons went ahead by 10 points with 6:40 left in the game. Harvin was caught from behind by Chris Owen, and the Vikings never did reach the end zone. Perhaps even more notable than Harvin's return was the fact Jared Allen, a multiple All-Pro selection at defensive end, stepped in for long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who injured his lower back. Allen, who was a long snapper in college, delivered crisp snaps on six punts and two PATs. Chris Kluwe averaged 47.3 yards with a 39.6-yard net on seven punts.
COACHING: D — The coaching staff deserves some credit for making some halftime adjustments that prevented the game from becoming a blowout. But the fact remains the Vikings were ill-prepared and were manhandled while being outscored 17-0 in the first half. Also, the play selection during the Falcons' pivotal goal-line stand was way too conservative, especially for a team with a below-average line that wasn't controlling the line of scrimmage. Even offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said afterward that he wishes he had called a bootleg play rather than attempt a third consecutive dive play. Harvin, who is powerful beyond his 184 pounds, was stopped short of the goal line twice. When Gerhart replaced him, the Falcons knew what was coming. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knifed in from the left side of the offense and dropped Gerhart for a 2-yard loss. Right guard Joe Berger was supposed to pull and kick Weatherspoon out, but even if Berger had attempted to do so, Weatherspoon was in the backfield too quickly. It was a play that had no chance against what the Falcons called. Replays also showed that Harvin might have scored on his second run up the middle. The Vikings' coaching staff didn't see the replay or didn't react quickly enough to challenge the call.
Grading the game: Falcons
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