Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
Minnesota at Atlanta
Nov. 23, 1981
The Minnesota Vikings were in prime playoff position when they traveled to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for a "Monday Night Football" clash with the Falcons. After a 0-2 start, Bud Grant's Vikings won seven of their next nine games for a two-game lead in the NFC Central Division. A prolific offense, featuring gun-slinging quarterback Tommy Kramer, 1,000-yard receivers Joe Senser and Sammy White, Pro Bowl receiver Ahmad Rashad, and 1,000-yard running back Ted Brown, made the Vikings Super Bowl contenders as Thanksgiving approached. Las Vegas oddsmakers, though, identified some Purple flaws as they installed the 5-6 Falcons as four-point favorites.
The Minnesota offense got off to a hot start on the crisp 45-degree evening. Ted Brown, the Vikings' best multidimensional running back since the Pro Bowl days of Chuck Foreman, ripped off back-to-back runs of 24 and 29 yards to march Minnesota downfield. Tommy Kramer finished the drive with a 6-yard pass to Ahmad Rashad. Led by quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, Atlanta tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter. Bartkowski connected with slippery wideout Alfred Jackson on an 8-yard TD pass.
Aided by a couple William Andrews fumbles, Minnesota dominated the second quarter and seemingly seized control of the contest. A 42-yard pass from Kramer to Rashad gave the Vikings a 14-7 advantage. Minnesota ended the half with a snazzy scoring drive that left the "Monday Night Football" crew complimenting the wizardry of offensive coordinator Jerry Burns. With an impressive mix of runs and passes, plus a Statue of Liberty play, Kramer and company moved at will into the red zone. Kramer found backup tight end Bob Bruer for a 3-yard TD toss with 48 seconds remaining for a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Falcons emerged from the locker room a different team as they owned the third quarter. Atlanta's defense held the Vikings to a mere 15 yards in the stanza, and the offense eliminated its self-destructive first-half ways. Bartkowski confidently led Atlanta down the field on its first drive, capping it with a 3-yard pass to Junior Miller. A few minutes later, the Falcons tied the game. Bartkowski sent the home fans into a frenzy when he hit Wallace Francis with a 29-yard TD pass.
The Atlanta momentum continued into the fourth quarter when Mick Luckhurst's 32-yard field goal delivered the Falcons their first lead, 24-21. It appeared Atlanta put the game away with 4:06 remaining when Kramer threw his fourth interception of the night. The recipient was linebacker Buddy Curry, who took the pick 35 yards for the defensive touchdown.
Down by 10, the Vikings finally showed some second-half fight. The Minnesota defense held Atlanta deep in its own territory. Rather than risk a blocked punt for a touchdown, Atlanta head coach Leeman Bennett ordered punter John James to run out of the end zone and take a safety. When the Vikings received the ensuing free kick, they made Bennett fret about his questionable decision. Kramer keyed a furious no-huddle drive into Falcons territory. His fourth touchdown of the night, a 16-yarder to tight end Joe Senser, got the Vikings to within a point with 67 seconds on the clock.
Minnesota's only option was an onside kick, which earlier in the season led to a comeback win over the Chargers. But this was not to be their night. Rick Danmeier's kick was a good one as it bounced off a couple Falcons before Atlanta's Reggie Smith ended the drama by pouncing on the pigskin. The Falcons ran out the clock and held on for a wild 31-30 victory.
The Key Play
Tommy Kramer threw a fourth and crippling interception. Atlanta's Buddy Curry returned the pick 35 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 31-21 cushion with 4:06 remaining in the game.
Vikings Player of the Game
Running back Ted Brown became the first player in 1981 to eclipse 100 yards against the Falcons. Brown finished the night with 108 yards on 16 carries and caught five passes for 35 yards.
Purple Honorable Mention
Wide receiver Ahmad Rashad caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Bud Grant (via the Associated Press):
"The game just ended and they were ahead."
"We almost got a chance to win at the end when the onside kick broke loose up the middle. If we would have recovered, we were only 15 seconds away from a field goal."
"They gave us plenty of opportunities to win, and we returned the favor. Here was a game won by one point and there really was no turning point. There were fumbles, interceptions and penalties."
Leo Lewis, Vikings wide receiver, who made two catches for 58 yards and ran one time for 16 yards in the game:
"That was my first start as a Viking. I had been on the team for just a few weeks. To play as significantly as I did was a shock."
"A lot of guys didn't pay attention and focus on the second half. That happens in all sports all the time. I don't care what the lead is. Some are able to find fortune while others get lax and don't improve on their performance."
The heartbreaking loss began a season-ending five-game losing streak for the Vikings. A once-promising season disintegrated into a 7-9 disappointment as the Vikings said farewell to Metropolitan Stadium.