The Minnesota Vikings went on the road Sunday and came away with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. A big reason for the win is they were able to force four turnovers and only gave one away themselves.
The Falcons have been turning the ball plenty of late. In their last five games, not counting this past one against the Vikings, they have had a problem turning the ball over, especially in critical situations. They went 1-4 over that span and the turnovers were a big reason for the losses.
The Vikings knew that was something they could possibly take advantage, but head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want his players to try and do too much to create the turnovers.
“You never know. They had turned the ball over in the red zone a couple times recently, so I mean you’re hopeful that can happen, yes,” Zimmer said. “We had to run a couple different coverages with some young guys in there today but it was good. I thought coverage wise, for the most part, we did OK.”
The Vikings recorded three turnovers on the day – two interceptions, a fumble recovery and had the ball turned over on downs – and they all came in critical points in the game. The first one came toward the end of the first quarter right after the Vikings scored and took a 7-0 lead.
Falcons running back Tevin Coleman ran the ball to the right, broke through the defensive line and past the linebackers. Antone Exum was the only Vikings player left between Coleman and the end zone, and although he got turned around he was able to slow the running back down.
That then gave linebacker Anthony Barr enough time to catch up to Coleman and strip the ball. The ball fell right in front of Exum and the safety was able to recover the football.
“I just saw (Coleman) break free, and I was just trailing him. Luckily, he started slowing down a little bit and he was kind of carrying the ball a little loose, so I just tried to make a play on the ball. Fortunately, we got it,” Barr said.
“When you start getting close, you realize it. I was about 10 yards, then 8, then 6, and then I was behind him, so I tried to get the ball out and prevent a possible scoring drive.”
The next Vikings turnover came at the end of the first half when they had a 7-3 lead but the Falcons were driving down the field and looking to score again. They were lined up at the Vikings’ 43-yard line with 1:33 left to play before halftime.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan dropped back to pass and tried to hit wide receiver Nate Williams deep down the middle of the field. Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was able to jump in front of the wide receiver and come away with a crucial turnover right before the half.
“I just read the route. I know, being a nickel back, that they like doing option routes on me,” Munnerlyn said. “That is something that teams like to do in the NFL. If you are outside, they run inside. If you are inside, they run back inside. It is just totally different. I just read the route, jumped it, and made a play.”
The second half started almost the exact same way the first half ended. The Vikings still had a 7-3 lead and the Falcons started on their own 20-yard line. They were able to drive down the length of the field, but on a third-and-14 on the Vikings 14-yard line Ryan was once again picked off.
He tried to hit tight end Jacob Tamme in the back of the end zone, but Vikings cornerback Terence Newman jumped in front of it and came away with his third interception of the season.
The Vikings were able to capitalize, driving down the field and kicking a field goal, which gave them a seven-point lead.
The final turnover came later in the game with the Vikings holding a 13-3 lead with 4:39 remaining. The Falcons were going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 48-yard line. Barr blitzed in from Ryan’s left, beat the offensive line and was able to sack the quarterback for a loss of eight yards. He also knocked the ball loose, turning it over to the Vikings on downs.
“I think it was a breakdown, offensively, of communication,” Barr said. “They just set me free, and I was able to get there pretty fast. Fortunately on fourth down, we were able to get the ball back to the offense.”
“I don’t know that it was our best performance defensively, but we fought, we got some turnovers,” Zimmer said in his opening post-game statement. “I think the second half was probably a big turning point in the ball game where we took eight minutes off the clock driving down there to score and then they scored and got a penalty and we were able to get the interception to keep them off the scoreboard.”
Turnovers have been hard to come by for this Vikings team this season as they had just five fumble recoveries and six interceptions heading into this game. Their defense is already one of the best in the NFL, but if they can start producing turnovers on a regular basis they could truly be dominant.
The win was a big one for the Vikings as it gave them sole possession of first place in the NFC North, and it may not have happened if it weren’t for the key turnovers that occurred throughout the course of the game.