The Minnesota Vikings got a solid road win against the Falcons. Here are nine takeaways – good and bad – from the victory that put them in the NFC North driver’s seat.
Peterson is top 20: Adrian Peterson wasn’t just the only running back to go over 100 yards against the Atlanta Falcons this year, he did it in dramatic fashion. Going against the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, Peterson started the day in 21st place on the all-time NFL career rushing yardage list. After three hours of work, he moved up three places, passing O.J. Simpson, Corey Dillon and John Riggins for 18th place in the NFL with 11,354 yards after a 158-yard day.
Peterson’s final carry of the day sealed the 20-10 win for the Vikings with a 35-yard touchdown run and a 20-3 lead with 4:15 left to play.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Peterson have a big day – he has gone for more than 100 in four of the past five games – but he was facing a run defense that averaged yielding just 87.4 rushing yards to opponents and had held opponents to fewer than 100 yards in seven of nine games. Peterson nearly doubled that on his own.
“We knew when he’s at his best, the cutbacks happen,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I think that’s part of what happened on the touchdown one where it bounced outside. It was going to be hard-fought exactly like we thought. Good running team and we do a good job against the run, so for them we knew that was the battle up front for us today.”
Early pressure on Teddy: Going up against the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense, the Vikings likely knew that Teddy Bridgewater would have to be on point against the Falcons. To a large degree he was. He was getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but the Falcons had only 12 sacks in the first 10 games. They didn’t sack Bridgewater and were credited with only three quarterback hits, but he was under pressure consistently after the first two drives.
He had three passes he had to throw away in the first half, another batted down at the line of scrimmage and a third that Peterson simply dropped.
His first-half interception wasn’t due to pressure – Bridgewater simply didn’t lead tight end Kyle Rudolph far enough in the end zone – but Bridgewater was under pressure before the Vikings relied on Peterson even more heavily in the second half.
Considering Bridgewater had taken 10 sacks in the previous two games combined, Sunday was a dramatic improvement.
“My body feels better, that’s for sure,” Bridgewater said. “But the guys understand and the offensive line, they take pride when they keep the quarterback clean and they did a good job of that today. We still have room for improvement. We can always get better, but for the most part we did a good job today. It’s always good when you can come out of the game clean.”
Safety dance: The Vikings’ issues at safety went from concerning when Harrison Smith was ruled out with a knee injury to dire when Andrew Sendejo suffered a left knee injury early in the second quarter and didn’t return. Antone Exum was making his first NFL start for Smith and Robert Blanton came in when Sendejo was injured.
Exum appeared to play well, but he got turned around on a 46-yard Tevin Coleman run in the first quarter before Anthony Barr caught the running back from behind and punched the ball loose, a fumble that Exum recovered. Exum also dropped running back Terron Ward for a 4-yard loss one play before the Vikings got an interception in the third quarter.
Blanton finished the game with a team-high nine tackles and a pass defensed.
“We had to make some adjustments throughout the ballgame,” Zimmer said. “They probably knew we were tilting the coverages for Julio.”
Rudolph on a roll: It made sense that with the Vikings trying to get the ball out early Kyle Rudolph would be more involved. He was. He had five catches for 41 yards in the first half and finished with 10 targets, seven receptions and 53 yards receiving, all team highs for the Vikings. Over the last two games Rudolph has been targeted 19 times for 13 catches and 159 yards.
Walsh worries: Blair Walsh continues his uneven season. He missed two field goals against the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago – one from 53 yards and another that was blocked – but the Vikings won that one. Last week against the Green Bay Packers, Walsh missed an extra point. Against the Falcons, Walsh was wide left from 51 yards but made attempts from 29 and 39 yards.
Covering Julio: Xavier Rhodes got the unsavory assignment of often shadowing the NFL’s leader receiver, Julio Jones, entering Week 12. Rhodes held up well, with help. Jones finished the game with five catches on seven targets for 56 yards. All of those numbers were the second-lowest outputs of Jones’ season.
“Whatever the coaches want me to do. If they want to shadow this guy that week, then I will do it,” Rhodes said. “If they do not, then we will put one on each side. It is up to the coaches at the end of the day.”
Wallace gets two DPI: Mike Wallace didn’t have a catch for the second straight game, and he has only two catches in his last five games combined. However, Wallace drew two defensive pass interference penalties, one of them leading to the Vikings’ first score of the game. On third-and-9 from the 16-yard line, Bridgewater threw to Wallace, but CB Desmond Trufant was called for the penalty to set up the Vikings with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Peterson barreled in for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“It was very big,” Bridgewater said of Wallace drawing pass interference on that play. “Mike’s a guy that works extremely hard and we try and find different ways to get him the ball and we were able to get those pass interference calls today so that is just good for us. Great job by him understanding the route separation and getting open and able to put the defender in a bad position.”
Penalties abound again: Zimmer has found the Vikings’ lack of penalties as a great source of pride this season, but last week the team had eight penalties for 110 yards in a loss against the Green Bay Packers, and against the Falcons the Vikings were penalized nine times for 53 yards, with six of those giving the Falcons first downs.
“We had some areas that we had to address and fix,” Zimmer said. “For the most part we battled and had too many penalties in the backend, but we battled good.”
Barr the best: Why not save the best for last? Barr played big in big spots. Just when it looked like the Falcons might tie the game with a big run from Tevin Coleman in the first quarter, Barr punched the ball out from behind. Then when the Falcons were making a last-ditch effort for a comeback, Barr ended any realistic chance with a strip sack of Matt Ryan on fourth down. Barr isn't even the top 10 of outside linebackers for fan voting in this year's Pro Bowl, but he should be. As he recovers from a broken hand, he is being placed in more of a playmaker position by Zimmer.