Turning Point: Opportunistic Defense

Big plays were the order of the day for both teams on offense, but on defense it was only the Vikings that made the big plays when they counted most.

Fans who didn't see Sunday's game would have thought the Vikings offense was the power player in a high-scoring 39-26 win. But, in fact, it was the defense that did much of the damage and created the turning point of the game.

After a first half in which the Vikings defense was burned for plays of 33, 47, 55 and 23 yards — all that led to Atlanta points — the Vikings needed a lift, and the defense provided it at every turn after halftime.

Here's the VU defensive briefing:

* Third quarter, 11:35 to play. The Vikings offense went three-and-out, and Atlanta had a chance to bury the Vikings with a long scoring drive. Instead, the Vikings defense forced a three-and-out series. A penalty on the ensuing punt left the Vikings offense with a short field and it scores — tying the game 20-20.

* Third quarter, 5:40 to play. With Atlanta trying to mount a drive to regain the lead, Kenny Mixon blew through for a 6-yard sack of Doug Johnson. The Falcons punted again and, thanks to a 51-yard pass to Kelly Campbell, the Vikes take a 27-20 lead.

* Third quarter, 1:35 to play. The Vikings forced Atlanta into another three-and-out. The Vikings offense again got a short field at its own 41 and scored another TD to take a 34-20 lead.

* Fourth quarter, 13:05 to play. On the next series, Chris Claiborne intercepted Johnson.

* Fourth quarter, 11:45 to play. After a Vikings turnover, the defense blitzed Johnson in the end zone. A holding penalty led to the second safety of the day for the Vikings D and a 36-20 lead.

* Fourth quarter, 8:10 to play. Atlanta is driving for a score to potentially cut the deficit to eight points, but Ken Irvin caused Warrick Dunn to fumble on the 5-yard line. Claiborne recovered to kill the drive.

* Fourth quarter, 5:00 to play. Johnson tried for another desperation score and was picked off by Brian Russell. He lateraled to Brian Williams and the pick is returned 78 yards — leading to a field goal and a 39-20 Vikings lead.

While the offense needs to be credited for making big plays to turn an eight-point halftime deficit into a 19-point fourth-quarter lead, by never allowing Atlanta to maintain the rhythm it had in the first half the Vikings defense helped swing momentum in a profound way.

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