Containing Atlanta's Michael Vick was the key to the Vikings being successful on defense. They did that with pressure early and held Atlanta's first-team offense to a field goal.
Containing Randy Moss was the key to the Falcons being successful on defense. They didn't do that early, with Moss scoring on a 67-yard pass from Daunte Culpepper in the first quarter to open up a 14-0 Vikings lead.
The Vikings offense, defense and special teams were sharp early. They combined to give Minnesota a 17-0 lead before the backup offense, defense and special teams allowed the Falcons back in the game in the first half and eventually lost the game in the second half, 27-24.
Despite the loss, the first units all were in sync. Daunte Culpepper finished his time on the field going 6-for-9 for 124 yards, throwing an interception and a touchdown and garnering a 146.8 passer rating. His go-to man, Randy Moss, had three catches for 89 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown. The only aspect that wasn't impressive for the first-team offense was the running game, where the top three backs (Michael Bennett, Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith) averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. It wasn't as bad as last weekend's performance, but it wasn't explosive as the Vikings faced the second team in a row that was crowding the line of scrimmage.
On defense, the first unit contained dangerous Vick by keeping the pressure on him and keeping him from his signature long scrambles. His backup, Matt Schaub, however, looked extremely sharp, completing 16 of 19 passes for 205 yards and three TDs.
In the end, it was the backup units that let the Vikings down, being outscored 27-7 after the Minnesota starters built their 17-0 lead in Atlanta.
It started with the dive being the repeating theme of the opening act. Aaron Elling kicked to Woody Dantzler to start the game, and Dantzler kicked the ball. Larry Ned dove for the recovery, and the Vikings were in business from the get-go.
Michael Bennett took a misdirection screen play to open the offensive series and picked up 18 yards to the 12-yard line. After a draw picked up 9 yards, Bennett got his third consecutive touch of the game, a 2-yard dive to pick up a first down and set up first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. Moe Williams' first carry of the preseason — again, a dive — netted the touchdown for a 7-0 Vikings lead to open the game.
Upon receiving the ensuing kickoff, Dantzler caught it, reversed his field and picked up 39 yards on the return. Ted Cottrell's defense pressured the Vick early. On Atlanta's first play from scrimmage, Vick eluded a blitzing E.J. Henderson for a 13-yard scramble, but a false start and pressure from Dontarrious Thomas two plays later combined to force the Falcons off the field after five plays.
The Vikings followed with a quick-strike series, at least to cap the drive. Bennett and Williams carried the load early, picking up 16 yards on three touches before Culpepper hooked up with Randy Moss on successive plays. The first one picked up 7 yards, but the second one hit paydirt on a 67-yard bomb that burned Falcons first-round draft pick DeAngelo Hall for a 14-0 lead with 7:19 to play in the first quarter.
The Vikings defense continued to pressure Vick and the Falcons, and the strategy continued to work. Vick converted one first down with an 11-yard pass to tight end Alge Crumpler, but pressure from the linebackers and defensive line on second and third down brought incompletions.
The teams exchanged possessions one more time, but the Vikings got the ball in prime position when Mike Nattiel stripped Warrick Dunn of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Vikings 28-yard line.
A holding call backed the Vikings up more than they could overcome, but Aaron Elling was true on a 47-yard field goal with Gus Frerotte holding. With 12:49 left in the first half, the Vikings had a 17-0 lead.
Although Atlanta's quickness on offense finally moved the ball and put points on the board, there was still a victory for the Minnesota defense. After a drive-opening catch of 11 yards by Dez White, Dunn broke free and made would-be tacklers miss for a 47-yard run on the third play of the drive. Vick and Dunn ran for 15 more yards on two carries, but the defense shut down the Falcons. On first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Kevin Williams forced Vick to throw the ball away. On second down, Dunn could only get 1 yard. On third down, Kenechi Udeze contained Vick and the defense gang tackled him at the 1-yard line. On fourth down, Vick just got across the goal line but was assisted by a hold, backing up the ball and forcing the field goal unit on for three points.
At the halfway point of the second quarter, the second units took the field. Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub hooked up for a long connection with first-round draft choice Michael Jenkins, and when Willie Offord missed a tackle Jenkins was gone for a 47-yard touchdown. With 7:21 to play in the half, the Vikings' lead was cut to 17-10.
The defense, now a combination of first- and second-teamers, allowed a final sustained Falcons drive in the half, with bruising back T.J. Duckett getting the workload. He got them to the 15-yard line before they were forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal to close out the first-half scoring with Minnesota leading 17-13.
The Vikings responded on the opening drive of the second half with another quick-strike score. Kelly Campbell opened the series with a 9-yard pass, but he really stretched the defense four plays later when Gus Frerotte found him on a deep post route for an 83-yard touchdown and a 24-13 Vikings lead.
Duckett took the workload upon himself again and moved the Falcons to the 1-yard line, but the run defense stiffened at the goal line and Schaub resorted to a play-action pass to Stanley Pritchett for the touchdown. With 5:57 left in the third quarter, the Falcons pulled to within 24-20.
After an exchange of punts, the Vikings inserted Shaun Hill, and the third-stringer made the critical mistake. After Mewelde Moore showed some good moves to pick up yardage, on the 10th play of the drive Hill threw a pass that didn't fool cornerback Kevin Mathis. He stepped in front of receiver Aaron Hosack and ran the ball back to the 48-yard line. It took Atlanta and Schaub nine plays to catch the Vikings on another play-action pass from the 1-yard line for a touchdown, giving the Falcons their first lead of the game, 27-24, with 6:47 to play.
The Vikings' next two attempts to score would come up short, with three sacks ending the first series and seven incompletions in nine plays closing out the second attempt to win or tie the game.
With the loss, the Vikings move to 1-1 on the preseason and prepare to get the starters their most extended playing time of the preseason next weekend in the Metrodome against San Francisco. It will be those same starters that saw their 17-0 lead disappear when the second string entered the game Friday night in Atlanta.
Second-String Succumbs, 27-24
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