The Vikings were supposed to be concentrating on stopping Atlanta's DVD – Dunn, Vick and Duckett – attack Sunday. They weren't expecting to make the DVD plural, adding an "S," as in Shaub, to the end of the list, but it didn't matter who was running the ball for Atlanta in the first half, Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick, T.J. Duckett or backup quarterback Matt Schaub.
No matter the personnel, the Falcons' DVD ran through Minnesota's DVD – Decimated Vikings Defense – compiling 285 net yards rushing in a 30-10 Atlanta win that looked easy from the outset. The Falcons put up 205 rushing yards in the first half alone while building a 24-0 halftime lead on their way to the win.
D-Day for the Vikings meant deactivation day. Injuries forced the Vikings to sit starting safety Darren Sharper, nickel back Brian Williams, starting defensive ends Lance Johnstone and Kenechi Udeze, starting wide receiver Nate Burleson and third-down running back Moe Williams. Safety Willie Offord, who would have started for Sharper, was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.
Dunn led the way for the Falcons with 126 yards on 18 carries. Vick had four carries for 58 yards before leaving in the second quarter with a sprained knee, Schaub had 56 yards on four carries and Duckett gained 40 yards on 14 rushes.
The combination of the NFL's most superior rushing attack and a depleted Vikings defense was simply too much for the Minnesota, as it compounded the challenge with more penalties, turnovers and sacks – all negative marks that have plagued Minnesota's first quarter of the season.
In Atlanta, those numbers read 11 penalties for 85 yards, one lost fumble and two interceptions, and a whopping nine sacks of quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
While the Vikings didn't melt down with turnovers in the first quarter, their defense couldn't get off the field and penalties wouldn't allow the offense to stay on the field. It all started on the opening drive, in keeping with the recent history of the traveling Vikings. Three snaps into the first series, the Vikings were facing first-and-30, a deficit they couldn't overcome.
The Falcons took advantage, with Vick starting the Falcons' opening series with a 13-yard completion to tight end Alge Crumpler. Then Vick did what he does best – scrambling for 23 yards and 24 yards in the span of three plays – before finding Crumpler for a 5-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Two rushes for no gain and a sack ended the Vikings' second possession, and Atlanta didn't hesitate to pile on. This time, it was Dunn doing most of the damage, rushing six times for 37 yards and getting inside the red zone. Three plays later, T.J. Duckett powered the ball into the end zone from 1 yard out and the Falcons had a 14-0 lead.
Minnesota's offense finally started clicking, as Culpepper found a rhythm with the short passing game. He picked up a first down with passes of 5 yards to tight end Jim Kleinsasser and 6 to Moore. The running back picked up another first down with consecutive runs before Culpepper connected with Wiggins for 15 yards. But, one play later, Culpepper bought time before lofting a pass too high for Kleinsasser that was intercepted by cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
While the Vikings defense was suffering from numerous injuries, it caught a break when the Falcons' Vick suffered a sprained right knee on the first play of Atlanta's next series. That brought out the Falcons punter for the first time in the afternoon, but the Vikings couldn't completely shift momentum into their favor, as a sack by defensive tackle Rod Coleman brought their drive to an end on its third play.
Three plays was all that backup Schaub and the Falcons needed for another touchdown. It started with a 17-yard run by Dunn, then a 15-yard pass to Brian Finneran. Dunn handled it from there, taking a handoff 37 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 3:40 left in the half.
The blowout didn't end there. Moore took the Vikings' opening play of the next series 27 yards on an outlet pass, but a fumble, penalty and sack – on successive plays – forced another Vikings punt.
The Falcons took over on their own 19-yard line with 1:19 to play in the first half, but two long Shaub runs up the middle – for 21 and 23 yards – put Atlanta in field goal position. Todd Peterson converted the 38-yard attempt, and the Falcons took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
The two teams traded possessions four times without a score to open the second half, the final exchange coming when Coleman stripped Culpepper of the ball and defensive end Patrick Kerney recovered.
After 12 plays, the Falcons were in position for another field goal, a 26-yarder from Peterson for a 27-0 lead.
Culpepper answered one turnover with another when he forced a pass that linebacker Keith Brooking intercepted. The Vikings defense stood up Duckett on fourth down on the ensuing series, setting up the Vikings first scoring drive of the game in the final period.
Moore picked up the first down with an 18-yard pass play, and Culpepper rushed for positive yardage for his only time of the game with a 10-yard scramble. Next came passes of 7 yards to Jermaine Wiggins and 20 yards to Michael Bennett on a screen, setting the ball on the 8-yard line. Linebacker Demarrio Williams snuffed Culpepper for a sack on the next play, eventually forcing on Paul Edinger for a 43-yard field goal with 8:13 left to play, making it 27-3.
After recovering the onside kick, the Falcons answered with a 39-yard Peterson field goal, upping their lead to 30-3.
The Vikings responded with a garbage-time touchdown, their first of the day, on their next series. Travis Taylor emerged as the go-to receiver on the drive, getting the first two passes for 13 yards each. He followed with two more receptions for 15 yards each into Falcons territory. A 17-yard reception to Marcus Robinson put the ball at the 16-yard line, where Culpepper found Williamson for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 30-10 with 2:33 to play, far too little and far too late in another deflating loss to the Falcons.
The Falcons were the third winning team the Vikings have lost to this season and moved to 3-1. The Vikings fall to 1-3 heading into their bye with time to heal their wounded defenders and injured egos.
Without a two-win team in the NFC North, the Vikings are still in the fight to win a down division, but they will have to protect the ball and eliminate the penalties and sacks to get it done after their bye week.
Vikings Dunn In By Falcons Ground Game
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