The Vikings used a pressure defense to produce a couple of defensive touchdowns that had the players smiling about how one of them came about. Plus, get more than 30 notes that help tell the tale of the Vikings' 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
When it comes to the Vikings defense, there isn't a lot of guesswork involved. The Cover-2 defense is built on getting pressure on the quarterback. If you do, good things happen. Last year, the Vikings failed to get a lot of heat on the quarterback and the result was just as obvious – teams picked apart the Vikings through the air and beat the team in eight of the last 10 games they played.
That changed big time in the Vikings' 24-3 drubbing of the Falcons. The Vikings got six sacks and two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns to again keep the defense as the primary scoring machine for the Vikings.
The first touchdown of the season came on an interception by defensive tackle Kevin Williams
that he returned 54 yards for a touchdown. While in the box score it looked like a great play for the Vikings, in reality, it was a miscue that made the play possible, as the Falcons caught Minnesota off-guard with a no-huddle offense.
"We didn't get lined up in time," Williams said with a laugh in describing the play. "We had a blitz called, but we lined up late and I ran my position from almost standing up."
The Vikings D came through again late in the game, as Antoine Winfield
scored the second TD by the defense in the fourth quarter on a pass that was intended for wide receiver Michael Jenkins
that came off his hands and into the waiting arms of Winfield, who sidestepped his way 14 yards for a touchdown that increased the Vikings' lead to the eventual final tally of 24-3.
Winfield credited the guys up front for making the big plays possible because, with the experience the Vikings had with Harrington when he was in Detroit, they knew that if he was pressured, he would give up the big play.
"We blitzed him a lot," Winfield said. "We knew if we blitzed, he would put the ball up in the air and let us have to chance to make big plays. We had a great game plan ready for him and we made it work."
In the process, the Vikings are looking to erase the stigma of having the worst-rated pass defense in the league and focus on the positives.
"We want to build on what we did last year," Williams said. "We know that last year was last year, but we finished No. 7 in the league. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse, and we're trying to better than that this year. We're off to a good start."
Harrington's record against the Vikings dropped to 1-7 with Sunday's loss. In six games as a Lion, Harrington had six touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He held to that form Sunday, completing 23 of 32 passes for 199 yards, but had the two critical interceptions that led directly to Vikings defensive touchdowns.
The Vikings had the better of the statistical edge throughout, as the team outgained Atlanta 302-265, despite Atlanta running 16 more offensive plays (66) than the Vikings ran (50). The Vikings held a big edge in rushing, carrying the ball 27 times for 139 yards, while the Falcons gained 96 yards on 28 attempts.
A big bugaboo for the Vikings last year was penalties, but on Sunday the team had just four for 35 yards – one of those being an intentional delay of game on a punt to give Chris Kluwe and extra five yards to work with.
One area of concern for the Vikings was third-down conversions. The Vikings made good on just three of nine third-down opportunities, while the Falcons converted on eight of 16 chances – both numbers that had to not impress Brad Childress.
In his post-game press conference, Childress said he had a list of about 20 questions that needed answering. While he wouldn't elaborate on what those questions were, he did say that several of them were answered in a positive way.
Speaking of positives, Childress gave Kenechi Udeze a game ball following the win. Udeze, who started all 16 games last year and didn't record a single sack, got to Harrington and sacked him on the final play of the game. After the game, Childress told the media, "You guys can't say he didn't have a sack all year. He got that out of the way in the first game."
Neither team got into the red zone the entire game.
The Falcons refused to go away from Warrick Dunn the entire game, rushing him 22 times as opposed to just five carries for Jerious Norwood. The results, however, would have led some to believe it should have been the other way around. Dunn had just 55 yards on 22 carries, with 12 of those coming on one rush, leaving 43 yards total for the other 21 carries.
No Viking had more than two receptions in the game, but nine different players caught passes.
Nine different Falcons caught passes, led by four each from Alge Crumpler and Roddy White, but none of their receivers had more than 40 yards in receptions.
Chad Greenway led the Vikings with 10 tackles (four solo, six assists), followed by Cedric Griffin and E.J. Henderson, who each had eight tackles – seven solo, one assisted.
All of Henderson's tackles came in the first half.
Winfield's interception return for a touchdown was the second of his career – the other coming last year vs. the Bears. In five years with the Bills, Winfield had six interceptions and no touchdowns in 72 games. In 47 games as a Viking, he has 12 picks, including two touchdowns.
Peterson set a franchise record for most rushing yards for a rookie RB in his first game. It came long after he topped the 100-yard mark. The old record was just 57 yards set by D.J. Dozier in 1987.
The Vikings offense got its first points on a play that appeared to be designed simply as a safety-valve play. Facing a third-and-5 from his own 40, Jackson looked downfield before dumping a pass for Peterson in the right flat. After bobbling that pass, he pulled it in and was alone down the right sideline, turning his first pass reception into a 60-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings a 17-3 lead.
With Chester Taylor out of the game, the Vikings pulled Peterson off the kick return team (see below) and inserted Williamson into the role.
Brian Robison got his first career sack in the third quarter, blowing past Wayne Gandy to sack Harrington and force the Falcons to settle for a field goal after driving into Vikings territory. On the next drive, Robison recorded his second sack – forcing a punt with the Falcons trailing 17-3 with 6:35 to play.
Some fans did a double-take in the second half when they saw a purple No. 84 making a catch on a slant pass. It was rookie Aundrae Allison, who changed his number to 84 this week. It was his first career reception and the first catch by a player for the Vikings wearing No. 84 since Randy Moss was traded away.
The Falcons held the ball for more than 10 minutes of the second quarter to take an edge in total yards (137-101) at halftime. Thanks to a commitment to the run, the Falcons had more rushing yards (64) than the Vikings (61). Dunn had 13 carries in the half for 34 yards, while Peterson led the Vikings with 40 yards on eight attempts.
Neither quarterback set the town on fire in the first half. Harrington completed nine of 13 passes for 82 yards with no TDs and an interception for a passer rating of 54.0. Jackson didn't fare a whole lot better, completing six of 10 passes for 40 yards and a passer rating of 68.8.
The Vikings did a nice job of pinning the Falcons deep in their own territory. Atlanta's four drives began on their own 11, 12, 3 and 19-yard line.
The Vikings held the early advantage in time of possession and yardage in the first quarter. The Vikings held the ball for 8:23 of the quarter, outgaining the Falcons 77-59. The Vikings had 47 yards rushing and 30 passing, while the Falcons had 18 yards rushing and 41 passing.
Individually, Jackson completed four of seven passes for 30 yards, while Peterson ran four times for 29 yards and Taylor ran three times for 18 yards in the first quarter. Four different Vikings caught passes with the longest being a 13-yarder to Williamson.
For the Falcons, Harrington completed five of seven passes for 45 yards with a huge interception. The team managed just 18 yards rushing – Dunn rushing four times for six yards and Norwood with one carry for 12 yards. Two Falcons – Crumpler and White – each had two receptions.
With 1:26 remaining in the first quarter, the Vikings got a scare when Taylor went down and had to be assisted from the field, leaving Peterson as the only halfback on the roster. Taylor suffered a hip contusion and didn't return – leaving Naufahu Tahi (listed as a fullback) as the backup to Peterson the rest of the game.
As they did so often in the preseason, the Vikings defense got the first points of the regular season when Kevin Williams intercepted Harrington and returned the pick 54 yards for a touchdown.
The TD was the third of Williams' career, but was his first interception return for a touchdown. His other two TDs came on fumble recoveries.
The Vikings pulled off the game's first surprise by having Peterson back to return the opening kickoff.
The Vikings plan to rotate their captains on a week-to-week basis. This week's captains included Taylor, Winfield and Heath Farwell, representing the offense, defense and special teams, respectively.
The Vikings surprised some of the fans with the inactive list, primarily by putting Mewelde Moore on the list – leaving just two halfbacks on the roster – Peterson and Taylor. Kelly Holcomb was named the No. 3 (emergency) quarterback. Other inactives included S Mike Doss, TE Garrett Mills, T Chase Johnson, WR Robert Ferguson, DE Jayme Mitchell and DE Erasmus James.
The Falcons inactives included starters safety Chris Crocker and DT Rod Coleman.
Prior to the game, a ceremony and video honored the heroes that helped save lives following the I-35 bridge collapse and southern Minnesota flooding in August. A moment of silence was conducted prior to kickoff to remember those who lost their lives in both tragedies.
Although they needed help from the league to avoid a blackout locally, the announced crowd was 62,815 – the 97th consecutive sellout at the Metrodome.