Despite the insistence of several Vikings defenders over the past week that they know 2006's successes on that side of the ball won't necessarily carry over into 2007, some of the offensive issues seem to have done just that.
Last year, the Vikings converted only 33 percent of their third downs, which was 28th in the 32-team league. The coaches during the offseason focused to have that percentage improve in 2007. So far, work remains.
The Vikings were exactly 33 percent again on Sunday, converting three of nine third-down opportunities. By contrast, the Falcons, who scored only three points, converted 8 of 16 third downs.
"That's a big deal. We have to be able to stay on the field on third down and keep the chains moving," said wide receiver Bobby Wade. "We had a couple of opportunities that we missed, and that's going to be the big difference of us being a good offense and becoming a great offense. That is something we will focus on (Monday) and we will get better next week."
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, making his third NFL start, agreed with Wade's assessment.
"We just have to execute when it is third-and-short. We had a couple plays on third-and-3 to 6, and we have just got to execute on third down and short," Jackson said. "We pretty much stayed out of the third-and-long, but we have to convert when it is third and short.
"… Last year it was pretty much the same stuff. We try to pride ourselves on putting the ball in the end zone instead of taking 3 (points) and stuff like that. Throughout the whole drive just try to execute the offense and get the ball in the end zone."
Although the Vikings had some issues with the offensive calls getting cleanly into Jackson – head coach Brad Childress said there were frequency and noise issues – he didn't think the third-down conversions or other errors had anything to do with Jackson's nerves.
"I thought he looked comfortable back there. I didn't see any jitteriness," Childress said of his quarterback. "I thought he slid in the pocket decently. I think he probably could have gotten a couple of those throws. I think he threw a couple of them hard, which you have a tendency to do when you're trying to make things happen fast, but all in all, with the exception of that interception he threw, I thought he did a decent job.
Explosive plays were another focus of the Vikings' offseason implementation, but besides Adrian Peterson's 60-yard touchdown catch-and-run, the passing game lacked any deep connections. Explosive gains in the air are measured as being passes of 16 yards or more, a benchmark that nobody but Peterson reached.
Jackson and Sidney Rice had one pass attempt down the right sideline that just led Rice out of bounds before he could get both feet down and, once again, one deep pass intended for Troy Williamson was a bit too far. Childress calls those deep misses "long foul balls."
"I think we saw one to Troy Williamson, who had his guy beat, and then the one to Sidney Rice down the sideline we left out of bounds. It was a great play for him to get the ball to Sidney, for him to be able to stick the ball in that hole. Some quarterbacks can't do that. It was a great idea," Childress said. "We just have to command the football a little bit better. We'll get better and better on those throws up the field."
Even Peterson's break-the-game-open touchdown on a swing pass nearly went in the books as an incompletion.
"I bobbled it for a second, but I made sure I kept my eyes on the ball. I wasn't going to drop that ball, so I tucked it in and we got a big play out of it," said Peterson, who got a flavor for a revved-up Metrodome crowd on his way into the end zone and then into the stands at the end of that play. "It was a great feeling, the intense fans, the cheering, it was so loud. I don't know, it's kind of hard to explain it, but it feels so good to be able to leap into the crowd. That was something I had always dreamt of doing."
Told fans are going to expect that sort of explosive play from him now that they've seen him execute it in purple, he said, "I'll have to give it to them from time to time."
That didn't mean that all the Falcons were left singing Peterson's praises.
"We gave him a lot. A lot of it was not necessarily what he was doing, it was what we did," said linebacker Keith Brooking, before acknowledging Peterson's potential. "You see the talent, and the ability, there is definitely no doubt about that. He has a bright future."
Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall was a little more willing to compliment Peterson without reservations.
"Great back – we already knew that. He is a load," Hall said. "With Chester Taylor going out today, it might have hurt us because he is a little bit smaller of a back, not really going to deliver a blow like an Adrian Peterson did. We knew we were going to see both of the running backs, and we did not perform the way that I wished we could have performed."
UDEZE GETS HIS SACK
After the game, Kenechi Udeze tried to downplay his first sack since 2005, seeming almost embarrassed by the fact that the coaching staff gave him the game ball. But that didn't stop Childress from reminding reporters that his starting left end already has a sack in the 2007 season.
"I take great pleasure in telling you guys that you can't say that the guy didn't have a sack all year long," Childress said. "We put that one to bed in game one, so that's why he got a game ball."
While Childress seemed pleased with that development, Udeze didn't show much emotion.
"He's a pretty flat-lined guy anyway. He's not going to get to crying and slinging snot when he does something like that," Childress said. "He's pretty even-keeled, but I think it meant something to him, and it meant something to the guys. Our guys gave a hoot."
Udeze's sack came on the final play of the game, shortly after the Falcons called a timeout in order to snap the ball with one second remaining in the game. But it wasn't the first opportunity Udeze had to sack Joey Harrington. On the first defensive play of the game for the Vikings, he made contact with Harrington in the end zone and barely missed pulling him down, a play that resulted in an 8-yard gain for the Falcons.
"I know how many times he's been close. I know how hard he works at it," Childress said. "He's a great kid. He plays the game wide open. You want him to have more success, so I was so excited to see him finish the game after they called the timeout with a sack. It couldn't have ended any better."
OTHER QUOTES OF NOTE