A day after the game, the answer remained the same – fumbles.
The Vikings fumbled the ball seven times and lost it four times, erasing all of their positive progression in a 24-17 loss.
Running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson were the main culprits. Peterson was credited with two fumbles and was part of the problem on a handoff exchange that was dropped and recovered by the Falcons. Vikings coach Brad Childress said ball security will continue to be a focal point in practices.
"Whether we're talking about carrying the ball high and tight, finishing runs, whether we're pulling on it with a harness, whether the defensive backs are punching it or scraping it, obviously on defense they are trying to punch it out and take it away and on offense we're trying to do things to secure it," Childress said. "You talk about the points of contact with your body and those type of things. But, again, the big thing is getting that drill work carried over to the field in the heat of the battle. But we do work on it a good bit here at practice."
"I'm not going to say there's sloppiness in practice because you don't allow sloppiness in practice. Guys play to what they have. It never raises its head when a guy is violently spinning for yardage, he doesn't put it on the ground. When he does, then you start talking about it."
Considering that ball-security issues was the topic of discussion for nearly half of Childress' Monday press conference, players can expect it to be a point of emphasis on Wednesday's practice.
That will hold especially true for Peterson, who leads the league among non-quarterbacks with eight fumbles on the season, losing four.
"At times, because he is a violent runner, and he is going to twist and turn, and grind for extra yards, he's going to put himself in vulnerable positions. But, again, none of that can be – you can't use that – I mean, you have to take care of the football," Childress said. "I understand where there's a violent explosive hit, where somebody puts their hat right on the football. Those things are hard to contend with. But some of them – and I'm not going to use the word careless, because I don't believe it's careless – but you do have to be mindful of that at the end of the run, as you're finishing the run."
The Falcons had only four fumble recoveries on the season. They recovered four of the Vikings' seven fumbles on Sunday, and Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said it was a point of emphasis for his team.
"We want to attack the football every opportunity we have. Whether a player has had fumbles or not, it is the game plan every week," Smith said. "We were aware of that, but we want to make sure that we are attacking the football with the second and third guy in to make sure we get that ball out."
In a game in which the Vikings outgained the Falcons 350 total net yards to 222 and had far more explosive plays, turnovers were the only viable explanation for how the Vikings could lose a game like that at home.
"As I tell you again and again, turnovers is the No. 1 statistic in football," Childress said. "You can't put your defense on the field at the 47-, 47-, 46-, 22- and 46-yard lines."
Entering the Atlanta game, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had 6.5 sacks in his previous three games. The Falcons held Allen to two tackles, a quarterback hurry and no sacks.
They did it by occasionally using an extra defensive lineman on his side of the ball.
"They brought an extra lineman into the game (Todd Weiner, who lined up outside of tackle Sam Baker) a good bit and used an extra lineman over there as well as your regular, chipping and holding the tight end and that type of thing," Childress said.
While Allen didn't have any sacks, left defensive end Ray Edwards had two sacks, which is double the number of sacks the Falcons had been giving up on average per game.
"Ray's been playing a good level all year long. Last game, he didn't have a sack, but he got a game ball as the player of the game on defense," Childress said. "Just more of Ray Edwards and how he's played. I don't know if (overloading the other side of the Falcons offensive line) opened up him anymore or any less, but he showed up a couple of times."
"I don't believe it will change our mentality because, once again, with the byes locked up and knowing you're going to play the next week, you need to make sure your momentum is going that way and you need to execute and you need to be able to play the game," he said.