The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Atlanta yesterday for a date with the defending NFC Champions. The Falcons were favored by a three and, as expected, the game was tightly contested with a playoff-like atmosphere. Minnesota managed to take back the lead in the fourth quarter and hang on to win 14-9, ending Atlanta’s five-game winning streak and increasing their own to eight.

Atlanta’s “Red-Hot” Offense Cools Down

The Falcons came into the game Sunday revitalized from a slow start. Their offense was looking nearly unstoppable over the previous five weeks and Julio Jones was coming off a 12-catch, 253 yard, two-touchdown game against Tampa Bay the week prior. Before the game, Mike Zimmer said that Minnesota would cover Julio differently than  how the Buccaneers elected to handle him. He insisted they would be able to limit his usage and overall effectiveness in the game. Zimmer did not disappoint. The Rhodes were closed all game long for Jones, only bringing in two catches for 24 yards and adding to Xavier Rhodes’ impressive resume this season.

As for the NFL’s reigning MVP, Matt Ryan only completed 16 of his 29 pass attempts with no touchdowns on the day, despite never being sacked. Mohamed Sanu was their leading receiver for the game, finishing with three catches for 43 yards.

Atlanta saw most of its success in the running game. But by the fourth quarter, they had largely abandoned it in favor of a more aggressive attack. Devonta Freeman had 74 yards on 12 carries and would have had more if it were not for penalties which plagued the Falcons in the first half.

Keenum and the Viking Offense Keep Things Rolling

Case Keenum, the reigning-NFC Offensive Player of the Month, continues to impress with another efficient outing against a banged-up Falcons secondary. Playing without Desmond Trufant proved difficult for the Falcons to overcome as they allowed Keenum to have a near-perfect game, going 25-30 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He spread it around to anyone available as nine different Vikings caught at least one pass with none of them eclipsing than 51 yards.

The running game was solid with Latavius Murray getting the bulk of the work. He finished with 76 yards on 16 attempts including a 30-yard scamper that set Minnesota up for their first touchdown of the game. They mixed in McKinnon as well,  as he had a team-high five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. McKinnon celebrated his score with his rendition of the “dirty bird” dance, an homage to his hometown Falcons team.

Other Keys: Falcons Undisciplined in First Half

Atlanta came into Sunday’s game as the ninth-least penalized team in the NFL. In the first half alone, the Falcons had six penalties for 45 yards. However, they turned it around after the break with just one penalty for 10 yards in the second half.

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The Minnesota Moving Company had a solid game, only allowing two sacks to the Falcons pass rush. The offensive line in Minnesota continues to impress and get better as weeks pass. Notably, Rashod Hill had another nice game in place of right tackle Mike Remmers, who missed with a back injury.

Most Valuable Players:

Offense: QB Case Keenum

Keenum finished with a passer rating of 120.4 and was a perfect 13 for 13 passing in the second half. There is a reason this man earned November’s NFC Offensive Player of the Month and he put that on full display in Atlanta on Sunday. Keenum continues to provide the Vikings organization and fan base with a sense of security at quarterback, something they have not felt since Brett Favre.

Defense: CB Xavier Rhodes

“Rhodes Closed” is the motto for the Viking’s secondary this season and Julio Jones knows all about it now. Rhodes held Jones to two catches for 24 yards. That statline came only a week after Jones hauled in 12 passes for 200+ and a pair of touchdowns. Rhodes also showed off his tackling skills with five total tackles on the day.

Rhodes vs Julio

Looking Ahead

The Vikings are the second place team in the NFC at 10-2, trailing only the Philadelphia Eagles. With wins over the Saints, Rams, Lions and Falcons, Minnesota has established itself as a true contender for the NFC this season. This convincing win over the Falcons is going to wake up the rest of the fans who have slept on Minnesota all year.

With four games left in the season, the Vikings need one more win to officially clinch the division. Minnesota has two more opponents who are in playoff contention, the 8-3 Carolina Panthers and the 6-6 Green Bay Packers. Both of those games will be on the road. Aaron Rodgers is a potential monkey wrench. He is expected to be back for Green Bay when these two teams meet in week 16. The other two games should be relatively easy wins (if there is such a thing in the NFL). Minnesota hosts the Cincinnati Bengals in week 14 and the Chicago Bears in the season finale.

The Vikings have made another bold statement to the rest of the league Sunday with a convincing win over the reigning NFC Champions. We wait and see if they can keep things rolling in Carolina next week. But the team looks to be firing on all cylinders. A home game for the in the Super Bowl is looking like a strong possibility.

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