The beat goes on for the Vikings, as they marched into Atlanta this weekend and came away with a 14-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The win is the Vikings eight consecutive and it moves them to 10-2 on the season.
Here are 10 takeaways from the Vikings win over Atlanta.
1. Vikings won the 3rd down battle
One of the most compelling "game within the game" matchups between the Vikings and Falcons was on 3rd down, particularly for Atlanta's offense against the Vikings defense. Atlanta came into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL with a 48% conversion rate on 3rd down while the Vikings defense entered ranked No. 1 in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed at 28.5%. Something had to give, and it was the Falcons offense. Minnesota held Atlanta to one of 10 (10%) on 3rd downs, while the Vikings offense found a way to convert six of its 12 (50%) 3rd downs.
2. Offense saved the best for last
Sunday's game illustrated how good both the Vikings and Falcons are on defense. But the Vikings offense found a way to put its stamp on the game, and it did so in clutch moments. The Vikings offense took the field in the middle of the 3rd quarter trailing 9-7, but put together an 89-yard drive that included 15 plays and took 8:15 off the clock. The drive featured three 3rd down conversions and a very sharp Case Keenum, who found Kyle Rudolph in the end zone to cap a series in which he was six of six for 52 yards. That drive gave the Vikings a lead, and another stellar drive at the end of the 4th quarter iced the game. The Vikings took possession with 4:58 to play following a Falcons punt. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called a play action fake on the series' first play, and it was good for a 16-yard gain on the hands of a Rudolph catch. Shurmur followed with running plays on consecutive snaps and then put Keenum on a 3rd and 4 dropback. Adam Thielen ran a slant route and was open for Keenum to hit him between the numbers for 22 yards to the Atlanta 21 as the clock continued to run. Moments later, the Vikings ended the game on three consecutive kneel downs, as the offense did what it took to finish the game.
3. Keenum played winning football, again
Keenum finished the game going 20 of 25 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions with a passer rating of 120.4. It marked the sixth game this season for Keenum in which he's authored a passer rating of 100 or higher. Keenum did take two first half sacks, but he was a perfect 13 of 13 in the second half and wasn't taken to the ground in the final two quarters. In a tough environment against a good defense, Keenum kept his composure, played within the offense and then daggered the defending NFC champions in the second half with ruthlessness and poise.
4. Rhodes closed
It was talked about all week – Xavier Rhodes against Julio Jones. They've battled twice before and it was Rhodes who had gotten the better of Jones both times. But this time it was Jones who seemed to have the edge, coming off a 253-yard, two-touchdown game the week prior and keying an offense that was simply on fire the previous three weeks. Rhodes came up big, though. He helped hold Jones to two catches on six targets for 24 yards, pedestrian numbers for any receiver but especially for one of the best, if not the best, in the game.
5. Shut down defense
Entering Sunday's game, the Falcons were averaging just under 32 points and 385 yards per contest during their three-game winning streak. The Vikings put a stop to the offensive fireworks. Beyond Atlanta's miserable 3rd down success, they were also held out of the end zone entirely and Matt Ryan's streak of 30 consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended. The Vikings out-possessed the Falcons by eight minutes, permitted Ryan and Co. to penetrate the red zone just once and held them to 5.4 yards per play when they entered the game No. 2 in the NFL at 6.15 yards per snap.
6. Give Latavius Murray a game ball
He probably didn't single-handedly lead anyone's fantasy football roster to a win, but Latavius Murray's production on Sunday was vital to the Vikings victory. Murray continually challenged a stingy and fast Falcons defense, chugging away for 76 rushing yards on 16 carries and mixing in three receptions for 21 yards. The 97 yards on 19 touches was a big part of the Vikings ability to sustain drives and keep the Falcons defense off balance just enough to allow the Vikings offense to drive for the go-ahead touchdown in the middle of the second half and then put the game on ice in the final minutes of the 4th quarter.
7. Welcome home, Jerick McKinnon
Jerick McKinnon is a native of Marietta, Georgia, a location undoubtedly filled with Falcons fans. But even though McKinnon was sporting the adversarial purple and gold on Sunday, he did his hometown proud. McKinnon got the Vikings on the board with a two-yard touchdown catch early in the 2nd quarter and he finished the game with 24 rushing yards on nine carries and 28 receiving yards on five catches (and five targets).
8. Big-game billing was warranted
Sunday's game featured not just two of the hottest teams in the NFC but perhaps two of the NFC's best contenders as the season enters the final quarter. The Falcons are fighting with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints for positioning in the NFC South standings while the Vikings are inching closer to a division title in the NFC North. With many eyes on the contest, the Vikings and Falcons did not disappoint, as they went toe-to-toe and punch-for-punch with each other for four full quarters. The intensity and speed of the game had a dash of playoff feel to it.
9. Mike Zimmer's team is tough
The Vikings entered the home of the defending NFC champs, who feature the defending NFL MVP, and they watched as the Falcons struck first to take an early lead. Atlanta forced a Vikings punt on the first drive of the game and then drove for a field goal on the ensuing possession. The Vikings took the lead later in the first half, but Atlanta took it back again in the 3rd quarter. Sacks and penalties slowed the Vikings progress at times in the first two-plus quarters, but Mike Zimmer's team kept plugging away, with the defense holding firm from gate to wire. The Vikings didn't turn the ball over, they won the 3rd down and red zone battles and they handled the environment with aplomb. The Vikings did what tough teams do – they won a close game against a quality opponent on the road.
10. Vikings can clinch the NFC North next week
The Vikings have a four-game lead over Detroit and Green Bay with four games to go, which means a win next week in Carolina will clinch the division for the Vikings. The Vikings can also clinch with losses by both Detroit and Green Bay. It's too early to look ahead to the playoffs, especially with quality opponents still on the regular season schedule, but winning eight consecutive games and amassing a 10-2 record affords a team the luxury of securing a playoff berth a month before the tournament begins.