MINNEAPOLIS — Teddy Bridgewater got the start. His Vikings teammates took care of the finish.
Bridgewater became the seventh rookie quarterback in franchise history to start and second youngest after Fran Tarkenton, but the 21-year old opened with the combination of poise and explosive playmaking that the Vikings saw when they traded up to draft him in the first round with the 32nd overall pick.
Bridgewater began with six straight completions for 98 yards in the first quarter, and the Vikings defeated the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
An anke injury — X-rays were negative — sidelined Bridgewater for the final 6:29 of the game, but not before he led a go-ahead drive earlier in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater had completions of 29 yards, 22 yards and 15 yards on the possession that Matt Asiata ended with a 1-yard TD — his third rushing score of the game — on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Bridgewater then connected with Rhett Ellison for the two-point conversion for a 35-28 lead with 10:50 remaining in the game.
The Vikings grounded any comeback attempt by the Falcons by ending the next possession with a sack by rookie linebacker Anthony Barr to force a punt.
Christian Ponder replaced Bridgewater, and the Vikings worked the clock with a bevy of rushing plays. Blair Walsh drilled a 55-yard field goal for an important 10-point lead with 3:38 left.
View images from Sunday's game against the Falcons.
Safety Harrison Smith intercepted Matt Ryan two plays later, and the Vikings added a 33-yard field goal by Walsh (his fourth of the day) after taking another 2:11 off the clock.
Bridgewater finished 19-of-30 passing for 317 yards and added five rushes for 27 yards that extended drives and included a 13-yard touchdown run with 1:59 left in the first half. After surveying potential targets on a second-down play, Bridgewater escaped the pocket to his left and saw space. He crossed the goal line with a head-first dive through two Falcons defenders.
The Vikings forced a three-and-out to end Atlanta's next possession, the rookie QB also commanded the team 84 yards down the field in 83 seconds for an 18-yard field goal by Blair Walsh for a 24-14 halftime lead.
Bridgewater's first and second drives as an NFL starting quarterback resulted in touchdowns. The Vikings marched 73 yards on eight plays in 4:31 on their first possession. Bridgewater connected with Matt Asiata for a short gain, then targeted Jarius Wright on consecutive receiver screens. The first resulted in a modest gain, but Wright sprung loose and zoomed for a 52-yard gain on the Vikings' third offensive play. Wright recorded his first 100-yard game and finished with 132 yards receiving.
Bridgewater also hit Wright again for a gain of 6 to convert a third-and-4 in the red zone, and Asiata followed with consecutive 3-yard rushes, plowing across the goal line on the second for a 7-0 lead with 9:27 left in the first quarter.
Minnesota's second possession started with great field position thanks to a 49-yard kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings opened with consecutive 5-yard rushes by Asiata that were followed by a 29-yard catch and run by Greg Jennings and a checkdown pass from Bridgewater to Asiata that gained 8. Asiata capped the drive a play later with his second touchdown on his sixth carry of the day. Asiata knifed through a hole between Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan on the second TD.
Asiata finished with 78 yards on 20 carries, and rookie Jerick McKinnon had 135 yards on 18 carries. McKinnon's 55-yard run tied with Adrian Peterson for the fourth longest by a rookie in team history. The Vikings gained 241 yards on 44 rushes, compared to 123 yards on 22 attempts by the Falcons.