The Vikings started Sunday's game auspiciously with a pick on their first offensive snap, and things deteriorated quite mightily late in the second quarter en route to a 40-23 loss, but there was an opportunity as the first period shifted to the second to regain a footing against the Falcons.
After having 10 net yards and a turnover on its first seven plays of the game, Minnesota closed the first quarter with a 36-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Irv Smith, Jr., that moved the ball to the Atlanta 40-yard line.
The gain was followed with a 1-yard run by Alexander Mattison and consecutive completions of 19 yards to Adam Thielen and 18 more to Justin Jefferson.
Minnesota appeared poised to cut into Atlanta's 10-0 lead, needing to gain just 2 yards to reach the purple end zone or kick a short field goal with mild disappointment.
Neither occurred, and the Vikings remained scoreless until the third quarter, when they got the first of two touchdown catches by Justin Jefferson to make it a 23-7 game with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
Failure to execute at the goal line took away Minnesota's opportunity to reshape the game much earlier. Here's another look at that critical sequence.
Q2, 13:09 remaining — First-and-goal at the Atlanta 2
The Vikings go heavy with 23 personnel (fullback C.J. Ham, Mattison and tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Conklin and Smith).
Minnesota starts with Conklin on the right side of the formation but then motions him left.
Mattison takes the handoff out of the I-formation and heads left, but Atlanta linebacker Foyesade Oluokun reads it all the way and zips past the outside of left tackle Riley Reiff to make the play.
If Oluokun is blocked, then the Vikings have a good likelihood of 1-on-1s with Ham against rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell and Conklin against safety Keanu Neal, allowing Mattison to reach the paint.
Q2, 12:30 remaining — Second-and-goal at the Atlanta 3
All three tight ends remain on the field, but Thielen replaces Ham as the Vikings go with 13 personnel.
Minnesota lines up Smith out wide before motioning him in between Thielen, who is in the slot, and Rudolph. Smith pulls and heads to the left but Mattison heads to the right, running into a Falcons defensive lineman Allen Bailey, who redefines the line of scrimmage against rookie Ezra Cleveland.
Mattison maneuvers past Bailey but is stopped by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and former Vikings linebacker Edmond Robinson, who was called up from the Falcons practice squad.
Atlanta's sell-out to stop the run on the play was rewarded. Otherwise, it would have been as easy of a touchdown pass to Conklin as possible.
Q2, 11:48 remaining — Third-and-goal at the Atlanta 1
The Vikings return to 23 personnel but sub Mike Boone at running back for Mattison.
Minnesota motions Smith from right to left and then sends him back across the formation as Cousins fakes a handoff to Boone.
Linebacker Mykal Walker crashes from the edge and puts head on Cousins as he's coming out of his turn.
Cousins' primary option on the play is Smith and he has a path to the end zone, but Cousins is unable to deliver the ball the way he'd like, and the disruption of the timing allows linebacker Deion Jones to scream over and prevent the touchdown catch.
Q2, 11:44 remaining — Fourth-and-goal at the Atlanta 1
The Vikings change players again, going with 11 personnel, with Boone at running back and Rudolph at tight end. They are joined by receivers Jefferson, Thielen and Chad Beebe.
Minnesota tries to catch the Falcons off-guard with a quick snap and have Rudolph come across the formation to block defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., but Fowler deploys some nice footwork to change directions and completely miss the attempt by Rudolph, meeting Boone in the backfield.
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