MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings knew the importance of trying to ground a strong aerial attack by the Falcons.
Vikings defenders combined to break up seven passes and limited Falcons QB Matt Ryan's top targets Julio Jones and Roddy White to six and four catches, respectively.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes led the Vikings with four pass breakups, and Josh Robinson added two and an interception on the final play to seal a 41-28 victory Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. Safety Harrison Smith had an interception in the fourth quarter and broke up a pass.
"We had to stop their two best receivers and Matt Ryan," Rhodes said. "They're great players and a high-powered offense, so we had to limit the big plays."
The Vikings also stifled the Falcons in the final two minutes of the first half, forcing a quick three-and-out that allowed Minnesota's offense to put together a speedy drive that resulted in the first of four field goals by Blair Walsh and a 24-14 halftime lead.
"(The two-minute defense is) important," Rhodes said. "If they drive down the field and score in the final two minutes, you can lose the momentum of the game or you can just lose the game period, so the two-minute is very important, and we stopped them."
The Vikings also held the Falcons to a three-and-out that spanned the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter and set up the game-winning drive.
"I think confidence is going up, just playing guys tight, contesting throws, making plays on the ball," Smith said.
Jones entered the game leading the NFL with 365 receiving yards through three games. He finished with 82 yards on the day, and his longest play went for 21. White had a 24-yard touchdown early after a missed assignment and finished with 73 yards.
"(Jones is) big, fast, strong, goes up and gets the ball," Smith said. "It wasn't anything where we're totally creating defenses, but we were just trying to get some hands on him at the line, slow him down a little bit and get some guys over the top of him when you can and just compete."
NEXT MEN UP: The Vikings got a boost on offense from multiple players who didn't start the season atop the depth chart.
View images from Sunday's game against the Falcons.
Running backs Matt Asiata (78 yards on 20 carries with three scores) and Jerick McKinnon (135 yards on 18 carries) combined to power the rush attack. Vladimir Ducasse started at right guard in place of Brandon Fusco, who was placed on injured reserve last week, and Jarius Wright recorded his first 100-yard receiving game. Wright led the Vikings with 132 yards on eight catches and delivered a tone-setting 52 yard gain on Minnesota's third play of the game.
"Hat's off to Vladimir, who came in and did a great job," center John Sullivan said. "That's what it's about; guys stepping up and making plays and filling in for guys who have been hurt."
Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who made his first start after opening the season behind Matt Cassel, completed his first six passes. Bridgewater finished with 317 yards through the air and added a dynamic 13-yard rushing TD in place of Cassel, who is out the remainder of the season. Bridgewater suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, but X-rays taken during the game were negative.
"You wouldn't think he was a rookie," Wright said of Bridgewater. "You wouldn't think it was his first real game starting. The way he kind of commanded the huddle, the way he called the plays. And you know, Teddy is a great quarterback, not only in the huddle, but off the field. He is a great guy, and I can't say enough good things about him."
The Vikings' defense also compensated for an injury that kept veteran linebacker Chad Greenway out of the starting lineup. Gerald Hodges started in place of Greenway, and rookie Anthony Barr wore the in-helmet communication device that Greenway normally uses to receive messages from coaches.
SPECIALTY: Walsh boosted his franchise-leading total of successful field goals beyond 50 yards to 14 with a critical kick in the fourth quarter to give Minnesota a 38-28 lead with 2:51 remaining in the game.
The kick made put the Vikings up by 10 points, but the Falcons would have had generous field position if it missed the mark. Coach Mike Zimmer showed the trust he has in Walsh on that play and a 33-yard field goal with 1:14 remaining.
"Anytime you can contribute to the team in a situation like that, it's awesome," Walsh said. "As a kicker, you don't always get to play a ton in the game, but today we got plenty of action."
Walsh is 14-of-17 on field goals from more than 50 yards during his three-year career. He also forced six touchbacks on his nine kickoffs, minimizing the threat posed by return guru Devin Hester.