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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Play 'Keepaway' from Falcons

ATLANTA — The Vikings have busted out "Duck, Duck, Gray Duck/Goose" and Leapfrog as scoring celebrations this season, but on Sunday, Minnesota's success hinged in part on playing "Keepaway" from an explosive Falcons offense.

Case Keenum completed 25-of-30 passes for 227 yards, and Minnesota rushed for another 105 on 31 carries, possessing the ball a total of 34:02 and nearly 20 minutes of the second half of a 14-9 win.

What made it even better for the Vikings was capping a drive that lasted more than eight minutes with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph early in the fourth quarter and finishing the game in the victory formation after a drive that consumed the final 4:58.

A 22-yard gain on a pass to Adam Thielen, followed by runs of 8 and 3 yards by Latavius Murray, took the clock down to the two-minute warning, enabling three kneeldowns by Keenum because the Falcons were out of time outs.

The Vikings (10-2) won their eighth in a row and snapped a three-game win streak by the Falcons (7-5), the defending NFC Champs, by dominating on third downs and extensively limiting quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones.

"Obviously emotionally, it's always fun to win," said Keenum, who improved to 8-2 as a starter with Minnesota and won his first game against Atlanta. "We're really excited to come in here and beat a really, really talented Atlanta Falcons team, defending NFC Champs. They've got a great defense. They played really well today, and I think our guys played really well down the stretch, and I think that was the difference in the game. A couple of big drives in the fourth quarter — our guys fought hard. It was a great team win."

Thielen convincingly beat press-man coverage for Minnesota's final third-down conversion of the day.

"We knew that's kind of what they were going to give us," Thielen said. "In critical situations, they were going to play man and try to play you 1-on-1. It was press-man [coverage]. It's just one of those things where you've got a 1-on-1 matchup and you've got to win it."

A frequent target of Keenum's on third downs, Thielen said it was "huge" to have help from the whole offense in moving the chains.

C.J. Ham and Latavius Murray each converted third-and-1s with rushes on the Vikings first scoring drive.

Laquon Treadwell and Jarius Wright each caught passes on third downs, and Murray converted another third-and-1 to set up the second score.

"We need to have that versatility to have multiple guys making plays and moving the chains," Thielen said. "That's something we've talked about forever with this team — if we can move chains and get extra downs, the big plays will happen."

After narrowly missing significant gains along the sideline on passes just out of bounds to Stefon Diggs and Thielen in the first half, Keenum locked in after halftime. He completed all 13 passes he attempted for 117 yards in the second half and finished with a passer rating of 120.4.

"He played well," Rudolph said. "He gritted it out like the rest of this team. It wasn't pretty at all times, but we fought until the end and ended the game on the field in the best formation in football."

Rudolph said teammates first saw reasons to believe in Keenum back in Week 2 when the offseason signee made his Vikings debut against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

"Since the first play he walked into the huddle, he has a charisma and confidence about him that, 'This offense isn't going to take a step backward just because I'm stepping in,' " Rudolph said.

Although the Vikings fell that day and two weeks later against Detroit at home in Week 4, the team bounced back with the offense, defense and special teams executing in critical situations.

View game action images as the Vikings face the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during Week 13.

Three-part harmony

The Vikings first touchdown of the day benefited from favorable field position set up by special teams and Minnesota's defense.

Ryan Quigley artfully lob-wedged a punt that bounced out of bounds at the Atlanta 2-yard line, and Minnesota forced a quick three-and-punt.

Minnesota got the ball back at its own 47-yard line — the best starting field position of a drive for either team — late in the first quarter and used seven runs and two high-percentage passes for a touchdown drive that lasted 5:04.

Extended drive

That scoring drive mirrored some of the others when the Vikings have been at their best under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

The 89-yard, go-ahead drive that consumed more than half of the third quarter and ended with a 6-yard pass to Rudolph on the first play of the fourth quarter is a more recent part of Minnesota's identity.

What proved to be the game winner also was the 11th time that the Vikings have gone at least 80 yards for a score in 2017. Minnesota had four such possessions in all of 2016. 

Purple crowd

Rudolph said the Vikings noticed the amount of purple-clad fans in the seats of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened this season.

"It's the second time in three road games that we've ended the game with the 'SKOL Chant,' and it's the loudest cheer," Rudolph said. "The one that wasn't was Detroit on Thanksgiving. If we take over Detroit on Thanksgiving, then we've really got something going. It's been awesome. Our fans travel, and they're really loud."

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