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Vikings Ride Murray, McKinnon for Effective Run Game

ATLANTA — Long gone are the days of a struggling Vikings running attack.

After only rushing for 100-plus yards twice during a frustrating 2016 season, Minnesota has now hit that mark nine times this season.

Sunday's effort in Atlanta against the defending NFC champions resulted in 105 total rushing yards for the Vikings, who have now passed the century mark on the ground as a team in seven of the past eight games.

"It was definitely a grind," said Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon. "We knew that coming into the game.

"That defense is top notch … we came out, and it wasn't our greatest start today … but the defense played well and we found ways to score," McKinnon added.

Said running back Latavius Murray: "It was not a high-scoring game, especially when you have two good defenses. We were able to make a few more plays." 

Murray, who had a team-high 16 carries, led the way with 76 yards on the ground for the Vikings. The performance marked the fourth time in the past six games that the offseason free agent acquisition topped the 75-yard mark.

McKinnon returned to his home state and had scores of supporters in the stands.

While the former Georgia Southern University multi-tasker and native of Marietta, Georgia, fought for 24 yards on nine carries, he put the Vikings in the lead with a 2-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

"We had practiced it a thousand times," McKinnon said of his touchdown. "Case threw me a good ball, and we were able to score, so it worked.

"It was a dream come true," added McKinnon, who broke out the "Dirty Bird" dance made famous by the 1998 Falcons when he was 6 years in celebration. "It was a blessing to be back home and see a lot of friends and family."

The nine-play drive that led to McKinnon's touchdown included seven run plays.

Murray and McKinnon combined for exactly 100 rushing yards as the Vikings secured their eighth straight win.

And while Minnesota's run game might not have been flashy, it helped the Vikings control the clock for more than 34 minutes to wear down the Atlanta defense.

That included an 89-yard scoring drive that spanned more than eight minutes before Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's 6-yard touchdown catch gave the Vikings a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"Ball possession is huge, especially playing an offense that's as explosive as theirs," Rudolph said. "We just ate the clock up. If we're on the field, and Matt Ryan is on the bench, even as good as our defense is, that's awesome for us.

"Our best defense is our offense possessing the football," Rudolph added.

Said Murray: "I think that wears them down."

An efficient run game also helped set up the passing game, as Vikings quarterback Case Keenum completed all 13 of his second-half attempts, including a few of them after faking the handoff to a running back.

"It all starts with the run game," Rudolph said. "That's part of the reason our down-the-field passing game is better. If you don't have a run game and you're one-dimensional, it's hard to do anything in this offense."

A season after finishing dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards and yards per game, the Vikings now have an effective and collective rushing attack that ranks among the league's best.

"We knew it'd be a good test on the road and in this environment," McKinnon said. "It was a tough game, but we dug deep to get the win."

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