The Vikings took their time and the football away in a 20-10 victory against the Falcons on Sunday to move into sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
Minnesota (8-3) controlled the clock for 12:31 of the first quarter, limiting Atlanta to four plays in the opening period and forcing the first of three Falcons turnovers when Anthony Barr punched out a fumble after a 46-yard rush by Tevin Coleman.
After Atlanta drove to the Minnesota 13, the Vikings forced a field goal in the second quarter, then followed by intercepting Matt Ryan on the next two times Atlanta moved the ball into Minnesota territory and had shots to take its first lead.
Captain Munnerlyn nabbed the first, stepping in front of a pass intended for Nick Williams at the Minnesota 27.
"I just read the route," Munnerlyn said. "I know, being a nickel back, that they like doing option routes on me. That is something that teams like to do in the NFL. If you are outside, they run inside. If you are inside, they run back inside. It is just totally different. I just read the route, jumped it, and made a play."
In the third quarter, after a clipping penalty on Tony Moeaki negated a 1-yard TD by Coleman, and a hands-to-the-face penalty against Tom Johnson gave the Falcons (6-5) a fresh set of downs, Antone Exum, Jr. made a tackle for a 4-yard loss on second down, and Terence Newman intercepted a pass intended for Jacob Tamme in the end zone for a touchback.
The Vikings followed with a drive that lasted 6:10 and ended with a 29-yard field goal by Blair Walsh, who added a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know that it was our best performance defensively, but we fought and got some turnovers," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think the second half was probably a big turning point in the ball game where we took eight minutes off the clock. They scored but got a penalty and we were able to get the interception to keep them off the scoreboard.
"We've still got a lot of work to do, not anywhere near where we need to be, but this team has a lot of fighters on it," Zimmer added. "We were a little thin in the secondary today, and I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job in coverage until that last drive. We didn't play the run near as well as I would have liked but they had us off balance a little bit in the first half."
Possession football: The Vikings had three possessions that lasted more than six minutes and scored 13 points on those drives. The Falcons had two drives that lasted more than seven minutes, but netted just three points.
A key component in defending Atlanta was keeping the ball out of the hands of Ryan and limiting targets to Julio Jones, who entered the game with 89 receptions for 1,189 yards. The Vikings limited Jones to five catches for 56 yards and the Falcons to 57 offensive plays, compared to 67 run by the Vikings.
The Vikings running game (39 carries, 191 yards) helped considerably.
Adrian Peterson led the way with 29 carries for 158 yards and touchdowns of 1 and 35 yards. Jerick McKinnon added five carries for 33 yards in his first appearance in his home state.
"Adrian did a great job. He made some fantastic runs," Zimmer said. "Obviously Adrian is a very special player. We made a commitment to get him the football today and run. I think our guys did a good job up front for the most part of getting to players we needed to get to in order to block. I thought receivers did a good job of getting the perimeter. [Offensive Coordinator] Norv [Turner] made a great call on that last third-and-6 that went for the touchdown. This guy is a threat every time he has the football, and we're glad he's ours."
Peterson also added a pair of catches for 29 yards as Teddy Bridgewater found openings to running backs and tight ends beyond the first wave of aggression by Atlanta's defenders.
"We knew how aggressive this defense was so we knew that the check downs would be important and key," Peterson said. "Teddy did a great job of finding the backs. Not only to me, but also to Matt Asiata and [Zach Line] as well to give us some space out on the perimeter to make plays."
Running backs accounted for six catches for 54 yards, and tight ends had eight for 76, led by Kyle Rudolph (seven for 53 yards). Rhett Ellison added the other, turning a short toss on a screen into a 23-yard gain.
"It just great for Kyle to get Kyle going especially coming off of last week's performance," Bridgewater said. "He's a guy that's a hard worker, detailed guy and he is playing some good football for us right now."
Bridgewater finished 20-of-28 passing for 174 yards with one interception for a passer rating of 72.6. Bridgewater tried to fool safety Ricardo Allen with a pump fake to free up Rudolph near the goal line, but Allen didn't bite.
"I probably just could have thrown the ball in the back of the end zone or just thrown it out of bounds, the safety didn't move on the pump fake, and he just made a good play," Bridgewater said.
Safeties step in:Antone Exum, Jr. made his first career start in place of Harrison Smith (knee) and helped slow down Coleman to allow Barr to force the fumble from behind in the first quarter. Andrew Sendejo suffered a knee injury Sunday, and the Vikings turned to Robert Blanton, who was credited by press box statisticians with a team-high nine tackles.
The effort from the reserves helped the Vikings bounce back from last week's loss to the Packers.
"I just think we have resiliency, and we tried to not let last week define us and where we are going to go for the rest of the season," Exum said. "We understood that after the last game we had six regular season games left. We were going to try win those and put it all on the line. We did not want it to be a domino effect losing that Green Bay game and going downhill from there. I am proud of the guys for stepping it up."
Exum said he thought he had Blanton "held our own," but added, "Zimmer is the only judge of that, so we'll see."
Without reviewing the full game film, Zimmer said of Exum:
"Obviously it's hard for me to see everything, but for the most part, I thought he did things correctly. He didn't seem to be out of position very much when I look at the pictures and we talk about things on the sideline. It was good to see."
40th INT: Newman's interception was his third this season and 40th of his career (third-most among active players), but he was impressed by the play of others, particularly Barr, who also had a pass breakup and sack on one Falcons possession in the fourth quarter.
"Did you see the play that he made on the running back (Coleman) with one hand? He has a freaking cast on his hand," Newman said. "The dude is impressive. He is a hell of a football player. He amazes me every week. He does something that makes you wonder, 'How do you do this?' "