Adrian Peterson will get the most face time in the highlight shows, and rightfully so considering he ran for 158 yards and 2 TDs on what was the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. But it was another complete team effort for the Vikings as they executed well in all phases on the way to a 20-10 victory. It marks the fourth consecutive road win for the Vikings and improves their record to 8-3, good enough for 1st place in the NFC North.
Here are five reasons why the Vikings came out on top on Sunday…
1. Anthony Barr made plays
Anthony Barr played well throughout the game but his performance was bookended by two forced fumbles that were key in the victory. The first forced fumble was the more impressive play. A cut block had Barr on the ground early in the play, but he quickly got back on his feet and pursued Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman as he got around the edge of the Vikings defense and raced 46 yards down the sideline. As Coleman cut back inside to avoid Vikings S Antone Exum, Jr., Barr caught Coleman and punched the ball out. Exum, Jr. fell on the fumble, and what for a moment looked to be a big-time play for Atlanta's offense turned into a possession for the Vikings offense. Then in the 4th quarter on a 4th and 1, Barr burst through the line of scrimmage and hit QB Matt Ryan as he threw the ball, forcing a fumble and a turnover on downs. Three plays later, Adrian Peterson was sprinting 35 yards to the end zone to ice the game for the Vikings.
2. Adrian Peterson was unstoppable
**Speaking of Peterson, he continued yet another prolific season by scorching what was the NFL's top-ranked run defense for 158 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 29 carries. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner continued to call running plays and Peterson continued to pound Atlanta's defense. The NFL's leading rusher had 5 runs of 11+ yards, including a 17-yard dash on 3rd and 1 in the 3rd quarter and an 11-yarder on 3rd and 2 in the 4th quarter; both of those runs helped lead to FGs. The dagger came with 4:23 to go in the game when Peterson followed a several key blocks, including efforts by all three TEs in the game and LT Matt Kalil, around the left edge and put a 35-yard exclamation point on the scoreboard, giving the Vikings a 17-point edge late in the game. Peterson saved his best for last, carrying the ball 10 times for 73 yards in the 4th quarter.
The Vikings were +2 in turnover margin on the day, taking the ball from Atlanta three times (2 INTs, 1 fumble) and giving it up once (INT). Timing of the Vikings takeaways was key. The first Vikings takeaway was Barr's forced fumble, which came on the first play of Atlanta's second possession. The fumble was forced on the MIN 34 and recovered on the MIN 21, ending what would've been a likely scoring drive. The second takeaway was a Captain Munnerlyn INT on the MIN 27 and the third takeaway was a Terence Newman INT in the end zone, both ending likely scoring drives. And there's also the Barr strip-sack in the 4th quarter, which ended any thought of a late-game rally for the Falcons.
4. Teddy Bridgewater
**You may look at his box score and shake your head at this one. But a closer look will reveal that Bridgewater played a pivotal role in the Vikings win. He did make one mistake in throwing an end zone INT on the second play of the 2nd quarter, but aside from that he protected the ball and continued to put the offense in position to score. On the Vikings first scoring drive, Bridgewater was 5 of 7 for 67 yards. He also teamed with WR Mike Wallace to draw a 15-yard pass interference penalty on CB Marcus Trufant that put the ball at the ATL 1. On the late 1st-half drive that resulted in a missed Blair Walsh FG, Bridgewater was 6 of 8 for 30 yards. And then on another scoring drive in the 4th quarter, Bridgewater was 5 of 6 for 31 yards. All told, Bridgewater was 20 of 28 (71.4%) on the day, he didn't take a sack and aside from 1 INT he constantly was putting the offense in position to score.
5. Safeties stepped up
With Matt Ryan and League-leading receiver Julio Jones waiting for the Vikings to arrive at the Georgia Dome without S Harrison Smith in tow, it was easy to point to that matchup as a big advantage for the Falcons. But the Vikings depth (and the starting CBs) had something to say about that. In his first start, Exum, Jr. came up with a fumble recovery and was credited with 3 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. In addition to Smith not playing, fellow starter Andrew Sendejo was forced from the game. Robert Blanton came in and was credited with a team-leading 9 tackles to go along with 1 pass break up.
All told, the Vikings safety group combined with all defenders in coverage to hold Jones to 5 catches for 56 yards and became the first defense to hold Ryan to fewer than 250 passing yards in the last 17 games.