With rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater making his first career start and a bevy of reserves being called upon to step into the starting lineup, the Vikings returned home to TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday and used a high-flying offense, a solid special teams performance and a late defensive surge to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 41-28.
A high-scoring game with several notable individual accomplishments produces plenty of takeaways to digest. Here are five of them to analyze for now.
View images from Sunday's game against the Falcons.
1. Vikings Offense Steals the ShowAtlanta came in to Sunday's game with one of the hottest offenses in the NFL, but it was Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings offense who stole the show. Bridgewater led an offensive effort that was powerful on the ground and efficient through the air. The Vikings ran the ball 44 times for 241 yards with four touchdowns on the afternoon, continuously pounding a Falcons defense with Jerome Felton leading the way and the offensive line zoned in and relentless in their blocking. Jerick McKinnon was the leading rusher, gaining 135 yards on 18 carries, while Matt Asiata gained 78 tough yards and scored three touchdowns on 20 gritty carries. Through the air, Bridgewater was 19 of 30 for 317 yards. While he didn't throw a touchdown, he also didn't throw an interception and was not sacked one time. Jarius Wright was the Vikings leading receiver, totaling eight catches for 132 yards.
2. Plus-Two in TurnoversThe importance of winning the turnover battle cannot be overstated. The Vikings did win the turnover battle on Sunday and, in fact, did not turn the ball over one time. Bridgewater was careful with the ball, the offensive line, running backs and tight ends were solid in their pass protection, and ball-carriers protected the football. On the flip side, the Vikings defense came away with two turnovers late in the game, with S Harrison Smith's interception at the 3:30 mark of the 4th quarter eliminating any thought of an improbable comeback by the Falcons.
3. Vikings Defense Gets the Last LaughThe body of work for the Vikings defense left much to be desired on Sunday. Atlanta converted 10 of 15 (67%) 3rd downs, ran for 123 yards and had three receivers with 70+ receiving yards, for example. But when the game was on the line in the second half on Sunday, the Vikings defense showed up. This is how Atlanta's final four possessions went: three plays/punt; five plays/punt; one play/interception; five plays/interception. From the 2:00 mark of the 3rd quarter on, the Falcons did not convert a 3rd down and one of the biggest defensive plays of the game actually came on a 3rd down – LB Anthony Barr's sack on 3rd and 12 from midfield with 7:25 to play in the 4th quarter. Again, there is a lot the Vikings defense can do better, and they'll be the first to acknowledge that in the aftermath of this week's game and the buildup to next week's game. But at the end of the game, the Vikings defense found a way to help get the job done.
4. Special Teams Neutralized Hester, Put the Game on IceAtlanta's Devin Hester may be the best returner in NFL history and he's had his fair share of success against the Vikings, but he did not add to his legacy on Sunday. Blair Walsh booted six touchbacks in nine kickoffs, and Hester averaged just 20.7 yards per return on the three kickoffs he did handle. On punts, Hester had just one opportunity and took it back 16 yards. The 16-yard return brought the ball to the Atlanta 30 and then the Falcons went three-and-out, so that return didn't come back to bite the Vikings.
Walsh did miss a 49-yard field goal attempt, but he came on later in the game and nailed a 55-yard try to give the Vikings a 10-point lead and essentially put the game out of reach for Atlanta.
5. Zimmer Got It Right on 4th and GoalFaced with a tough decision at a crucial time, Zimmer made up his mind and got it right. Trailing 28-27 at the start of the 4th quarter and having just lost momentum built up through the first three quarters, the Vikings drove eight plays to the Atlanta 1 and were looking at a 4th and goal. Having put together such a productive drive, the thought of coming away with no points was probably disturbing to Zimmer. But Zimmer also knew his team could literally not come any closer to retaking the lead than they were at that point. So the first-year head coach called a timeout and decided to go for it. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner dialed up another Asiata run and the Vikings found the end zone to make the score 33-28. With a five-point lead late in the game, Zimmer made the proper call to go for two, and the Vikings converted to take a seven-point lead that they would not relinquish.