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With Starting Safeties Sidelined Exum Jr. and Blanton Step Up

The big news on Saturday was that starting safety Harrison Smith wouldn't be traveling to Atlanta with the team.

Instead, Antone Exum Jr. was the next man up, earning his first career start.

The second-year player out of Virginia Tech was officially informed of Smith's status before boarding the team bus on Saturday.

"I had been working and preparing as the starter all week, but we didn't know what (Harrison Smith) was going to do," Exum said, following the Minnesota Vikings eighth win of the season. "I really hope that he gets better and nothing is wrong with his knee."

That preparation was key for Exum, who started alongside S Andrew Sendejo.

Following a first-quarter hit, Sendejo headed to the locker room with a knee injury and was unable to return to the field. After jogging and testing out his knee on the sideline, Sendejo said that the Vikings doctors determined it was best for him to sit out the rest of the game.

Robert Blanton filled Sendejo's spot.

Without their two starting safeties, the Vikings defense rose to the challenge, limiting wide receiver Julio Jones to just 56 yards on five catches, and forcing three turnovers.

"They did a great job," Sendejo said. "They had a good week of practice all week. The secondary, we roll in and out. Blanton is an experienced guy. Antone was in there from the jump, so he had his feet wet and was ready to go. They did a great job communicating, keeping the top on the defense and playing good ball."

Exum recovered a fumble in the first quarter. With Falcons running back Tevin Coleman breaking lose, Exum retreated along the sideline, buying time for Anthony Barr to chase Coleman down and knock the ball loose.

"I saw him hit the hole and I automatically knew I was the last line of defense," Exum Jr. said. "I just tried to save a touchdown.

"Barr did a wonderful job of hustling to ball and getting that ball out. After he got the ball out, I was just trying to find it."

Head Coach Mike Zimmer didn't give any update on Smith, or Sendejo's status heading into a Week 13 contest against the Seahawks.

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