The Minnesota Vikings were faced with a tough challenge in Week 12: field a serviceable replacement for starting safety Harrison Smith, who had to sit out Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons with a knee injury.
The Vikings finally unleashed Antone Exum Jr., a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, in Smith’s stead. In his first chance to start, Exum brought a playmaking ability that’s usually reserved for special teams to Minnesota’s defense. He finished with three tackles (all solo), as the Vikings put forth a dominant defensive effort in a 20-10 win on Sunday.
One of Exum’s three stops was for a four-yard loss in the backfield. He also had a hand in the game’s most momentous turnover. When linebacker Anthony Barr caught up to Falcons running back Tevin Coleman 45 yards downfield and knocked the ball loose, the Virginia Tech product was there to scoop it up.
As a whole, the Vikings defense stayed strong against against a decent Falcons offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted twice, and wide receiver Julio Jones was limited to five catches for 56 yards. Minnesota did not allow Atlanta into the end zone until the 1:38 mark in the fourth quarter, after the game was already decided.
Exum played a huge role in this defensive clamp-down, as he made the absence of Minnesota’s top defensive back hardly noticeable.