Upon further review: Vikings at Falcons

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson picked up 158 yards on 29 carries Sunday to lead the Vikings past Atlanta.

David Goldman/Associated Press

The Vikings appeared to get knocked back to reality last week, in a humbling, 30-13 home loss to the rival Packers.

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Instead of panicking, though, Mike Zimmer utilized a simple plan of attack in Atlanta on Sunday: run the ball and play asphyxiating defense.

Now, the Vikings are back to breathing easy after a 20-10 defeat of the Falcons.

Minnesota used 191 rushing yards (against the NFL’s top run defense) and solid defense to subdue Atlanta and improve to 8-3 overall. It was also Minnesota’s fourth straight win on the road — something the franchise hadn’t accomplished since a 15-win campaign in 1998.

Thus, for the moment, Minnesota is back in first place atop the NFC North.  

Here’s a recap of Sunday’s visit to Atlanta:

SUNDAY SCHOOL

— Adrian Peterson is now on pace for another monster season. Minnesota’s star rusher rang up 158 yards on 29 carries on Sunday, adding a pair of touchdowns. The 30-year-old running back averaged 5.4 yards per carry en route to his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the 2015 campaign. Peterson now has 1,164 yards this season, meaning another 2,000-yard rushing season isn’t completely out of the question.

— Anthony Barr is a rare talent. When the 23-year-old linebacker is at the top of his game — as he was on Sunday — he makes things look surprisingly easy. The UCLA product had his fingerprints all over this victory, ending with eight total tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack, a tackle for loss and a pass defended. The most amazing element of Barr’s performance was the fact he played with an injured hand.

— Minnesota did a fine job against the NFL’s most prolific receiver. Atlanta star Julio Jones entered the day leading the league in both receptions (89) and receiving yards (1,189). But, with cornerback Xavier Rhodes draped all over him for much of the day, Jones finished with just five catches for 56 yards, on seven targets, Sunday. Most importantly, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder was held out of the end zone.

–Teddy Bridgewater is little more than a game manager these days, but he’s at least utilizing his checkdowns well. Minnesota’s 23-year-old QB had a so-so day in Atlanta: 20 for 28 for 174 yards passing, one interception and a 72.6 rating. The good news: Bridgewater has rediscovered talented tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had a season-high seven receptions on Sunday for 53 yards.  

DULY NOTED

–The Vikings’ backup safeties held up well. Minnesota’s leading tackler, free safety Harrison Smith, sat out Sunday’s game to rest an ailing knee. Then, midway through Sunday’s second half, the team’s fourth-leading tackler, strong safety Andrew Sendejo, was sidelined by a knee ailment. That left backups Antone Exum and Robert Blanton to serve as Minnesota’s last line of defense, but the pair of reserves fared decently. Blanton ended with a team-high nine total tackles on the day, and Exum had three tackles and a fumble recovery.

— After surrendering 10 total QB hits to Green Bay in its previous outing, Minnesota’s offensive line performed better in the Georgia Dome. Against Atlanta, Matt Kalil and company allowed just three QB hits and nary a sack of Bridgewater. With a young, second-year signal-caller, pass protection is paramount, and Minnesota’s O-line held up fairly well in this win.

–These two franchises feature connections galore. First, Minnesota’s Zimmer served as Atlanta’s defensive coordinator in 2007. Also, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was born in Minneapolis. Finally, among other connections of note, Atlanta defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman — who had one tackle on Sunday — is an alum of both Minneapolis’ Washburn High School and the University of Minnesota.

–Atlanta was without its star running back, Davonta Freeman, due to a concussion he sustained last week. Freeman entered the week leading the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. Rookie Tevin Coleman fared decently, finishing with 18 carries for 110 yards, though Coleman’s lost fumble toward the end of a 46-yard, first-quarter run proved key.

— Minnesota won despite committing nine penalties for 53 yards and despite passing for just 74 yards after the first quarter.

WHAT IT MEANT

The Vikings earned a key win with regard to NFC playoff positioning. Sunday’s outcome boosted the 8-3 Vikings’ playoff prospects, leaving them in line to be the conference’s third seed. The Vikings boast a solid, 5-2 conference record this season. It’s starting to look like 10 wins would land Minnesota in the playoffs. . . . And, oh yeah, Sunday’s win also helped Minnesota surpass its victory total from 2014.

PHOTOS: Vikings at Falcons

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Adrian Peterson carried the load for Minnesota in this one. His 29 carries and 158 yards allowed Minnesota to execute Mike Zimmer’s game plan and milk the clock. The Vikings won the time-of-possession battle, 33:28 to 26:32. The 30-year-old running back also moved to 18th on the NFL’s career rushing list, with 11,354 yards, passing O.J. Simpson (11,236), among others, on Sunday. 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

Anthony Barr saved the Vikings in a couple key junctures. First, the second-year linebacker stripped Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman of the ball in the first half, near the end of a 46-yard run that looked like a possible TD in the making. Then, on a fourth-and-1 play with 4:34 remaining in the game, Barr blitzed up the middle and produced a strip sack on Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, producing a back-breaking eight-yard loss. Barr looked like a Pro Bowler on this day.

THAT MOMENT

Shortly after Anthony Barr’s sack on fourth-and-1, Adrian Peterson produced the game’s true knockout blow. With 4:15 remaining Peterson took a pitch and strolled around the left end, then sprinted virtually untouched into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. The score was the 99th of Peterson’s accomplished career.

THIS NUMBER

110. Adrian Peterson’s rushing yardage after halftime on Sunday. After a solid, 48-yard first half, Peterson helped the Vikings play ball control in the final 30 minutes, churning out 17 carries for 110 yards in the second half.

THEY SAID IT

"We took it personal, the loss last week." — Adrian Peterson, via the Associated Press.

"It starts with me. I’ve got to know when to throw the ball away, cut my losses . . ." — Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, via the AP

WHAT’S NEXT

Minnesota hosts Seattle (6-5) next Sunday at noon. It’ll be the Seahawks’ first trip to Minneapolis since 2009.

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