Upon Further Review: Vikings hit rock bottom after loss to Falcons

The Minnesota Vikings had already hit rock bottom.

And then, with 2:11 to play in the game, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan found tight end Hayden Hurst wide open on fourth-and-1 for a 35-yard touchdown.

Ouch.

Playing against a franchise known for blowing big leads, this time, it was the Vikings who collapsed on all three phases of the game. Minnesota gifted Atlanta — an organization which fired its head coach and general manager just seven days prior — a 40-23 victory, its first win of the season.

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Kirk Cousins threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, and then two more before halftime. At the break, his passer rating stood at 40.5 — eight completions for 102 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. In classic Cousins fashion, he finished the game with a solid box score, throwing for 146 of his 343 yards and two of three scores in the fourth quarter when the game was well out of reach.

Cousins’ poor performance will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so. But the defense wasn’t much better. It allowed Ryan, who hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass in two weeks, to rack up 371 passing yards, four scores and no picks. Atlanta’s offense, which was averaging 24.4 points per game heading into Week 6, went off for 462 yards and 40 points.

To all the #TankForTrevor pundits, even that’s going to be harder than it seems. Minnesota (1-5) is one of nine teams — nearly one-third of the league — to have one win or less, joining Atlanta (1-5), Cincinnati (1-4-1), Houston (1-5), Jacksonville (1-5), the Los Angeles Chargers (1-4), New York Giants (1-5), New York Jets (0-6) and Washington (1-5).

Heading into the bye week, the Vikings have questions to answer — both for the short-term and the long-term.

Here’s a recap of Sunday’s game (STORY | PHOTOS):

 

PLAYER OF THE GAME

If you’re going to name one silver lining of the Vikings’ 2020 season, it’s Justin Jefferson. Minnesota has found its next star receiver. Jefferson hauled in nine of 11 targets for 166 yards and two touchdowns, including a 49-yard connection for six points in the final minute of the game. Entering Monday night, Jefferson is tied for the league lead in catches of 20+ yards (10), ranks third in the NFL with 537 receiving yards and fifth in yards per reception (19.2). The LSU product already has tied Sammy White (1976) and Hassan Jones (1986) for the second-most 100-yard receiving games by a Vikings rookie, with three.

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

Can we name the cardboard cutouts here? No? Well, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo tallied 1.5 sacks, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits. So that’s something.

 

THAT MOMENT

With just over two minutes to play in the third quarter, Atlanta was clinging on to a 23-7 lead. Minnesota was finally showing some life on offense and had just scored on an 11-yard grab by Jefferson on the previous possession. Would this be another vintage Falcons collapse? Not so fast. Interim head coach Raheem Morris opted to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Vikings’ 40-yard line. Ryan rolled to his left, briefly thought about scrambling and then flipped a pass to Julio Jones, who stiff-armed linebacker Eric Wilson for the final 15 yards and took it to the house for a 30-7 lead.

 

THIS NUMBER

3 — The Falcons were a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions on Sunday. Not only did they convert all three attempts, but the Falcons also scored on two of them. Todd Gurley gained three yards on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter. And then, the two touchdowns – Ryan’s aforementioned 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones in the third quarter and Hurst’s 35-yard catch that put the game on ice in the fourth.

 

THEY SAID IT

“The last thing you want to do is go into an off week with a loss and then just the way that we played to go into an off week is difficult.” — wide receiver Adam Thielen

“We weren’t able to run the football today. They laid their ears back and kind of pressured them in different ways and we just didn’t play very well.” — head coach Mike Zimmer

“It was not good enough, especially in the first half. I’ll take the responsibility for it.” – quarterback Kirk Cousins

 

WHAT’S NEXT

The Vikings will rest in Week 7. After the bye, Minnesota will face the rival Green Bay Packers for the second time this season. Green Bay (4-1) suffered its first loss on Sunday to Tampa Bay, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers still look like the team to beat in the division. Minnesota was handed a 43-34 spanking by Green Bay to open the 2020 campaign.