Falcons Fall Into Road Trap With 41-28 Loss to Vikings

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Teddy Bridgewater looked impressive in his first career start

The Atlanta Falcons struggles on the road continued with a disappointing 41-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings today. The Falcons defense struggled against a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater making his first NFL start as well as stopping what had been a sluggish Vikings running game until this week. The Falcons offense showed promise and came from behind to take a lead in the third quarter, but stalled once several injuries mounted on their offensive line.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 25 of 41 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns, with two late-game interceptions. On the ground, Antone Smith led the team with 62 yards on four carries and a touchdown. Steven Jackson added 49 yards on 13 carries. Julio Jones led receivers with six catches for 82 yards, while Devin Hester and Roddy White each caught touchdowns. Hester finished with five catches for 70 yards, while White added four catches on 73 yards, but was targeted 14 times. Patrick DiMarco caught Ryan’s other touchdown, his lone reception being a one-yard score. Matt Bryant did not attempt any field goals on the day. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 50 yards with two punts inside the 20-yard line. Hester returned one punt for 16 yards and three kickoffs for 62 yards. The Falcons were able to move the ball for the most part, gaining 411 total yards, including 123 on the ground. They even converted 10 of 15 third downs and scored a touchdown on their lone trip to the red zone. They looked their usual explosive self with six plays for 20 or more yards, including three of their touchdowns. But it wasn’t enough considering their especially poor defensive performance.

The Falcons defense gave up 558 total yards to a Vikings offense that did not feature either running back Adrian Peterson or tight end Kyle Rudolph and was featuring a rookie quarterback in his first start. The Vikings gained 241 yards on the ground, after averaging 56.5 the past two weeks without Peterson. The Vikings converted six of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on four of six red-zone trips. Paul Worrilow led the team with nine tackles. Robert Alford (three tackles); Jonathan Babineaux (three tackles); Kroy Biermann (seven tackles, one tackle for loss); Kemal Ishmael (seven tackles); Tyson Jackson (five tackles, one pass deflection); Dwight Lowery (five tackles, one tackle for loss); Corey Peters (two tackles, one quarterback hit); Prince Shembo (eight tackles); and Desmond Trufant (four tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons got off to a sluggish start offensively on the opening series of the game, going for a three-and-out thanks to pressure getting to Ryan on third down to force him to scramble for a one-yard gain. Bosher’s first punt was a fair catch by Marcus Sherels, starting the Vikings at their 27-yard line.

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Steven Jackson was impressive vs. Vikings

The Vikings were able to convert their first two third downs on the ensuing drive, beginning with a 52-yard gain by Jarius Wright on the first to put the Vikings in the red zone. Teddy Bridgewater found Wright on the next third down, a six-yard gain that put the ball at the six-yard line. Two plays later, Matt Asiata burst up the middle for a three-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the first quarter.

Steven Jackson got dialed up on the ensuing Falcons possession, taking his first two carries for a combined 16 yards. The Falcons converted their first third down of the game when Ryan found Roddy White on a deep cross for a 20-yard gain to put the ball in Vikings territory. A toss to Antone Smith would convert another third down for the Falcons. Two plays later, Ryan tried to dial up Hester in the end zone, but Xavier Rhodes helped defense the pass that was off Hester’s fingertips. But on the very next play, Vikings defenders bit on the fake screen to Jones, which led White to be wide open for an easy 24-yard score to tie the game with four minutes left in the quarter.

Cordarelle Patterson set up the Vikings near midfield with a 49-yard kickoff return. On the third play of the series, Greg Jennings beat Biermann over the middle for a 29-yard gain to get in the red zone. Two plays later, Asiata scored from eight yards out on another run up the middle, giving the Vikings a 14-7 lead after a five-play scoring drive that lasted just over two minutes.

Once again, the Falcons continued to feed Jackson to close out the first quarter with the final three plays of the quarter being three runs for a combined 11 yards. An illegal contact penalty on Rhodes gave the Falcons another third down conversion near midfield. But both Toilolo and White would drop Ryan’s next two passes, leading to another Bosher punt. His punt was pinned down at the eight-yard line by Nate Stupar.

But the Vikings were able to get much of those yards back on first down with a 55-yard run by Jerick McKinnon. But the defense finally stepped up thanks in part to pressure by Osi Umenyiora on third down which forced an incomplete pass. Blair Walsh’s 49-yard field goal try sailed wide right and the Falcons took over at their 39-yard line with 11:22 left in the first half.

On 3rd-and-10, Ryan hit Jones over the middle for a 15-yard gain. Two plays later, Rodgers gained eight yards on a screen pass but a personal foul penalty on Quizz for shoving a Vikings defender after the play negated the gain and backed up the Falcons for a 2nd-and-27. On the ensuing 3rd-and-20, Ryan found room outside the pocket and saw an open Jones downfield for a 21-yard gain to convert another first down. Two plays later, after a seven-yard gain on a screen to Hester, left guard Justin Blalock went down with a back injury and would not return. Gabe Carimi replaced him at left guard and was immediately beat by Sharrif Floyd, but Ryan avoided the pressure and dumped it off to Toilolo for a 12-yard gain to get the ball down to the Vikings three-yard line. Jackson ran up the middle on the next play and tried to reach the ball across for a touchdown, which was initially called but upon review the ball was spotted at the half-yard line when his knee hit the ground prematurely. On a play-action bootleg, Ryan found a wide open DiMarco for a one-yard score, tying the game 14 all with six minutes to go in the second quarter.

The Vikings ground game continued to move the ball, with three consecutive runs by Asiata to start the drive for a combined 20 yards. That moved the ball to midfield and a few plays later, Wright once again broke open to gain 21 yards on a deep cross. That put the ball once more in the red zone, and the Falcons failed to stop the Vikings two plays later when Bridgewater scrambled for a 13-yard score.

With two minutes left in the half, the Falcons got the ball back but suffered a three-and-out after Ryan overthrew Hester on third down. Bosher punted the ball back to the Vikings with 1:25 left on the clock.

McKinnon carried the Vikings offense to start with a trio of runs for a combined 19 yards, followed by a 17-yard reception to get the ball into Falcons territory with 42 seconds left in the first half. Then Wright once again made a play for 25 yards, followed by a Chase Ford reception for 17 yards that put the ball at the Falcons seven-yard line with 27 seconds left on the clock. McKinnon ran up the middle for a seven-yard score but the play was reviewed and he was called down at the half-yard line. Bridgewater scrambled on the next play and threw up a prayer which Ford caught in the back of the end zone, but he was ruled out of bounds. With five seconds left on the clock, the Vikings opted to kick the field goal and Walsh hit from 18 yards to push their lead to 24-14 at halftime.

The Vikings opened the second half with another big kickoff return by Patterson for 37 yards. The Falcons finally got some pressure on Bridgewater with both Jonathan Babineaux and Jonathan Massaquoi providing the heat, but Bridgewater slipped away from their grasps and gained 10 yards to put the ball at the Falcons 32-yard line. But on the ensuing third down, Bridgewater was stopped for no gain and the Vikings settled for another Walsh field goal, this time from 41 yards to push their lead to 27-14 with 10:40 left in the third quarter.

Jackson continued to help the Falcons move the ball, rushing for a four-yard gain to start the Falcons drive and then catching a six-yard pass to give them a new set of downs. Ryan dialed up Jones once more for a 20-yard gain, which was then followed by an 11-yard carry by Jackson to get the ball into Vikings territory. Three plays later, Ryan hit Hester, who then broke a tackle by Captain Munnerlyn and ran 36 yards for the touchdown. That cut the Vikings lead to 27-21 with 7:19 left in the quarter.

The Vikings moved the ball near midfield and the Falcons blitzed on a 3rd-and-10, but once again Bridgewater’s mobility got the better of them. But he could only complete a six-yard pass, but unfortunately the Vikings still managed to convert thanks to a defensive holding call on Umenyiora. But a few plays later, Alford broke up a slant to Patterson, followed by a solid tackle for loss by Lowery on third down to force a Vikings punt.

A holding call on the Vikings gave the Falcons positive field position, starting their drive at their 37-yard line. Ryan overthrew White on a deep pass on second down, but responded on third down to convert on a 15-yard completion to White. Antone Smith then took Ryan’s handoff on a sweep, got to the edge and sped past Vikings defenders for a 48-yard score. The Falcons took their first lead, 28-27, with 1:31 left in the third quarter.

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Joe Hawley is carted off

The Falcons defense responded with a three-and-out, with Corey Peters pressuring Bridgewater on second down to force a throwaway. Alford was then beat on third down by Wright on a double move, but Bridgewater overthrew his wide open receiver, thus preventing another Vikings touchdown. Hester fielded Jeff Locke’s punt on a bounce and returned it 16 yards to set up the Falcons at their 30-yard line with 25 seconds left in the quarter.

Ryan dialed up a deep shot to Jones, but under threw the receiver leading Rhodes to break it up. Joe Hawley was carted off the field with a knee injury on the final play of the third quarter, leaving the Falcons down to four offensive linemen thanks to an earlier injury knocking Lamar Holmes out of the game. When Holmes went down, it prompted Carimi to move to right tackle while Peter Konz was inserted at left guard. With Hawley’s injury, Konz now moved to center, and Carimi went back to left guard. The Falcons opted to deploy Toilolo at right tackle and tried their best to mix in backup tight end Bear Pascoe to help him in his blocking assignments. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Ryan overthrew an open Jones on a crossing pattern, forcing the Falcons to punt. Marcus Sherels had a good rerun for 15 yards to set up the Vikings at their 22-yard line.

On the second play of the Vikings ensuing possession, Greg Jennings beat McClain for an easy completion on a 29-yard gain. Bridgewater then dialed up Patterson on a deep cross, beating Alford for a 22-yard gain. Wright then beat Trufant two plays later for a 15-yard gain, putting the ball at the Falcons eight-yard line. The Falcons managed to stuff Asiata’s next two runs, setting up a 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line. Bridgewater kept the ball on a read option, but was tackled by Biermann at the one-yard line. On the next play, Asiata ran untouched up the middle for a one-yard score to push the Vikings lead to five points. The Vikings opted to go for the two-point conversion, with Rhett Ellison wide open on a rub route for an easy score, pushing Minnesota’s lead to 35-28 with 10:50 left in the game. Bridgewater would injure his ankle on his run and exit the game permanently after the two-point conversion.

Ryan hit Rodgers on a shovel pass to start the Falcons ensuing drive with a 12-yard gain, followed by a 14-yard completion on a deep comeback to White. However, Jackson was stuffed for a two-yard loss on his next run and the Falcons offense began to stumble. A holding call on Jake Matthews backed up the Falcons for a 2nd-and-22 and on the ensuing 3rd-and-12, Ryan was sacked by Anthony Barr on a delayed blitz up the middle. That led to another Bosher punt, which Sherels once again got a good return for 24 yards to set up the Vikings at their 45-yard line.

With backup Christian Ponder in the game at quarterback, the Vikings relied on their running game with four consecutive runs but failed to convert on third down. Walsh came out on the field to attempt a 55-yard field goal, which he nailed, pushing the Vikings lead to 38-28 with 3:38 left in the game.

Offensive pass interference was called on Jones to start the Falcons drive on a poorly executed screen to Hester. Ryan then tried to lead White on a corner route, but the veteran receiver failed to get to the spot, while Harrison Smith was already there to make an easy interception at the Falcons 30-yard line.

The Vikings proceeded to milk the next two minutes off the clock with their running game, as the Falcons burned all three of their remaining timeouts. Ultimately, Walsh kicked a 33-yard field goal to push the Vikings lead to 41-28 with 1:14 left on the clock.

The Falocns were able to move the ball into Vikings territory with their no-huddle offense, but Ryan’s desperation heave to White was picked off by Josh Robinson at the two-yard line with time expiring.

The Falcons will be on the road once again next week to face the New York Giants, who are coming off an impressive 45-14 win over the Washington Redskins last Thursday night. The Falcons have lost their last two road games against the Giants, including a 24-2 playoff loss in January 2012. Prior to a 34-31 overtime loss to the Giants in 2009, the road opponent had won 12 consecutive match ups between the two teams dating back to 1981. Five of those wins went to the Falcons, while seven to the Giants. The Falcons last matchup against the Giants was an impressive 34-0 shutout in the Georgia Dome in 2012. The Giants are 1-1 at home this season at home, while the Falcons are looking for their first road win of the season.

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Aaron Freeman
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