Falcons sack Vikings

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Sidbury sacks Ponder

The Falcons overcame a late push by the Minnesota Vikings to win 24-14, to move their record to 7-4. The Falcons got out to a 17-0 lead at the half, but allowed the Vikings to score 14 points before they could get back on the board to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.

Matt Ryan completed 27 of 34 passes for 262 yards with 3 touchdowns. Michael Turner led the team on the ground with 60 yards on 19 carries (3.2 avg). Roddy White led receivers with 10 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez (9 catches, 69 yards), Harry Douglas (2 catches, 45 yards, 1 touchdown), and Michael Palmer (2 catches, 8 yards, 1 touchdown) also contributed in the air. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 37 yards.  Matt Bosher averaged 50.4 yards on 5 punts with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems averaged 13.5 yards on 4 punt returns, including a 42-yarder, 26 yards on a pair of kickoff returns. The Falcons were able to convert on half of their 14 third down attempts and also scored 3 touchdowns on 4 redzone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons dominated the game in the first half, holding the Vikings to 97 total yards. Sean Weatherspoon led defenders with 10 tackles, and also had a sack and 3 tackles for loss. Curtis Lofton (9 tackles, 1 pass defended), Stephen Nicholas (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defended), Chris Owens (4 tackles, 1 sack), Corey Peters (4 tackles), James Sanders (8 tackles), and Lawrence Sidbury (2 tackles, 2 sacks) all had noteworthy games.

The Falcons first series started with a three-and-out, but the defense was able to force the Vikings to punt after a three-and-out of their own. The Falcons responded with a long 80-yard drive mostly on the ground. Michael Turner rushed for 34 yards on 5 carries on the drive, that ultimately culminated with Matt Ryan hitting Harry Douglas over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown pass. The defense was able to force another punt after a six-play drive. The Falcons were able to move the ball on their next drive from their own 8-yard line, but stalled at midfield when Ryan was sacked for a loss on a 3rd & 10, forcing a second Bosher punt. The Vikings offense would again stall, punting after five plays.  The Falcons would again find some success on the ground with Turner, Snelling, and Rodgers all getting on the action. But the Falcons would be able to move the ball into the redzone off Ryan’s passing, as an 18-yard pass on third down set up an 18-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez that put the Falcons at the Vikings 6-yard line. Ryan hit White in the back of the endzone on the next play for the score to take a 14-0 lead. The Falcons would force another Vikings three-and-out and Weems returned the punt 42 yards to set up the Falcons at the Vikings 36-yard line to start the drive. But Ryan would be sacked three plays later which set up a 2nd & 18. He would complete a 5-yard pass to Roddy White to keep the team in field goal range, and Bryant hit on his 37-yard attempt with 42 seconds left in the half.

The second half began with both the Falcons and Vikings exchanging a pair of three-and-outs. The Vikings would then get the ball back and be able to move the ball against the Falcons, on a drive that nearly lasted 8 minutes and went 14 plays for 80 yards. It was capped by a one-yard scoring run by Toby Gerhart. The Falcons failed to respond, punting after five plays to close out the third quarter. The defense responded by forcing another three-and-out, but the subsequent punt touched Dominique Franks and the Vikings were able to recover at the Falcon 36-yard line. Four plays later, Ponder hit Percy Harvin deep for a 39-yard touchdown strike to cut the Falcons lead to 3 points with 13 minutes left in the game. The two teams swapped three-and-outs before the Falcons were able to move the ball. Ryan hit White on a 26-yard pass to get the ball in Viking territory. Then found White again three plays later on third down for a 23-yard completion. Then three plays later on third and goal, he hit an open Michael Palmer for a touchdown to take the lead to 10 points with six and a half minutes to go in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Percy Harvin broke lose on a 104-yard return, but Chris Owens hustled downfield and stopped him at the three-yard line. The defense made a strong goalline stand, with Sean Weatherspoon stuffing Toby Gerhart for a 2-yard loss on a 4th & goal from the 1-yard line. With four minutes remaining, Turner and the Falcons were then able to kill the rest of the clock.

The Falcons are now 7-4 and could push for the NFC South crown if they can get some help from the Saints in the form of some upcoming losses. Next week the Falcons will face the Houston Texans (8-3) on the road. The Falcons and Texans have only met twice prior, with their recent 2007 meeting resulting in a Falcons win 26-16. The Falcons lost their lone trip to Houston in a 2003 clash by a score of 17-13. The Falcons have won their last 5 games against AFC opponents.

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Aaron Freeman
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