For the second consecutive outing, the Falcons built a nice lead only to nearly let it slip away. Instead of routing the Minnesota Vikings, they settled for a 24-14 victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Cornerback Christopher Owens helped save the game with a tackle on Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, who raced 104 yards on a kickoff return before he was pulled down on the Falcons 3 with 6:28 to play. The Vikings came away with no points.
“The most pivotal play in the ballgame, in my opinion,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon moments later had one just as crucial with a stop on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1.
After catching Harvin, Owens sacked Christian Ponder for a 2-yard loss. On second and third downs, the Vikings tried to plow Harvin up the middle; he gained 3 and 1 yards, settingup the fourth-and-goal play
from the 1.
The Vikings might have tipped their hand when running back Toby Gerhart, filling in for the injured Adrian Peterson, was reinserted into the game. An Atlanta linebacker was waiting for him.
“I just shot off the edge and tried to make a play,” Weatherspoon said.
In beating the Vikings (2-9), the Falcons (7-4) won for the fifth time in six games.
The previous week against Tennessee, the Falcons built a 23-3 lead before giving up two late touchdowns and holding on for a 23-17 win. Against the Vikings, the Falcons stormed out to a 17-0 lead.
The Falcons, of course, would prefer to put teams away when they get them reeling.
”We have to work on that,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s tough on Sundays. There are a lot of great players that play across the league. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, but when you get up you definitely want to keep your foot on their throats.”
Behind the hot passing of quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons built that 17-0 lead by halftime. In the half, Ryan completed 14 of 18 passes for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns to help the Falcons take control.
The Atlanta offense relied heavily on the running of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling to march deep into Minnesota territory for its first touchdown. After reaching the 18-yard line, right guard Joe Hawley was called for holding, but the Falcons overcame it.
On second-and-19 from the 27, Harry Douglas caught a pass over the middle and ran through missed tackles by E.J. Henderson and Asher Allen on his way to the end zone.
In the second quarter, Ryan found Roddy White in the back of the end zone with a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant added a 37-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
In the third quarter, Minnesota finally started to move the ball. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder converted on 3 of 3 third-down situations during an 80-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Gerhart.
The Vikings kept a vital fourth-quarter drive alive with two bizarre plays. A rolling punt hit Falcons cornerback Dominique Franks and the Vikings recovered.
The Falcons appeared to have Minnesota stopped again, but Ponder tossed a fourth-down, 39-yard touchdown pass to Harvin to pull the Vikings within 17-14.
After an exchange of punts, the Falcons came up with a nine-play, 73-yard drive; Ryan tossed his third touchdown pass, a 3-yarder, to tight end Michael Palmer for a cushion and to close out the scoring.
“We knew offensively that it was important for us to execute on that drive,” said Ryan, who had his highest passer rating of the season at 128. 2. “I thought we converted on some third downs, which was huge. We were effective throwing the football. We responded the way we needed to in order to win the football game. We did a great job that drive.”
The Vikings still made things interesting. Harvin caught the ensuing kickoff 7 yards deep in the end zone and nearly went the distance, coming up 3 yards short because of Owens.
“I just didn’t give up on the play,” Owens said. “There was no special magic to it. That guy is lightning fast. I was fortunate enough to get him.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog