There were bound to be growing pains with this Falcons offense following the replacement of yet another offensive coordinator. The connection wasn’t there as the Vikings defense kept Atlanta out of the end zone for a 14-9 win at Atlanta Mercedes-Benz stadium.
In July, the question in July about the offense was how long would it take for Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan to get on the same page. After all, it took a full year for the quarterback to get in sync with his previous coordinator. The pair had the offense averaging 416 yards and 33.8 points per game.
The Falcons averaged 21 points per game prior to scoring 23 against the Dallas Cowboys. Over the three-game win streak, Atlanta appeared to have returned to their prolific ways averaging 31.7 points and 377 yards per game.
Against the NFC’s top-ranked defense, Atlanta managed to get within the Vikings 30-yard line four times and came away with 9 points. Minnesota’s defense gave up 275 yards to Atlanta including 74 yards to DeVonta Freeman on 12 carries. What hurt them the most on Sunday was their inability to extend drives. “ I thought third down was a real factor in this game,” said head coach Dan Quinn.
The offense’s inability to convert on third down with 5 minutes to play in the game and trailing by six changed Coach Quinn’s approach. Quinn said he certainly thought about going for it on fourth down. Although there were only four yards to go, he opted to send kicker Matt Bryant in to attempt to close the lead down to a field goal. “I thought we really would get a good kick by Matt [Bryant], get a stop, and go down and win it,” explained Quinn. “I thought we had five minutes, plenty of time-outs to win the game that way.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. Bryant’s kick was long enough but it sailed wide of left upright by less than a foot. Minnesota erased the final 4 minutes and 58 seconds with a 9-play run-heavy drive. Atlanta’s defense had one shot to get off the field after the first 59 seconds. The Falcons called a timeout to evaluate how to play the crucial third-and-4 play. Minnesota had a better play called Case Keenum’s short pass to Adam Thielen turned into a 22 yard gain and another first down at the Falcons 21. The Vikings picked up another first down just before the two-minute warning. Without any timeouts remaining, the Falcons could only watch as the Vikings ran out the clock with three kneel downs.
There is no rest for the weary or time to contemplate the loss with division-leading New Orleans coming to town for a Thursday night match-up. The Saints are in control of the division with two wins over Carolina and one over Tampa Bay. With only four games remaining and two of those against the Saints, Atlanta (7-5) can win the division by winning out.
Notes: Former Georgia Southern and Sprayberry High School star Jerick McKinnon scored the Vikings first touchdown, rushed for 24 yards, and had 28 yards receiving.
All photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports