Here are the grades from Atlanta's 40-23 road win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon:
The Falcons only had 99 rushing yards, but they did an admirable job with time of possession, for the most part. Todd Gurley II led the team in rushing with 47 yards and Brian Hill was second with 28. With Matt Ryan having a stellar day through the air, the ground game wasn't utilized as much. The only blemishes were Hill's lost fumble and Gurley getting stopped on third-and-two during a key drive in the third quarter.
Julio Jones looked as healthy as he's been in years, tallying eight receptions for 137 yards and his first two touchdowns of the year. He made strong, quick moves after the catch and ran through defenders. Ryan passed for 371 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, with two of the TDs coming after two Vikings miscues. Four Falcons had more than 50 yards receiving against Minnesota. After Gurley was stopped on third-and-two in the third quarter, Ryan made a great scramble and throw to Jones on fourth down. Jones did the rest, bullying his way to the touchdown and breaking the game open at 30-7.
The Falcons were 9 of 17 on third downs and 3 of 3 on fourth downs, making key passes to extend drives.
The Falcons haven't allowed a rushing touchdown in the last four games and this time, they didn't let a backup running back torch them on the ground. Minnesota running back Alexander Mattison, replacing the injured Dalvin Cook, only rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries and Minnesota as a team was held to 32 total rushing yards.
The Falcons also had another nice goal-line stand that took the air out of Minnesota. The Vikings abandoned the run later in the game as Atlanta's lead grew.
The Atlanta pass defense completely flustered Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, especially in the first half. Cousins threw three interceptions and two of those picks were terrible passes. Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell, an Atlanta native, nabbed the first interception of his career and he led the team with seven total tackles.
The Vikings were 0 for 4 on third downs in the first half and they barely possessed the ball overall. Minnesota rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns, but the majority of his damage was after the outcome was decided. Cousins' big stats (24 of 36, 343 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) were also the result of late-game passing.
Interim head coach Raheem Morris was able to reach the Falcons and they responded to his challenge to play better. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter did a great job getting the receivers, especially Jones and Calvin Ridley, involved in the game. Ridley looked good running the ball on sweeps and the like. With Minnesota only trailing 23-7 in the third quarter and having stopped Gurley on a third-down run, Koetter called for a risky fourth-down pass. Jones and Ryan bailed out their coach with a great touchdown play, regaining the momentum.
Morris did a great job with defensive play calls that bothered Cousins and deflated the Vikings' offense. The coaches couldn't help themselves by calling pass plays late in the game when running the clock was the better option, even if the game was decided.
The Falcons played a near-flawless game on offense and defense Sunday, even getting help from the special teams, as kicker Younghoe Koo went 4 for 4 on field goals. Atlanta possessed the ball for 40 minutes and played smart football all game long. The Falcons played with a spark for Morris, racing to leads of 20-0 at halftime and 30-7 after three quarters. They dominated the Vikings and actually held on to a big lead for a change. If Atlanta keeps playing like this, the next three games before the bye week (Detroit, at Carolina, Denver) are winnable.