Vikings

Rock Bottom? Vikings Embarrassed 40-23 By Winless Falcons

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika (USA Today Sports)

Fresh off a coaching change, the Atlanta Falcons looks rejuvenated. The Minnesota Vikings looked disinterested with a bye week on the horizon.

The bottom line: Falcons 40, Vikings 15.

The Falcons pounded the Vikings in all three phases to all but kill Minnesota’s faint hopes of rejoining the playoff race. Matt Ryan threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns, and Julio Jones went off for eight catches, 137 yards and two touchdowns in his return to the lineup. Kirk Cousins may have hit rock bottom in a Vikings jersey, while Mike Zimmer’s defense fizzled after a couple of weeks showing improvement.

HOW’D THE OFFENSE DO?

The Vikings continue to be good for one inexplicable first half performance each season. Sunday’s effort against a winless Falcons team belongs on the Mount Rushmore of U.S. Bank Stadium duds.

Cousins threw three first half interceptions, the Vikings’ run game disappeared, another 4th and 1 decision backfired on Zimmer, an all-rookie cornerback trio got torched and the Vikings faced a 20-0 first-half deficit.

Cousins may have hit an all-time low as a member of the Vikings. He began the game with an interception on the first play from scrimmage and took a nosedive from there. Two of his three first-half interceptions came on unhurried throws to Justin Jefferson, while he had his arm hit on the third. His performance was reminiscent of last year’s pre-bye game against the Broncos, where the Vikings also trailed 20-0 at half, but there was no rousing comeback in store on Sunday.

A team that had seemingly improved in the previous three weeks regressed to how they played in Weeks 1 and 2. What happened to the 1-2 punch of Adam Thielen and Jefferson? Neither got going until it was too little, too late. Blame it on the protection, blame it on Cousins’ skittishness in the pocket, blame it on the run never getting established. This was a clunker.

It’s hard to imagine Dalvin Cook‘s presence would have changed things. Alexander Mattison was bottled up behind the line of scrimmage much of the game, and his backup Mike Boone was stoned at the goal line on a pivotal fourth down attempt in the first half.

Ezra Cleveland‘s first start at right guard was rocky early, with a handful of breakdowns and got harder to evaluate with the game out of hand.

HOW’D THE DEFENSE DO?

One rookie corner? OK. Two rookie corners? That’s dicey. Three rookie corners? Run for cover.

Mike Hughes aggravated his neck injury in the first half, sending fifth-round pick Harrison Hand into his first game action. Couple that with the return of Julio Jones, and it was the perfect circumstance for Matt Ryan to get his mojo back. A quarterback that experienced wasn’t going to be held down forever, and he predictably picked apart Minnesota’s secondary.

Minnesota was the best in football on third downs coming into the game but allowed Atlanta to convert 9 out of 16. Their pass rush against the statuesque Ryan was punchless as Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage combined for 18 receptions, 263 yards.

The final blow came on fourth and 2 in the third quarter. Atlanta led 23-7 and opted to go for it on the Vikings’ 40-yard line. Facing heavy pressure from Eric Kendricks outside the pocket, Ryan threw off-balance to Julio Jones along the sideline, who hauled it in and dragged Eric Wilson into the end zone for an improbable touchdown. Comeback hopes dashed.

X-FACTOR

We’ll use this space to ode Sid Hartman, the indefatigable Star Tribune columnist that passed away during the game, according to his son Chad.

Hartman was patrolling the Vikings locker room as recently as last season and even wrote a reaction to Minnesota’s loss at Seattle last Sunday. At age 100, he possessed more energy and tenacity than reporters a quarter his age.

His name will be attached to the Vikings’ and Twins’ press rooms for years to come, and his statue will continue standing outside Target Center. Rest in peace, Sid.

BIG PICTURE

As for the Vikings, they’ll have to reckon with a 1-5 record at the bye week and wonder what happened to their season. This could be a week of unease for key members of the organization, too. Sunday’s loss is the kind that gets coaches and GMs fired. Will the Wilfs let Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman see this rebuild through? Cousins is also coming off one of his worst performances as a Viking, but there’s no easy move to make at quarterback unless you want a long look at Sean Mannion (doubtful).

The last time a Vikings team came unglued like this in 2013, head coach Leslie Frazier was fired after the year. Will a 1-5 start be enough for ownership to reverse course on Zimmer’s extension and their statements of support for the head coach? It’ll be a fascinating couple of days.

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Photo Credit: Nick Wosika (USA Today Sports)

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