Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday’s meeting with the Vikings in Minnesota riding high after an offensive performance for the ages last Thursday against Tampa Bay.
SJ39 and the Atlanta offense continued to roll early in Sunday’s tilt, but eventually a litany of injuries along the offensive line caught up to the Falcons and Minnesota rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took control of the game late to lead the Vikings to a 41-28 victory over Atlanta.
Over the course of the afternoon, the Falcons lost three of the seven offensive linemen that the team dressed for the game to injuries, which forced Atlanta to play tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle at the end of the game.
“I have never, in my six plus seasons of playing, been in this situation where tight ends are in there trying to play offensive tackle,” said quarterback Matt Ryan after the lose. “It’s part of the deal with a 46-man roster, you only have so many guys suited up. I thought our guys battled, I thought Bear Pascoe and Levine Toilolo did a great job of coming in and trying to do the best they could.”
Despite the ailing offensive line, SJ39 made the most of his opportunities and managed to compiled 49 yards on just 13 carries on Sunday, which pushed his season total over 200 yards rushing and kept his season average at four yards per carry.
Though the Falcons talked all week about getting off to a fast start, they were unable to do so on Sunday and instead, after an early three-and-out by Atlanta it was the Vikings who took an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown run by Matt Asiata.
Though their first drive stalled, on their second possession, the Falcons swiftly answered Minnesota’s score with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. The drive was kicked off by No. 39, who received three consecutive carries and totaled 16 yards.
Ryan then went to the air, where he hit his two top targets, Julio Jones and Roddy White, for gains of seven and 20 yards respectively. With the Falcons just outside the red zone, Ryan connected again with White for a 24-yard touchdown strike to knot the game at 7-7.
However, the Atlanta momentum didn’t last long as a great return by Cordarrelle Patterson on the ensuing kickoff set the Vikings up near midfield and Minnesota needed just five offensive plays to take the lead back on another Asiata scoring run.
Back behind the eight ball again, the Falcons’ subsequent drive stalled, but after the defense forced Minnesota’s first three-and out, SJ39 and the offense came out clicking. Over the next five-and-a-half minutes, the Atlanta offense pieced together a 13-play drive during which Ryan connected with six different receivers.
Among those six was SJ, who had a big catch on a 2nd & 20 to set up a more manageable third down conversion. Later No. 39 powered ahead for six yards on a carry in Vikings territory. Atlanta eventually made it to the red zone, where SJax got his second handoff of the drive appeared to score a touchdown on a run from three yards out. However, after an official reviewed the “scoring” play, Steven was ruled to be down at the 1-yard-line.
Undeterred by the ruling, the Falcons tied the game on the next play as Ryan used play action with SJ39 to fool the Minnesota defense, which left fullback Patrick DiMarco wide open in the end zone for a touchdown catch.
Though the Falcons offense appeared to be clicking, it was Minnesota that carried all the momentum into halftime as two quick Vikings drives resulted in 10 unanswered points and staked the home team to a 24-14 halftime lead.
At the break, SJ39 had 36 yards on nine carries, but he would do his biggest damage on Atlanta’ first drive of the second half.
After the Vikings began the second half in the same way they’d ended the first — with a Blair Walsh field goal — the Falcons got the ball back down by 13 points, but quickly cut into that deficit.
Steven ran for four yards on the first play of the drive and tacked on six more and a first down when Ryan hit him with a screen pass over the middle on the very next play.
Ryan followed that short pass with a longer one down the field to Julio Jones for 20 yards, which put Atlanta at midfield. Steven then took the ball from Ryan for the third time on the drive and burst through the middle for 11 yards and another first down to the Minnesota 39.
Three plays later, Ryan hit Devin Hester with a short pass aiming for another first down. But the veteran speedster broke tow tackle and scampered up the right sideline 36 yards to the end zone for a touchdown to pull the Falcons back within six, 27-21.
The Vikings attempted to extend the lead on their next possession, but the drive stalled at midfield as the Atlanta defense forced a punt and the offense took over with a chance to take the lead.
They did just that just four plays into the drive when Antone Smith took a handoff around the right end, turned the corner and found daylight along the sideline as he showed incredible breakaway speed for a 48-yard touchdown run. The subsequent extra point gave Atlanta a 28-27 lead late in the third.
However, Atlanta was unable to tack onto the lead and when Asiata scored his third touchdown on a Vikings 4th & 1 from the goal line, Minnesota pulled ahead for good.
“We were able to fight back and get a one-point lead and then we went back out on defense and were not able to stop them,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They ran the ball, they threw the football and they did basically whatever they wanted to in terms of controlling the line of scrimmage and that is very alarming.”
The Vikings extended the lead to seven with a two-point conversion, then tacked on two more Walsh field goals in the fourth as the Falcons offense struggled to find any sense of rhythm behind their depleted offensive line in the final quarter.
After piling up 338 yards over the first three quarters, the Falcons mated just 32 in the first 14 minutes of the fourth. They moved the ball in the final minute on three Ryan throws, but an Vikings interception with five seconds left sealed the loss.
“Obviously this was not the type of performance that we need to have to win football games,” Smith said. “It was very disturbing in a number of areas in what we were able to get accomplished out there on the football field today.”
Despite the disappointing defeat the Falcons (2-2) remain tied with the Carolina Panthers, who also lost Sunday, atop the NFC South.
Atlanta will look to get back over .500 next Sunday when they head to New York to face the Giants at Metlife Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on FOX.
- What they Said: Falcons vs. Vikings (AtlantaFalcons.com, Sept. 29, 2014)
- Falcons’ offensive line decimated by injuries (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 28, 2014)
- O-Line injuries might have Falcons on a run (ESPN.com, Sept. 28, 2014)
- Smith, Ryan Press Conference (AtlantaFalcons.com, Sept. 28, 2014)
- Vikings hand Falcons 41-28 defeat (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 28, 2014)
- Injuries Plague Falcons in Loss to Vikings (AtlantaFalcons.com, Sept. 28, 2014)