ATLANTA – During the Vikings' first defensive series against the Falcons, cornerback Terence Newman told teammate Xavier Rhodes to calm down. Rhodes had the most daunting mission of the day: to cover Atlanta receiver Julio Jones, who last week cut the Bucs with 12 pbades for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
In that first series, Matt Ryan, whose streak of 30 straight games with a touchdown pbad ended on Sunday, did not even look like Jones', and the Falcons stalled in a failed third-down attempt, which it resulted in only one field goal.
It was a snapshot of what would come after the Falcons. Rhodes and the Vikings can exhale after allowing a conversion of only a third of the attempts in an offense that was the best in the league on the third attempt of the week, having stopped Jones to only two receptions in six goals, after giving up only three goals. The Vikings' 14-9 victory over the Falcons was their eighth in a row, but given the circumstances – closing a potentially explosive NFC opponent on the road – this could be their most impressive victory of the season so far. Coach Mike Zimmer called it something else: a routine.
"We have a good group of fighters on this team," said Zimmer. "I think they believe now."
Then, he continued: "I think they believe, I think they already believed it, the more you win, you go to someone else's stadium, you win against a good football team, they keep adding to their confidence. we have done nothing, we have not won the division, we still have ways to go, playing in December will be very important. "
Mainly for post-season planting. Minnesota has a four-game lead in the NFC North, and the Lions and Packers, both 6-6 and dealing with injured quarterbacks, are fighting even for sneaking into a wild card spot. The Vikings have bigger problems at stake: can they beat the Eagles to take home advantage in the NFC playoffs? Can Case Keenum continue to act at such a level that there is no controversy among quarterbacks?
There will be no more this week: Zimmer quickly stated that Keenum will start against the Carolina Panthers in week 14, because Keenum and the offense played a virtually error-free game. He completed 25 of 30 pbades for 227 yards and two touchdowns, including the 13 pbades he tried in the second half. The Vikings were 6 of 12 in third-down attempts, and Keenum's best moments came with the game in the balance.
Atlanta led 9-7 when the Vikings started a drive at their own 11-yard line. They held the ball for 8 minutes and 15 seconds and drove 89 yards, with Keenum completing two third-down pbades and then hitting Kyle Rudolph for a 6-yard touchdown. It gave the Vikings the advantage, and after the Falcons did not score on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, Keenum and the Vikings did a five-minute drill to finish the game. In the critical play, Adam Thielen created a space between him and the defender, and Keenum hit him on a 22-yard tilt. The game was over.
None of Keenum's pbades were big, dynamic shots, but they were on target and safe, which is enough for a team with a defense as good as the Vikings, and good enough to keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench, maybe for the rest of the season. Keenum's remarkable career arc, which goes from official to potential Super Bowl quarterback, is reminiscent of Jake Delhomme and Rich Gannon.
The quarterback situation will be one of the most tempting arguments of the last month of the season and beyond, and Keenum's ability has clearly surprised the Vikings. Zimmer said he did not know he was as good as he was, and praised him for "making the moves he needs to do and not trying to exaggerate things."
"It's a combination of things, guys making plays around the field, there were situations where we were in third and forever, trying to recover a piece," Keenum said. "Your defense is very good, you should take pictures when you can, but we also try to take what they give us."
Rhodes was bubbling in the locker room, satisfied with his performance against Jones, who had only 24 yards. While making a tackle and the Falcons did not score, he was happy.
"We are coming together as a team, as a unit," said Rhodes. "We do not have anyone who has egos, they are all based on this team, it is not a person who wins these games, it is not only the defense that wins these games, it is also the offensive, they are special teams".
There does not seem to be a big reason for the Vikings to calm down, after all.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter at @judybattist to