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Vikings vs. Falcons: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the most important plays from the 28-12 win over Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings
Eric Wilson paid for his game-changing punt block with a foot to the face.
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

As we discussed in the Stock Market Report on Sunday night, it’s hard to draw up a better start to a season than the one the Vikings enjoyed in their 28-12 Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons. All three phases of the game chipped in for a wire-to-wire comfortable victory against an opponent that many had chosen for contention in the loaded NFC playoff picture. The Vikings jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. On offense, they controlled the game with an effective running attack using their new zone blocking scheme. Winning a game going away while passing the ball only ten times is the stuff of Mike Zimmer fever dreams. On defense, they kept the explosive Falcons attack at bay until garbage time and forced three turnovers. So far, Julio Jones is averaging just over $2 million guaranteed per yard gained since signing his monster contract extension.

Will the Vikings get away with coasting to victories while throwing only ten passes going forward? No. Will they enjoy a two-score lead for the final 85% of the game like they did on Sunday? Of course not. But there were still plenty of reasons to be happy about how they opened the 2019 season, including our first batch of game-changing plays.

Play 1: Falcons ball, 4th & 2 at the Atlanta 33. First quarter, 12:59 remaining. M.Bosher punt is BLOCKED by E.Wilson, Center-J.Harris, RECOVERED by MIN-E.Wilson at ATL 21. E.Wilson to ATL 21 for no gain (S.Neasman).

Forcing a three and out on the opening drive of the season? Good.

Blocking the punt after forcing a three and out on the opening drive of the season, setting up your offense one yard away from the red zone for their first drive of the season? Better.

Eric Wilson exploited a crease in Atlanta’s punt team, came right through the middle unblocked, and stuffed the Matt Bosher punt before it had a chance to leave his foot. In fact, Wilson got there so fast that he took a literal kick to the face for his troubles. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune detailed how the block was the result of perfect preparation by Marwan Maalouf and his special teams charges.

The Vikings were called for holding on their first play from scrimmage. But two plays later, Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 23 yard touchdown and the dream start was complete.

Play 2: Falcons ball, 1st & 10 at the Atlanta 28. First quarter, 10:02 remaining. M.Ryan pass short middle intended for J.Jones INTERCEPTED by A.Harris at ATL 41. A.Harris to ATL 41 for no gain (J.Jones).

I know I already said this regarding Anthony Harris last night, but it bears repeating:


After the obligatory Everson Griffen jump offside on third down to give a free set of downs that happens at least once a week, Harris sprung into action to stop Atlanta’s second drive. After realizing that Austin Hooper was staying in to block Anthony Barr rushing off the edge, Harris drifted back perfectly to snag the Matt Ryan pass intended for Jones. It showed great awareness by Harris, helped by the fact that Barr and Danielle Hunter forced Ryan to throw before stepping into the attempt. Four plays later, the Vikings took a two-score lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 2nd & 10 at the Falcons 19. First quarter, 8:28 remaining. D.Cook left end for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

I think Dalvin Cook might be pretty good in this new Kevin Stefanski/Gary Kubiak offense.

Josh Kline had a nice pull block, Pat Elflein got just enough of De’Vondre Campbell to prevent him from blowing up the play in the backfield, Adam Thielen took care of his man on the left side, and Cook took care of the rest, speeding past Keanu Neal into the end zone. It was a well-designed run that worked to perfection. The Vikings were up 14-0 less than seven minutes into the game.

Play 4: Falcons ball, 1st & 5 at the Minnesota 21. Second quarter, 10:26 remaining. D.Freeman left tackle to MIN 21 for no gain (T.Waynes). FUMBLES (T.Waynes), RECOVERED by MIN-A.Harris at MIN 21. A.Harris to MIN 21 for no gain (D.Freeman).

Early in the second quarter, Atlanta was trying to get back into it, but the Minnesota defense came up big once again.

With the Falcons just outside the red zone trying to make it a one-score game, Trae Waynes forced a Devonta Freeman fumble. After a long conversation by the referees, it was determined that Harris had recovered the ball. Atlanta’s first major threat was averted.

The Falcons kept the ensuing Vikings drive alive with two defensive penalties, including a crucial holding call on Campbell on third down. Cook and Alexander Mattison ripped off back-to-back runs of 18 and 17 yards to get to the Atlanta 1. Two plays later, Kirk Cousins did his best Air Jordan impression to find the end zone and give the Vikings a 21-0 lead late in the first half.

(You can practically hear “I Believe I Can Fly” playing in the background while watching this gif.)

Play 5: Falcons ball, 2nd & goal at the Minnesota 3. Third quarter, 3:14 remaining. T.Sambrailo reported in as eligible. M.Ryan pass short right intended for L.Stocker INTERCEPTED by A.Harris at MIN -9. Touchback.

After the Vikings opened the second half with a drive that stalled near midfield, the Falcons marched 83 yards in 11 plays (assisted by two more Minnesota defensive penalties) and had 1st & goal at the Minnesota 2. After Linval Joseph stuffed an Ito Smith run on first down, Harris sealed the victory with his third takeaway of the game.

Ryan tried to find Luke Stocker in the back corner of the end zone, but Harris cut off the route and picked off the pass. (An alternate theory: Ryan was just trying to throw the ball away after Hunter had him dead to rights on the rollout, but he didn’t throw it far enough.) I think Harris might want to clear off some space on his mantle, because I see a shiny new NFC Defensive Player of the Week award in his future.

The Vikings quickly turned the Falcons’ third turnover into seven points thanks to a long pass to Stefon Diggs and two personal fouls on the Atlanta defense. The rest of the contest was largely academic, and the Vikings coasted home to a 1-0 record to start the season.

It probably won’t be such smooth sailing at Lambeau Field next week, but the Vikings have a chance to gain control of the NFC North early thanks to starting of 2019 on the right foot. Hopefully we’ll be talking about more big Vikings plays in this space next week. As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.


What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Falcons?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Wilson’s punt block
    (911 votes)
  • 8%
    Harris’ first interception
    (126 votes)
  • 4%
    Cook’s first touchdown
    (62 votes)
  • 6%
    Waynes’ forced fumble
    (99 votes)
  • 19%
    Harris’ second interception
    (294 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (14 votes)
1506 votes total Vote Now