At 8-5, the Falcons remain division contenders, especially with games against the Saints on December 24 and the Panthers in the regular-season finale on December 31 remaining.
"We didn't play well enough to today", head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN radio. The biggest difference in this game was the play of the two offensive lines. "We probably didn't deserve to win".
The first: A 60-yard touchdown rush by Jonathan Stewart, the longest play of the game and Stewart's longest rush of a hard season for the ball carrier.
The Vikings entered the game tied with Philadelphia for the best record in the NFC, but held the tiebreaker for the potential top seed in the NFC.
The Vikings were denied in their first opportunity to win the NFC North in the Queen City.
What may not be mentioned, yet could be just as important, is the Vikings' willingness to part with five people who only a couple of years ago were considered vital to the franchise. "It wasn't a playoff game. We're going to do better".
The Vikings went 12-for-15 in the red zone and limited opponents to 4-for-11 in their four previous games (Washington, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit and Atlanta). They will need a better effort across the board than they had against the Panthers. They fell behind 7-0 on a 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart early in the first quarter. They gave up another first quarter score before making some nice adjustments and forcing a few punts in the second quarter. They finished with 216 yards on the ground, with Newton finishing with 70 himself. But Sunday's loss ended up being a double whammy for Minnesota. The signal-caller was sacked six times and was on the receiving end of a number of other hits by Panther defenders.
The second half began with the Vikings receiver still having trouble producing against the Carolina secondary. While Latavius Murray (nine carries, 14 yards) struggled, Jerick McKinnon (seven carries, 46 yards) found success on most of his attempts. Tight end Kyle Rudolph said that is not the goal. An interception by Daryl Worley, the first by a Carolina cornerback all season, set up Stewart's first touchdown run.
"He did a terrific job, too, by helping me out by relaying what Nick said", Hill said.
Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who left with a foot injury, was wearing a walking boot and using crutches as he exited the locker room. "That's what good teams do".
The defense was aggressive and forcing mistakes against a team and quarterback that hadn't made many the past two months.
That the Vikings offensive line subsequently became a team strength provides the latest example of the mysteriousness of the National Football League, a sport in which everything affects everything. We have to be very alert with everything that they're throwing at us.
Trailing 24-13 midway through the fourth quarter, they came back to tie the score 24-24 on Keenum's 52-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen and 2-point conversion with 5:36 left and a 27-yard field goal by Kai Forbath with 3:07 remaining. "I knew I got in". Newton hummed a back-shoulder pass to Funchess, who fought with Xavier Rhodes until the last moment and made an all-hands catch at the sideline to get to Minnesota's five-yard line. He was coming off three straight 1,000 yard seasons and is by far Newton's favorite target. The Vikings were a step behind all day, which is why they were grasping at facemasks.
Injuries and a concerted effort to keep Newton healthy have led to fewer carries for the dynamic quarterback.
This is all relevant right not because the Vikings play the Panthers in Carolina this week. Three plays later, Jonathan Stewart's diving score put the Panthers back ahead in a game that had to have.