5 EXTRA POINTS
1. An embarrassing first half
A week ago, the Vikings opened the game with a false start at home. Sunday, they managed to lose even more yardage on the first snap when Percy Harvin caught a pass for minus-8 yards. The first half slogged along from there. The offense never found its rhythm and the defense was shoved up and down the field during touchdown drives of nine and 10 plays. Michael Turner gashed the Vikings between the tackles for 34 yards on five carries (6.8 average) on the first scoring drive. Meanwhile, the Vikings' Toby Gerhart was stopped for no gain on four of his eight first-half carries. "That first half was ugly," Gerhart said of the 17-0 deficit. Amen. To the Vikings' credit, the third quarter was their finest third quarter of the season. The offense had a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive while the defense held the Falcons to 28 yards and one first down. "We showed we still have some fight left in us," linebacker E.J. Henderson said.
2. Harvin up the middle twice?
Harvin is immensely talented and powerful beyond his 184 pounds, but it did seem strange to hand him the ball on power-dive plays on consecutive snaps from the 5- and 2-yard lines. If it's strange to any of us, what must a 231-pound running back be thinking from the sideline. "Of course you want the ball," said Gerhart, that 231-pounder. "But Percy is a heck of a player and a playmaker, as you could see today. Everybody is confident that he'll get it done when they hand it off to him." Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave defended sending Harvin up the middle on consecutive plays, saying, "We did it in Charlotte and it resulted in a touchdown. Two plays and he walked in for a touchdown." In that win against Carolina, Harvin ran 6 yards up the middle and followed with a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle.
3. Defense withers again
Lost in the outrage that replays might have shown Harvin scored on third-and-goal from the 2 late in the game is the fact the Vikings never got the ball back anyway. Yes, Harvin's touchdown would have made it a three-point game with about five minutes left. But the Vikings probably would have booted the ensuing kickoff deep. And based on how the Vikings' defense finished the game, it wouldn't have mattered whether Harvin scored. Like it has in other games this season, particularly the first Packers game, the defense couldn't come up with a key stop. The Falcons converted on third-and-8 when both Chad Greenway and Benny Sapp missed a tackle that allowed Jacquizz Rodgers to gain 9 yards. A 7-yard completion to Roddy White on third-and-4 clinched the game.
4. No stopping tight ends
The Vikings' Tampa 2 scheme always struggles covering tight ends over the middle. So it was to be expected that the Vikings would have trouble handling the best tight end in NFL history. Tony Gonzalez caught a season-high nine passes for 69 yards. He had three catches for first down and continually helped put the Falcons in favorable downs and distances. That's the kind of production Musgrave, a former Falcons assistant, is looking for as he tries to replicate the Falcons' offense in Minnesota. "Tony is crafty," Henderson said. "He has a lot of games he can play on you to get open. We knew that coming in because he's one of the greatest that's ever played." Gonzalez stretched his career record for catches by a tight end to 1,128.
5. A glimpse of what could be
The Vikings' 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter is what Musgrave envisions for his offense once he's got the pieces in place. "We made some hellacious plays on that drive," Musgrave said. "The quarterback, the line, the running backs, the receivers, our tight end that we just brought up from the practice squad [Allen Reisner]. Everybody hung in together and worked together so we could stay in the game and afloat and be within threatening distance." Ponder converted three third downs on the drive. He ran for 5 yards on third-and-4 and completed a 5-yard pass to Reisner on third-and-1 and a 20-yard pass to Harvin to the 1-yard line on third-and-10. Gerhart capped the drive with a 1-yard run. He had 15 of his 44 rushing yards and eight of his 19 receiving yards on the drive.