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Zimmer: 'We played like a smart football team'

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was upbeat on Monday, meeting with reporters a day after his team beat Atlanta 20-10 for its fourth consecutive road victory. The Vikings move to 8-3 and have a one-game lead in the NFC North … and have surpassed their victory total from last season (7-9).

“We played like a smart football team, and were good in crucial situations of the game,” Zimmer said. “There was a point in the game where the time of possession was 31-21 [minutes in the Vikings' favor] and that’s important to me.

“We had 20 pass completions and 39 runs, and that adds up to 59, and that’s big. We had no negative plays — well, an interception, I guess that’s negative.”

Zimmer said starting safety Andrew Sendejo had an MRI on his left knee, but didn’t disclose the result. With both Sendejo and Harrison Smith (who didn’t play Sunday because of a left knee injury) out, he did say activating safety Anthony Harris off the practice squad was a possibility.

The Vikings had two interceptions and forced two fumbles against the Falcons, who have been plagued by turnovers.

“Their whole philosophy is to be about the ball, so I talked to our team about beating them at their own game,” Zimmer said.

Anthony Barr had a big game for the Vikings, forcing both fumbles, the second on a strip-sack, while recovering from a broken hand.

“Anthony basically played two games [vs. Oakland and Green Bay] with one hand,” Zimmer said of his second-year linebacker. “This year … Anthony is a lot more intense on the football field. Which is a good thing.”

Quarterback Teddy  Bridgewater was 20-for-28 for 174 yards and one interception against the Falcons as the Vikings focused on ball-control game with Adrian Peterson, who ran for 158 yards.

“It’s important [in the passing game] to start fast,” Zimmer said. “The more stress we put on opponents … that helps the defense, it helps everything.

“[For Bridgewater], we can continue to do more things him to make him dominant, but there are things he can do to make himself better, and he’ll continue to work on those.”

Vikings safety Antone Exum hopes to be a ballhawk on defense

Antone Exum got his first NFL start on Sunday, and by the second half, he was the last line of defense.  The second-year Vikings safety stepped in for an injured Harrison Smith (knee) alongside Andrew Sendejo … but when Sendejo left because of a knee injury and was replaced by Robert Blanton, well, the Vikings had no more safeties.

“I thought, ‘I don’t care what happens, you’ve got to stay in the game, because we don’t have anyone else that plays the safety position on the sidelines,’” Exum joked on Monday, a day after the Vikings’ 20-10 victory in Atlanta.

Exum had a fumble recovery after teammate Anthony Barr chased down running back Tevin Coleman and forced him to cough up the ball. Exum hopes he can continue to be a ballhawk; as a junior at Virginia Tech, he had five interceptions and two forced fumbles before injuries wiped out most of his senior season.

“Me and the ball have a pretty nice relationship,” he laughed. “I talk to her almost every night. Me and her are in a good place in our relationship.

“I always try to be a guy who is around the ball, always running to the ball. Every coach that I’ve had has taught me that if you run to the ball, good things will happen, so I was just fortunate to be around the ball when Anthony Barr made that play.”

Exum said he had few worries about fitting in on the Vikings defense, which held the Falcons to 210 passing yards.

“Everybody just goes out and tries to play for each other,” he said “If you make a mistake, it’s not just about you making a mistake. You’re thinking, ‘Oh man, I could have left the corner out to dry on that one’ … or, ‘I wasn’t in the right gap, and now I put the linebacker in a hard spot’ … so we have a good camaraderie. We try to hold each other accountable, so when we mess up, we’re not just playing for ourselves, we’ve playing for the guys beside us.”

Exum hopes he’s played his way into more regular time in the defensive backfield.

“I do hope that I showed that I can step in and be a starting caliber safety for this team,” Exum said. “I understand we have two great starting safeties in Harrison Smith and Sendejo, They’ve done a great job all year, that’s a decision the coach will make if they want to get me out on the field if those guys end up coming back.”

Final, 11/29 1 2 3 4 F
Minnesota 8-3 7 0 3 10 20
Atlanta 6-5 0 3 0 7 10

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