ATLANTA – As the Vikings continued to bludgeon the lifeless Atlanta Falcons with their hard-charging running back and the clock bled down late in the fourth quarter, the roars of “Let’s go Vikings! Let’s go Vikings!” rose up from all those red seats.
Linebacker Anthony Barr, a cyclone in shoulder pads Sunday, had just buried Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on fourth down, and thousands of Atlanta fans sat in silence as the vocal minority rooting for the visitors tried their hardest to lose their voices.
When running back Adrian Peterson broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown that sealed another road victory for the Vikings, many of the Falcons fans on hand started to head toward the Georgia Dome exits, leaving behind as much purple as there was black and red.
As linebacker Chad Greenway stated with a sly grin not long after the Vikings secured their 20-10 victory, “It’s always nice to go on the road and clear out a stadium.”
The Vikings have been doing that a lot lately.
It was the Vikings’ fourth consecutive road victory, their longest streak since 1998. Greenway, a relative graybeard now at age 32, was a freshman in high school then. To put it in perspective another way, the Vikings had only five total road victories in their previous three seasons combined. That includes a 2-6 road record in 2014, Mike Zimmer’s first season as coach.
But after a humbling defeat in San Francisco in the season opener and a confidence-building close loss in Denver in early October, the Vikings have proved that they are tough enough, focused enough and, well, good enough to play their brand of physical football on the road, too.
And that bodes well as they continue to streak toward the playoffs.
“Going on the road, it’s sort of an us-against-the-world mentality. You have to play with a chip on your shoulder. You can’t go in there and expect the other team to roll [the red carpet] out for you,” Greenway said. “You learn that in San Francisco. You learn that in Denver. And then we’re able to kind of get off that schneid and say, ‘Why can’t we?’ ”
A strong running game, suffocating defense and steady play on special teams have been common themes for the Vikings throughout their road winning streak. But the script was a little different in Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and now Atlanta.
Sunday, the biggest difference was an opportunistic Vikings defense that took advantage of the home team’s recent propensity to give away the football like it was some kind of Black Friday special — pick off two passes and we’ll throw in a fumble for free.
After the first of Peterson’s two touchdowns put the Vikings up 7-0 in the first quarter, Falcons rookie running back Tevin Coleman popped a big run down the right sideline. Safety Antone Exum diverted him toward midfield, where Barr hustled from behind the play to punch the ball out of Coleman’s hands. Exum scooped it up.
“Luckily, he started slowing down a little bit and he was kind of carrying the ball a little loose, so I just tried to make a play on the ball,” said Barr, who also had eight tackles, a sack and a key pass-break up in the fourth quarter. “Fortunately, we got it.”
In the second quarter, with the Falcons in Vikings territory and threatening to take the lead, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn pounced on a poorly thrown pass by Ryan.
And on the opening drive of the second half, Atlanta advanced even deeper downfield. But on third down, Ryan rolled to his left and tossed up an ill-advised pass toward his tight end, Jacob Tamme, in the end zone. Cornerback Terence Newman picked it off to preserve a 7-3 lead.
Those three takeaways were as many as the Vikings had in their previous six games combined.
“If you get three turnovers in a game, you should win the game,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “And we did.”
The offense did its part to give the defense breathing room, not that it was needed considering the Falcons didn’t reach the end zone until the final two minutes of the game. Peterson rushed for 158 yards. Tight end Kyle Rudolph had a game-high seven catches. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not sacked.
Grinding out a convincing win against a NFC foe with a winning record was exactly what the first-place Vikings needed after losing to the Green Bay Packers 30-13 a week earlier.
“Yeah, that’s in the trash can. We flushed it,” Munnerlyn said. “We were ready to move on.”
Up next are the two-time reigning NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks. That one will be played in the friendly confines of TCF Bank Stadium.
But as the Vikings have showed the past couple of months, it makes no difference to them where the game is played.
“If you play better than the other team, it doesn’t matter where you play,” Zimmer said, making it sound much easier than it really is.