Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon played high school football just a 30-minute drive north of the now-demolished Georgia Dome. So on Sunday, when his family and friends help fill the Falcons’ new home across the street, he’s looking to entertain.
“Hopefully I can score a touchdown,” McKinnon said Monday. “I want to do a celebration, we’ll see. I got something in mind.”
McKinnon will have “a lot of family” present when the Vikings wrestle for NFC power with the Falcons, and he could be a big key. Atlanta’s run defense doesn’t surrender many big plays, but it is allowing first downs on 26.5 percent of runs, dead last in the NFL. The Falcons surrender 4.4 yards per carry overall.
McKinnon, leading the Vikings backfield with 651 yards from scrimmage, has some extra motivation.
“I can’t lose, because if I lose I’ll have to hear about it for a whole year,” McKinnon said of his family, which certainly includes Falcons fans. “I’m trying to do everything I can to make a play when I get a chance to. It’ll be fun.”
The Vikings can establish themselves atop the NFC with upcoming road games against playoff-caliber foes in the Falcons (7-4) and Panthers (8-3). McKinnon credited coach Mike Zimmer for the Vikings’ consistency in a seven-game winning streak.
“He does a great job of keeping us focused,” McKinnon said. “Always reiterating to keep that chip on your shoulder, and I think that’s the main reason we’re sitting at 9-2 right now.”
He and Julio, Part II
Xavier Rhodes is preparing to defend Julio Jones for the third time in four years, so no, he wasn’t surprised about Jones’ 12-catch, 253-yard game against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
“You expect that out of a guy like him,” Rhodes said. “It’s the norm for him. It’s the norm for us to know he’s putting up those type of numbers. Last year he put up 300 yards in a game. Yeah, it’s normal.”
This should only be Rhodes vs. Jones Part II, however, since Rhodes didn’t begin following receivers until after the first time he defended Jones in 2014. Two years ago, Rhodes and the Vikings won in Atlanta as the Falcons star was held to five catches for 56 yards.
“Same regimen, same thing,” Rhodes said. “Don’t believe in the hype. Don’t be afraid of the name.”
‘A little happier’
Zimmer and cornerback Terence Newman have a relationship spanning about 15 years and three different teams. The veteran, and team captain chosen by Zimmer, recently said the head coach is “a little happier” on a seven-game winning streak compared to last year’s second-half debacle.
“Only thing is he’s a little happier because we’re winning games,” Newman said. “He’s still grouchy some days, but he’s the same guy. Only difference is probably happier some mornings than others, first because he can see and doesn’t need to have any surgeries. Second, we’re winning some football games, which makes it easier for sure.”
‘Early’ holiday spirit
The holiday spirit came early in the Vikings locker room as safety Andrew Sendejo decorated two nearby empty lockers with everything from faux snow, nutcrackers and a few stockings. A lighted Christmas tree required a power cord that ran to a locker that wasn’t Sendejo’s: “If it’s the price I have to pay for some holiday spirit,” offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said.
“It’s a little early,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “Could’ve waited until December. We’ll take it. Hopefully Zim doesn’t see it; he won’t be happy.”