Where has this team been?

The Falcons, in the first game of the post-Dan Quinn era, put together a gem of a game as they routed the Minnesota Vikings, 40-23, on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The Falcons built a big lead, but this time they held on to improve to 1-5 on the season. The Vikings dropped to 1-5. In the second game of the season the Falcons blew a 20-0 lead in a 40-39 loss to Dallas and coughed up a 16-point lead in the fourth-quarter against Chicago in Game 3.

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris had several meetings with the team last week and demanded that they play better after Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were fired last Sunday.

“He challenged us to hold everyone accountable,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Made it real clear to us what our responsibility as an offense was, to go score. Find a way to get it in the end zone.”

With star wide receiver Julio Jones back from a hamstring injury, the offense took advantage of a turnover on Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage. With Jones helping the offense, the Falcons converted three interceptions into 17 points as they built a 20-0 halftime lead. They built a 33-7 lead before Minnesota added a couple of garbage-time touchdowns.

Morris was awarded a game ball.

“It’s awesome when we asked those guys to stand up and they did it,” Morris said. "Today, I gave those guys the keys, they took it and ran with it. We were able to get a good win.

The Falcons had possession of the ball for 40:07, the most time of possession by Atlanta in a game since Week 4 of the 2011 season (40:10 vs. Seattle).

“When you have time of possession like we did today, it’s deflating to your opponent,” said Ryan, who snapped out of his slump and tossed four touchdown passes. “Not only to have the time of possession, but to come away with touchdowns the way that we did and score the amount of points we did, shows what we are capable of doing. We just have to find a way to be at that level week in and week out.”

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

The defense, which was giving up 446 yards per game and was ranked 31st of 32 in the league, held the Vikings to 215 total yards midway through the fourth quarter. Two late touchdown drives pushed the total to 365 yards.

Linebacker Deion Jones set the tone with an interception on Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage.

“He ended up throwing it right to me,” Deion Jones said. “It was a great opportunity to come up plus-one for the defense and get the momentum started.”

The Vikings were playing without running back Dalvin Cook, who entered Sunday as the league’s top rusher. The Falcons held them to just 32 yards rushing.

Here are the five things we learned from the win:

1. The return of the mack: With Jones hampered by a hamstring injury for most of the season, the Falcons offense sputtered. He finished with eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

Before Matt Ryan tossed an 20-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones on the first possession, he had not thrown a touchdown pass over the past 11 quarters, the longest drought of his career.

Jones added a 40-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to push him over 100 yards receiving for the 57th time of his career.

Jones has had an up-and-down season. He had nine catches for 157 yards in the season opener against Seattle. He was slowed against Dallas and was used as a decoy. He caught two passes for 24 yards and dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass from wide receiver Russell Gage on a gadget play.

Jones didn’t play against the Chicago Bears and left the game after the first half against Green Bay. He caught four passes for 32 yards against the Packers, but did not play in the second half.

He didn’t play against Carolina in the fifth game of the season.

“Just for us, in house, it was big for us to understand what we have here,” Jones said of maintaining the lead.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) goes high to catch a pass over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler during the second half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

2. Run-and-hit crew. Morris had a meeting with key players on the defense and demanded that they start running and hitting better.

Safety Keanu Neal, linebacker Foye Oluokun and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett took the message to heart and had key hits.

The Falcons had a sack and eight quarterback hits.

On Minnesota’s fourth possession of the game after getting interception and forcing two punts, the Falcons had a goal line stand in which Neal and Jarrett stopped Vikings running back Mike Boone on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

“That’s felt really good, especially when you stop them on the one,” Morris said. “You get the ball back. You’re able to punch it out of there and move it down the field, you take up time of possession. ... That’s called winning football.”

3. Three interceptions. The Falcons entered the game with just two interceptions this season. They had three by halftime.

On Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage, linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass intended for rookie Justin Jefferson and returned it to the Vikings’ 29-yard line.

Cornerback A.J. Terrell jumped another Jefferson route and got the second interception in the second quarter. He made an acrobatic catch against his leg for his first career interception.

“I went in for the catch and the ball didn’t want to hit my hands right,” Terrell said. “My legs were there and I just tried to hold on to it before it hit the ground. It went my way. But the feeling is always great getting a forced turnover. It was great.”

Oluokun made the third interception after defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner tipped a Cousins' pass late with 1:06 to play in the second quarter.

The Falcons turned Deion Jones’ interception into an 11-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones.

After Terrell’s pick, Ryan connected with Calvin Ridley for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 17-0.

Oluokun’s pick was converted into a 21-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo to make it 20-0 at the half.

Koo also made a 50-yard field on the Falcons’ second possession of the game.

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) is brought down with the ball after a turnover against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. It was Oluokun's first interception of his career - and the third by the Falcons in the first half. (Jim Mone/AP)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

4. Return game. Returner Brandon Powell broke loose for a career-high 24-yard return to set the Falcons up at their 45-yard line late in the first quarter.

The ensuing drive stalled when running back Brian Hill fumbled and Minnesota linebacker Eric Wilson recovered. The ball was poked out by Minnesota rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney.

Powell later fumbled on the kickoff return to start the third quarter. Tuioti-Mariner recovered the fumble.

He had two kickoff returns for 47 yards (23.5 avg.) and three punt returns for 36 yards

(12.0 avg.). He recorded a career-long 29-yard kickoff return.

5. Ryan was on target. With the Falcons sticking with the run game, Ryan was able to use play-action.

Ryan completed passes to nine receivers.

Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 136.6.6, his highest of the season. His previous high passer rating was 126.3 in the loss to Dallas.

“First and foremost it comes down to our offensive line playing well," Ryan said. "That was one of the better defenses in the league statistically on third downs coming into this game. They have done a good job of getting after the quarterback. I thought our offensive line stepped up and played really well for us.”

Falcons’ next four games

Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:

Can be found on Google, iTunes and TuneIn

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Have a question? Email me at dledbetter@ajc.com