The road has not been kind to the Atlanta Falcons.
They figured to get well against the Minnesota Vikings, who were playing a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. But Teddy Bridgewater and rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, of Georgia Southern and Sprayberry High, were just too much for the Falcons.
The Vikings pulled away to defeat the Falcons 41-28 before 52,173 fans at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The loss has the potential to be a stinging one for the Falcons, who lost three starting offensive linemen to injury and finished the game with tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle.
Also, they may just have to junk the revamped defense which gave 558 yards. They have given up 472, 472 and 217 in previous games. They didn’t have a sack for the third time in four games.
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Behind the impressive performance by Bridewater, the Vikings improved to 2-2. While, the Falcons, who were rested after trouncing Tampa Bay 56-14 on Sept. 18, dropped to 2-2.
Bridgewater completed 19 of 30 passes for 317 yards before leaving the game with a left ankle injury. Christian Ponder came on in relief in mop up duty. McKinnon finished with 135 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Behind a composed Bridgewater, the Vikings held a 24-14 lead at halftime.
The rookie from Louisville, who was rarely under pressure, picked the Falcons defense apart. He connected on mis-matches underneath to exploit the Falcons. He found defensive end Kroy Biermann on wide receiver Greg Jennings, a glaring mismatch, early in the game and later found defensive end Stansly Maponga trying to chase wide receiver Jarius Wright on a crossing route.
The Falcons were a sieve against the run as McKinnon had a breakout day against the Falcons. He had 86 of the Vikings 154 yards rushing in the first half.
After the Falcons were held to a three-and-out, Bridgewater went to work on the Vikings opening drive.
On third-and-7 from Minnesota’s 30-yard line , Bridgewater tossed a short pass out to Wright, who sliced through the Falcons defense for a 52-yard gain. He was walked down by cornerback Robert Alford. Five plays later, running back Matt Asiata scored on a 3-yard touchdown.
The opening drive signaled how easy of a day the Vikings would have against the Falcons defense. They amassed 351 yards in the first half, the most in a first half for Vikings since 2004.
Ryan and the offense answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Ryan found Roddy White wide open for a 24-yard score when Minnesota defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson both covered Julio Jones.
On Minnesota’s next possession, Bridgewater found Jennings on a short crossing route that he turned into a 29-yard gain with Biermann being tardy for the party. Two plays later Asiata scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7.
The Falcons were forced to punt and Matt Bosher pinned the Vikings in at their 8-yard line.
They didn’t stay pinned down long.
McKinnon busted up the middle of the Falcons’ rebuild defense for 55 yards. Cornerback Desmond Trufant stopped a touchdown. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, the former Georgia standout, missed a 49-yard field goal.
The Falcons went back on the move on offense. They converted on three of three third-down situations in a 13-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. Ryan tossed 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Patrick DiMarco. Matt Bryant’s kick tied up the game, 14-14.
On the Vikings next drive, Brigdewater went back to that crossing route. This time defensive end Stansly Maponga was chasing Wright, who broke loose for a 21-yard gain. Bridgewater capped the nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with a 13-yard run.
After the Falcons were stopped, Bridgewater moved the Vikings quickly down the field, with the aid of two early timeouts called by the Falcons. The Vikings appeared to score a touchdown on a 7-yard run by McKinnon, but the play was overturned upon replay review.
After a 10 second run-off the clock, the Vikings, with just 12 seconds left, tossed a pass into the end zone that was incomplete. Walsh came on and made an 18-yard field goal for the halftime margin.
On the Vikings first possession of the third quarter, Walsh added a 41-yard field goal to make it 27-14.
The Falcons came back with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Ryan tossed a swing pass to Devin Hester, who was lined up in the backfield, and scored from 36 yards out. He broke a tackle attempt from Munnerlyn at the 32-yard line and then raced up the right sidelines for the score.
The defense forced their first punt of the game with under 2:54 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons came back to take their first lead of the game when speedy back Antone Smith broke loose on a 48-yard dash around the right end. Bryant’s kick gave the Falcons their first lead of the game, 28-27.
After an exchange of punts, Bridgewater led the Vikings back down for a score. The Vikings went for it on a fourth-and-one with more than 10 minutes left in the game. Asiata scored on his third touchdown of the game and the Vikings converted on a two-point conversion.
After the Falcons couldn’t move the ball behind their revamped offensive line, Walsh added a 55-yard field goal with 3:38 left.
The Falcons are 0-2 on the road this season.
For the next two months the Falcons will play just one game at the Georgia Dome and all of their games away from home will be outdoors. Those could be challenging circumstances for a team with a recent history of losing in the elements.
The Falcons haven’t won a game outdoors since triumphing at Tampa Bay on Nov. 25, 2012. Their only road victory in 2013 came against the Bills in Toronto with the roof closed at the Rogers Centre.
The Falcons lost 24-10 at the Bengals on Sept. 18 in their only road game this season. The Falcons will play one game at the Georgia Dome from now until Nov. 23, when they play the Chicago Bears on Oct. 12 at the Georgia Dome, which has been moved to a 4:25 p.m. start.
The Falcons play at the New York Giants before the Bears game. Then they play the Lions in London on Oct. 26 (Wembley Stadium has a partially-closed, retractable roof). A bye week is followed by games at the Buccaneers and Carolina before the Falcons finally ply a home game against the Browns on Nov. 23.