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Falcons in playoffs with win over Vikings


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Falcons in playoffs with win over Vikings

By D. ORLANDO LEDBETTER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, December 22, 2008

Minneapolis — The Atlanta Falcons, predicted to be NFL doormats and in a rebuilding mode, are headed for the playoffs.

Thanks to a business-like victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Falcons are in the back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season.

The Falcons attacked the No. 1 rushing defense and made good use of four turnovers to craft a 24-17 victory on Sunday at the Metrodome before a sellout crowd of 62,889.

The Falcons took the potentially raucous crowd out of the game by scoring on their opening drive. It was a good omen. Now the Falcons are 7-0 when they score on the opening drive.

Before the Falcons took the field, they knew their position. Dallas had lost on Saturday night, and during the final warm-ups, about 25 minutes before kickoff, news of Tampa Bay’s loss was already making it up and down the sidelines.

Safety Lawyer Milloy and defensive end John Abraham led the team into the locker room, and their spirits were obviously lifted by the news.

All that was left was to take care of the Vikings.

The victory secured at least a wild-card playoff berth. Things could break later Sunday and next week for the Falcons to claim the NFC South title.

The Falcons didn’t take full advantage of three first-half fumbles by the Vikings, but managed a 17-7 halftime lead.

The Falcons opened the game in their no-huddle attack for the first time this season.

The first play of the game was an 11-yard Matt Ryan pass to wide receiver Michael Jenkins before the Falcons turned things over to running back Michael Turner.

Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey knew the Vikings were without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams, so he attacked his replacement Fred Evans. By the time the Falcons drove deep into Minnesota territory, Evans was replaced by Jimmy Kennedy.

Backup running back Jason Snelling kept the opening drive alive with an 8-yard run on third-and-2 from Minnesota’s 34-yard line. Five plays later, Turner rammed into the end zone from 1-yard out to cap a 12-play, 74-yard drive. Jason Elam’s extra point made it 7-0.

The Vikings answered with their own opening touchdown drive.

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe scored on a 21-yard pass play. The point after attempt made it 7-7.

The Falcons were stopped and forced to punt, but Eric Weems forced Minnesota’s Bernard Berrian to fumble and Michael Boley recovered.

The Falcons offense was back in business with a first down at the Vikings’ 22.

Turner softened up the middle of the Vikings defense with a 9-yard gain. Four plays later, Jerious Norwood took a shovel pass from Ryan and scored from 8 yards out. Elam’s extra point made it 14-7 with 14:06 left in the second quarter.

On their ensuing drive, the Vikings were on the move, deep in Falcons’ territory before Erik Coleman put a hit on Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Chris Houston.

The Falcons had a nice drive going until Tyson Clabo got a personal foul and then gave up a sack to defense end Ray Edwards on third down.

The Vikings took back over at their 17 with 6:49 to play in the second quarter. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had a 39-yard scramble to get the Vikings out of a hole, but two plays later Peterson fumbled again and it was recovered by Falcons defensive end Chauncey Davis.

The Falcons drive stalled and Elam added a 22-yard field goal for the halftime margin.

Minnesota fumbled the ball again on it’s opening drive of the second half. Defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead knocked the ball out of Jackson’s hands while on a pass rush. Davis recovered his second fumble of the day, but the offense did not turn the fumble into points.

After an exchange of punts, the Falcons added another touchdown the unconventional way.

Ryan scrambled down to the 1-yard line before fumbling. The ball slipped through the hands of Minnesota safety Darren Sharper. Left guard Justin Blalock, for the second consecutive week, came away with a key fumble down in the pile.

Blalock was credited with a touchdown, the first by a Falcons lineman since Robbie Tobeck scored a touchdown against Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 1996.

Minnesota’s Ryan Longwell added a 29-yard field goal with 11:32 left in the fourth quarter to make it 24-10.

The Vikings finally started to stop the Falcons offense and pulled within 24-17 on Shiancoe’s second touchdown.

The Falcons had a chance to run out the clocked but were forced to punt.

Minnesota mounted a last ditch drive from their 33 with 2:14 left but the Falcons defense held and the playoff berth was earned.

;)

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