A game that looked like a runaway victory for the Atlanta Falcons ended up turning into a seemingly tight contest toward the end. The Falcons defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-14, and improved to 7-4 on the season after struggling a bit against the now 2-9 NFC North franchise.
It was like a tale of two halves for Atlanta. After stomping the Vikings in the first half, 17-0, the Falcons looked like a completely different team in the second half. If you told me these two teams switched uniforms at halftime, I might have believed it.
Atlanta was incapable of any positive play in the third quarter, and let the Vikings back into the game with a huge strike from Christian Ponder to Percy Harvin in the fourth quarter.
They managed to hold off Minnesota's resurgence after stopping the Vikings on fourth down at the 1-yard line. It wasn't pretty, but it's a win, and the Falcons will take it.
So, in a rout gone wrong, what did we learn about the Falcons this week?
Defensive players don't always get a lot of recognition, so I want to start by pointing out the spectacular performance by Sean Weatherspoon.
Spoon finished with 10 total tackles, three for a loss, and a sack to go along with those numbers. He is becoming a dominant force in the Falcons' linebacking corps, and makes play after play when they need him.
Guess who made the stop on Toby Gerhart to crush the Vikings hopes of a comeback? It was another Spoonami sighting in the backfield.
He came under heavy fire at the beginning of the 2011 season, but Matt Ryan has settled in nicely in recent weeks. He has put up a passer rating of 100+ in three of the past four weeks, and has thrown nine touchdowns and only two picks since the bye week.
Ryan wasn't impressive against a dismal Minnesota secondary, throwing for 262 yards on 27 of 34 attempts for three scores.
He manages this offense well, especially when they run the no-huddle. It would still be nice to see him connect on the deep balls, but I won't harp on the negatives too much.
He'll take on a much better defense next week against the Houston Texans. Atlanta will need Ryan to bring his A-game, but they might not have too much to worry about since they should be facing T.J. Yates.
The one facet of the Falcons that no one has complained about this season is their run defense. It was stout again in Week 12.
Toby Gerhart isn't the Pro Bowl runner that Adrian Peterson is, but he was still kept in check throughout the game, rushing for 44 yards on 17 touches, an average of a mere 2.6 yards per carry. The Vikings tried to stick with their run game in the end, but the Falcons prevailed once again.
The pass rush was another area under heavy criticism at the start of the season, but Atlanta managed four sacks against Minnesota. Lawrence Sidbury came up with two sacks on the day, which was a nice surprise to see. They pressured Ponder often and made him uncomfortable throughout the game.
What was going on in the secondary when Curtis Lofton ended up covering Percy Harvin one-on-one in the end zone?
The Falcons' secondary made several mistakes in the second half of this game. They didn't give up ridiculous numbers to Ponder, but there were obvious question marks at times.
If you watched the game, you probably wanted to throw something at the television several times when Dominique Franks or Chris Owens was in the picture. They were out of place and extremely frustrating to watch in coverage for the majority of the game.
The only thing that redeemed Owens was his HUGE game-saving tackle on Percy Harvin's potential touchdown on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Owens didn't give up on the play, and I applaud him for that.
Still, these guys need some work. Hopefully Brent Grimes won't be out for long, but if he is, these guys are going to have to step up their play.
I've preached about it before, but it was more apparent than ever this week. The Falcons came out in the second half just looking to cruise to the finish, and found out that NFL teams are going to compete no matter what.
Yes, the Vikings were missing Adrian Peterson, and Christian Ponder is a rookie who was playing on the road. That doesn't mean you should kick back and just take the second half off.
The Falcons dominated the first half, allowing the Vikings just five first downs and scoring 17 points. We all expected to see the same when they returned to action, but it was yet another horrific Falcons' third quarter.
It's understandable that Mike Smith wanted to simply control the ball and get things over with, but Atlanta played with zero urgency until they found themselves ahead by just three points in the fourth quarter.
Consistency is the key for this team. If Atlanta could play the same throughout all four quarters, they wouldn't have to worry about a potential comeback every second half.