The Atlanta Falcons had a somewhat sloppy performance last week, but still managed to win. The players know they can’t make the same mistakes and still prevail, although they might be able to get away with it against the lowly Minnesota Vikings.
Especially without Adrian Peterson.
The Falcons hope to erase some of last week’s miscues Sunday when they host the struggling Vikings, who will be without their best player.
After a heartbreaking 26-23 overtime home loss to New Orleans on Nov. 13, Atlanta (6-4) bounced back with last Sunday’s 23-17 win over Tennessee to pull within one game of the NFC South-leading Saints. Matt Ryan(notes) passed for 316 yards and Michael Turner(notes) rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Titans, but the defending division champions were hardly spectacular.
On six possessions in the red zone, Atlanta scored two touchdowns, settled for three short Matt Bryant(notes) field goals and Turner lost a fumble. The Falcons are 12th in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency at 54.1 percent.
“When we get the ball in there close, we’ve got to score touchdowns,” said Ryan, who has recorded back-to-back 300-yard passing games for the first time in his career. “That’s something we’ll work on and try to get better at this week.”
The Falcons also allowed the Titans to rally from a 23-3 third-quarter deficit behind rookie quarterback Jake Locker(notes), who threw a pair of touchdown passes after Matt Hasselbeck(notes) was injured.
“Once we get to the playoff-caliber teams, we’ve got to be able to put that ball in the end zone,” said tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes), who became the 13th player in NFL history to reach 13,000 yards receiving. “I think we will. We have the talent and we have the players and we have the execution to do it. But we haven’t been able to do it.”
The Vikings (2-8) are hardly a playoff-caliber team.
Minnesota is trying to avoid its first 2-9 start since its 1961 inaugural season, but that might not be so easy if Peterson can’t play.
Peterson, who is sixth in the league in rushing with 872 yards and an NFL-best 11 rushing touchdowns, suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of last Sunday’s 27-21 loss to Oakland. Coach Leslie Frazier opted not to risk the health of the four-time All-Pro considering the Vikings are essentially out of the playoff picture.
“We don’t want to put him at risk. You know how valuable he is to our team and our franchise,” Frazier said earlier this week.
Gerhart has only carried the ball 24 times - four fewer than wide receiver Percy Harvin(notes) - for 118 yards. It will likely be tough for Gerhart to find much space against the Falcons, who are second in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 85.4 yards. They limited three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson to a season-low 13 yards on 12 attempts last week.
With Peterson sidelined for much of last week’s game, Ponder was given more responsibility. He threw two touchdowns, but also had three costly interceptions for the Vikings, who committed a season-high five turnovers.
“We’re not good enough to overcome some of the mistakes that we’re doing to ourselves,” Frazier said. “So we need to figure that out, or we’ll be doing what we’re doing right now, talking about a loss.”
The Vikings, 3-10 on the road since the start of last season, also need to figure out a way to slow down Turner, who enters the week ranked fifth in the NFL with 888 rushing yards.
The two-time Pro Bowl running back is averaging 105.6 yards over his last five games, while Minnesota is allowing an average of 125.0 rushing yards in its last five.
In the last meeting between these teams in 2008, Turner rushed for 70 yards and a TD on 19 carries in Atlanta’s 24-17 victory. Ryan, who is 23-4 in regular-season games at home, passed for 134 yards and a touchdown.