Vikings too quick for Falcons

The Vikings finally got their high-paced offense clicking and zipped past the Falcons.

Updated: October 5, 2003, 10:45 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Apparently still dazed by Minnesota's game-deciding 27-0 run, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves just shook his head when asked about his team's fourth consecutive defeat. He then leaned on the hackneyed crutch of needing to review the game film before answering how the Vikings surged to another victory.

Several hundred yards down a concrete corridor, where the Vikings were celebrating the 39-26 win that nudged their record to 5-0 before their bye week, Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte suggested Reeves would need to click the slow motion option on the tape player if he wants to divine anything resembling a lucid explanation.

Gus Frerotte
Getty ImagesGus Frerotte has thrown 7 TDs and 2 INTs in three games this season.
Watching the Vikings, it seems, is similar to those old Keystone Kops movies, where everyone is moving at hyperspeed and your eyes can't keep pace with the frenetic action. So maybe Reeves can be forgiven for looking like a man whose figurative head spinning made you think of Linda Blair of The Exorcist fame.

"Uptempo, uptempo, uptempo," said Frerotte, who won his second straight start filling in for Daunte Culpepper, who will regain his job when the Vikings resume practice again on Thursday morning. "Our guys believe that, if things bog down, it's not going to stay that way for long. Our whole deal is, we're going to keep attacking every play, OK? And at some point, we know, the other guy's defense is going to snap. I just don't think many defenses can keep up with us over the course of a game."

Certainly the Atlanta defense, which surrendered 125-plus rushing yards for the fifth straight outing and possesses all the resistance of, say, undercooked grits, could not compete. Missing four players in the secondary, the Atlanta back end wasn't much better.

Nonetheless, the Vikings, now 5-0 for the third time in six seasons, seem capable of taking advantage of a defense in a mind-numbing number of ways.

In a league where most teams have embraced the West Coast offense and simply throw the ball sideways all afternoon, Minnesota runs the football strong inside and then guns it vertically up the field for big plays in the passing game. That is precisely the way coach Mike Tice, a former NFL tight end who abhors the possession passing game, desires his offense to work and it's the kind of game offensive coordinator Scott Linehan draws up.

The Vikings are the rare team in that respect -- a refreshing divergence from the prevalent dink-and-dunk trend, one that ramps up the pressure anytime there is opportunity to apply a choke hold.

On Sunday at the Georgia Dome, that opportunity came with Atlanta leading 20-12 in the third quarter.

The Vikings took possession following a flimsy 30-yard punt and a 15-yard interference penalty on the kick coverage and took just four plays to go 45 yards. They tied the game on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss and then a two-point conversion on a very clever inside shovel pass to tailback Onterrio Smith.

At that point, already having mashed hard on the accelerator, Linehan put the pedal to the medal. And the Falcons defense, possessing very little, uh, mettle to begin with, pretty much wilted away.

Minnesota tallied touchdowns on its next two possessions with Moe Williams runs of 11 and five yards. The scoring spree then continued with Minnesota's second safety of the game, as Atlanta left offensive tackle Bob Whitfield was flagged for holding in the end zone, and then concluded with Aaron Elling's 24-yard field goal.

The 27-point outburst sent Falcons fans, including the thousands of invisible patrons who were announced as part of the sellout crowd, to an early exit. And it left players from both sides in awe, given the quick-strike dimension and the sheer carnage it rendered.

Tice suggested the contest was a case of contrasting halves, with Atlanta winning the first 30 minutes and Minnesota dominating the final two quarters. But in truth, it was another example of "haves" and "have-nots." And it wasn't difficult to figure out in which category the Falcons belonged.

"It was like you blinked, and we went from being (ahead) to being down three scores, and it happened before we could react," said Atlanta cornerback Kevin Mathis, beaten on both of Moss' touchdowns. "I mean, they do everything fast, and play at a (torrid) pace. They leave you gasping for air a little bit."

Some of the Atlanta players believed that Minnesota might take the matchup for granted. After all, the Vikings were going into a bye, and about three dozen Minnesota players were not even returning home on the charter flight, instead scattering to short vacations for the three-day hiatus from practice.

Rather than take the game lightly, though, the Vikings took over the contest in the second half.

During the crushing 27-point run, the Vikings gained 198 yards on 22 snaps while holding the Falcons to just 10 yards on 14 plays.

It's like the ticking time bomb. You might not know when that sucker is going to explode but you know it's coming and it is going to be devastating. It's so much fun to play in this offense, and it reminds me of our offense at (the University of) Miami, because we put our foot on your throat and we don't lift it off.
Vikings OT Bryant McKinnie

Under the guidance of coordinator George O'Leary, the former Georgia Tech head coach who certainly enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, the Minnesota defense has become a very opportunistic unit. On Sunday, the Falcons registered 440 yards, but 182 came after Atlanta trailed by 16 points and the Vikings backed off a bit. Minnesota came up with three takeaways, including an interception by free safety Brian Russell -- his fifth straight game with a theft.

In a quiet Atlanta locker room, Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared disillusioned as he headed out for a local synagogue. Not even a year's worth of Yom Kippur services, however, can atone for all of his team's transgressions.

The Falcons made the Minnesota defense look even better than it is, but it was the blitzkrieg Minnesota offense that drew the well deserved commentary after the game.

With Williams and Smith splitting the tailback spot, the Vikings rushed for 166 yards, and averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry. Minnesota came into the contest averaging a gaudy 14.6 yards per catch and topped that Sunday, with a 17.1-yard average.

Even with two drops, Moss still had five catches for 81 yards, and came very close to two more touchdown catches beyond the two he posted. So well designed is the offense that, without starting wide receiver D'Wayne Bates (sprained foot) for a third straight week, rookie Nate Burleson and second-year veteran Kelly Campbell combined to average 24 yards a catch on five grabs.

Said Vikings left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie of his team's attack: "It's like the ticking time bomb. You might not know when that sucker is going to explode but you know it's coming and it is going to be devastating. It's so much fun to play in this offense, and it reminds me of our offense at (the University of) Miami, because we put our foot on your throat and we don't lift it off."

Credit that to Linehan, who had zero NFL experience when Tice lured him away from the University of Louisville program a year ago. It would have been easy for an NFL novice to fall in line with conventional league thinking, to follow the pack mentality and just install the usual low-risk/low-reward blueprint everyone else seems to have these days.

But instead, the Minnesota playbook is like reading a thriller novel, and players enjoy the inventiveness and daring of the Vikings' game plans.

And as Frerotte noted, everything is performed at breakneck speed, and most plays are meant to push the envelope a bit. Even on running plays, Minnesota is back to the huddle quickly, awaiting the next gambit.

"We like to think it's like fast-break basketball transferred to the football field," Linehan said. "Our feeling is that we can do a lot of things. If you want to play back and allow us to run the ball, we'll do that, and you can have a slow death. Come up and challenge, and we'll just go over the top of you, right? And, no, we don't want to slow down."

No less an authority than Moss, who now has six touchdown catches for the season and is on pace for a 1,648-yard season, was left breathless by what transpired Sunday afternoon. Disdained by some purists after his remarks last year in which he suggested he only plays hard when he feels like it, Moss nonetheless likes the oxygen-challenging feel of the way the Vikings go after opponents.

"It's full speed ahead all the time," Moss said. "That's all we know."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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