Final

Falcons 24

(10-5, 4-4 away)

Vikings 17

(9-6, 5-2 home)

Coverage: FOX

4:15 PM ET, December 21, 2008

Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN 

1 2 3 4 T
ATL 7 10 7 024
MIN 7 0 0 1017

Top Performers

Passing: T. Jackson (MIN) - 233 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: T. Jackson (MIN) - 8 CAR, 82 YDS

Receiving: V. Shiancoe (MIN) - 7 REC, 136 YDS, 2 TD

Vikings' turnovers, poised Ryan help Falcons into playoffs

ESPN.com news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Mike Smith took over as coach of the Atlanta Falcons in January, he inherited a team still smarting from Bobby Petrino's defection and sickened by Michael Vick's incarceration.

Fast Facts

• The Falcons clinched their first playoff spot since 2004 with Sunday's win and Tampa Bay's loss.

• Atlanta has won six of its last eight games.

• The victory improved the Falcons to 10-5 on the year, marking just the fifth time in franchise history Atlanta has achieved a double-digit win season.

-- ESPN research

Less than an hour after watching his team clinch a most unlikely playoff berth, things are coming together much faster than even the white-haired optimist ever could imagine.

Matt Ryan threw for a touchdown and made no big mistakes, Justin Blalock recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score and the Minnesota Vikings committed four turnovers in 24-17 loss on Sunday that clinched a postseason berth for the Falcons.

"We set milestones and we've reached those milestones at a much quicker pace than we had anticipated," Smith said.

In Or Out

It's that time of year when some teams are in the playoffs, some are out, some control their own destinies and some need help. Check out all of the playoff scenarios. Playoff picture

Michael Turner rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons (10-5), who were 4-12 a year ago and ended the season without a head coach or a franchise quarterback.

"This is the season of miracles with Hanukkah and Christmas and this is truly a miracle for us," Falcons owner Arthur Blank told senior ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. "It really is an unbelievable story after what we went through a year ago. I'm happy for our coaches, our players, our staff and, quite honestly, my family ... after all we went through last year. I think it's big for the NFL, too, because the league was dragged through our drama, too."

With Smith calling the shots and Ryan's steady hand, the Falcons have that and so much more now.

"It's huge for us," Blalock said. "To come from the beginning of this year, the negative expectations, the negative talk around our camp, it feels pretty good to be here."

Tarvaris Jackson played very well in his second straight start for the Vikings (9-6), who could have clinched their first division title since 2000. Jackson threw for 233 yards and two scores and rushed for 76 yards, but also had a fumble at the Atlanta 16.

Minnesota fumbled the ball seven times and lost four of them.

The league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, was held to 76 yards. He lost a fumble inside the Atlanta 20, another one on a botched handoff from Jackson and had one more that he recovered on the final drive.

Rookie Records

With Sunday's win over the Vikings, the combo of Mike Smith and Matt Ryan stayed even with the Ravens' John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco for the most wins by a rookie head coach and quarterback since 1966. Here's a look at the list:


Team Wins Coach/QB
2008 Falcons 10 Mike Smith/Matt Ryan
2008 Ravens 10 John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco
1995 Panthers 7 Dom Capers/Kerry Collins
1979 Giants 6 Ray Perkins/Phil Simms

"I'm hurting right now. It's killing me," Peterson said. "We had a chance to win the NFC North, and we did everything to screw it up today. Including me. Turnovers and things like that. We can't have that. So I'm very disappointed right now."

The Vikings' defense couldn't generate any turnovers of their own, missing their big chance when Ryan helicoptered toward the goal line in the third quarter.

The ball popped out and trickled right through safety Darren Sharper's legs. Cornerback Cedric Griffin also had a shot at it, but couldn't secure it.

To no surprise to Falcons fans, it was the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Blalock who pounced on the ball instead, giving Atlanta a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter. It was Blalock who beat three Tampa Bay defenders to a fumble by Ryan at midfield last week that extended a drive in a 13-10 win.

"I don't know, the ball just seems to gravitate towards me," Blalock said with a sheepish chuckle.

Jackson, who connected on 11 straight passes at one point, threw two touchdowns to Visanthe Shiancoe, the last a 17-yarder that pulled the Vikings within a touchdown with 2:44 to play.

The Vikings still have a shot at their first NFC North title, needing a Chicago loss in its last two games or a win over the New York Giants next week in the season finale. The Bears host Green Bay on Monday night, then play at Houston.

Atlanta Falcons Minnesota Vikings

NFL.com Video

Watch highlights from the Atlanta Falcons' 24-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

"We could still get in [Monday] night, depending on what happens with the game," Sharper said. "It's not just about winning to get in, it's winning at the end of the season so you go into the playoffs on a positive note and this was not a positive note for us."

The weekend couldn't have gone better for Atlanta, with Dallas falling to Baltimore at home Saturday night and then Tampa Bay losing to San Diego earlier Sunday.

That paved the way for one of the NFL's most surprising teams to secure a playoff berth at the site of perhaps the franchise's signature victory.

Just less than 10 years ago, the Falcons walked into the thunderous Metrodome as heavy underdogs to Minnesota's offensive machine for the NFC championship game. Those throughout Minnesota still lament Gary Anderson's 38-yard missed field goal in regulation and coach Dennis Green's decision to take a knee at the end of regulation.

Those in Hotlanta surely will never forget Jamal Anderson's "Dirty Bird" and Morten Andersen's 38-yard winning field goal in overtime that propelled the Falcons to their only Super Bowl appearance.

This time around, Turner scored on a 1-yard plunge on the opening drive, Ryan threw an 8-yard shovel pass TD to Jerious Norwood and the Falcons scored 10 points off three Minnesota turnovers in the first half, including a fumbled punt by Bernard Berrian.

"It feels so good," cornerback Chris Houston said. "Just to come from where we came from last year, it's a big step."

Game notes


The Vikings sorely missed NT Pat Williams in the middle. Williams missed the game with a fractured shoulder, ending his consecutive games streak at 101. ... Shiancoe had a career-high 136 yards receiving. ... The Falcons allowed only two sacks to a team that was third in the league coming into the game in that category.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
ATL
MIN
1st Downs1824
Passing 1st downs
711
Rushing 1st downs
911
1st downs from penalties
22
3rd down efficiency
5-126-13
4th down efficiency
0-02-4
Total Plays5870
Total Yards222356
Yards per play3.85.1
Total Drives119
Passing124195
Comp-Att
13-2422-36
Yards per pass
4.85.0
Interceptions thrown
00
Sacks-Yards Lost
2-103-38
Rushing98161
Rushing Attempts
3231
Yards per rush
3.15.2
Red Zone (Made-Att)3-41-3
Penalties6-703-15
Turnovers04
Fumbles lost
04
Interceptions thrown
00
Defensive / Special Teams TDs10
Possession27:0532:55

Passing Leaders

ATLC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Ryan13/241345.6102-10
MINC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Jackson22/362336.5203-38

Rushing Leaders

ATLCARYDSAVGTDLG
Turner19703.7113
Snelling3124.008
MINCARYDSAVGTDLG
Jackson88210.3029
Peterson22763.5017

Receiving Leaders

ATLRECYDSAVGTDLG
Jenkins46115.3022
White3248.0012
MINRECYDSAVGTDLG
Shiancoe713619.4231
Wade5387.6020

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERATLMIN
atlTD8:52Michael Turner 1 Yard Run (Jason Elam Kick is Good)
Drive info: 12 plays, 74 yds, 6:13
70
minTD2:11Visanthe Shiancoe 21 Yard Pass From Tarvaris Jackson (Ryan Longwell Kick is Good)
Drive info: 12 plays, 90 yds, 6:47
77
SECOND QUARTERATLMIN
atlTD14:11Jerious Norwood 8 Yard Pass From Matt Ryan (Jason Elam Kick is Good)
Drive info: 5 plays, 22 yds, 1:20
147
atlFG0:07Jason Elam 22 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 9 plays, 43 yds, 3:52
177
THIRD QUARTERATLMIN
atlTD2:49Justin Blalock Fumble Recovery (Jason Elam Kick is Good)
Drive info: 7 plays, 51 yds, 3:29
247
FOURTH QUARTERATLMIN
minFG11:36Ryan Longwell 29 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 12 plays, 69 yds, 6:06
2410
minTD2:50Visanthe Shiancoe 17 Yard Pass From Tarvaris Jackson (Ryan Longwell Kick is Good)
Drive info: 12 plays, 82 yds, 3:14
2417