Teddy Bridgewater playing with calm and poise beyond his years. Jerick McKinnon running hard between the tackles. Anthony Barr coming up with a big sack in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota's 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday was a banner day for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and the team's scouting department that drafted all three players last spring.
The rookies shined against the Falcons (2-2), with Bridgewater at the head of the pack after completing 19 of 30 passes for 317 yards in his first career start. McKinnon rushed for 135 yards on 18 carries and Barr had six tackles and a sack that helped the Vikings (2-2) end any hopes the Falcons had of a fourth-quarter comeback.
All three players represent hopes for a promising future for a franchise that is without star running back Adrian Peterson while he addresses child abuse charges. McKinnon and Matt Asiata — 78 yards and three touchdowns — filled in for the former MVP and Bridgewater took over for veteran Matt Cassel, who was lost for the season when he broke his foot last week.
The unflappable first-round draft pick sprained his left ankle late in the game, but that was about the only thing that could sour an otherwise impressive performance.
"I think it sets the bar pretty high," Bridgewater said.
It's hard for the Falcons to sink much lower. They lost three offensive linemen — center Joe Hawley (knee), left guard Justin Blalock (back) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot) to injuries, forcing them to play tight end Levine Toilolo at tackle in the fourth quarter.
"In six-plus seasons of playing, I have never been in that situation where you have tight ends in there trying to play offensive tackle," said quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 25 of 41 passes for 298 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. "It's part of the deal with a 46-man roster. You only have so many guys suited up. I thought our guys battled. I thought Bear Pascoe and Levine Toilolo did a great job of trying to come in and do the best that they could."
Antone Smith's 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave the Falcons a 28-27 lead, but the offense sputtered in the fourth quarter while dealing with so many injuries. The porous Falcons defense gave up 558 yards to the Vikings, including 241 on the ground.
"This team has been through a lot of adversity the last couple of weeks and been down on ourselves," McKinnon said. "We've been working really hard to try to get back on track to make things happen. I think we came out today and showed that."
Here are some things that stood out from the Vikings' victory over the Falcons.
TEDDY'S HEALTH: Bridgewater had X-rays on his ankle at the stadium that showed no structural damage and was scheduled to have an MRI after he left the stadium. He wasn't ready to say if he would be able to play on Thursday night against Green Bay. If he can't go, oft-criticized Christian Ponder would get the start as the only other healthy quarterback on the active roster.
RODDY RETURNS: Falcons WR Roddy White returned after missing last week with an injured hamstring. He had four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, but the chemistry with Ryan appeared to be a little bit off. He was targeted 14 times during the game and dropped at least three passes. "Across the board we had opportunities to make more plays than we did," Ryan said.
RHODES SHINES: Second-year Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes had perhaps his best game as a pro against Atlanta's talented group of receivers. Rhodes had five tackles and a career-high four pass breakups. "I would consider it one of my best games but there is even more to come," Rhodes said. "I am looking forward to getting better and learning from this game in the mistakes that I made and try to get better."
EMERGENCY TACKLE: At 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, Toilolo has the size to play tackle. But he never expected to have to do it in the fourth quarter of an NFL game. "I just tried to do the best I could," Toilolo said. "The guys around me did a great job of making it as easy as it could've been for me."
WRIGHT BREAKS OUT: Vikings WR Jarius Wright had a career day on Sunday, catching eight passes for 132 yards. The shifty Wright excels in the screen game, which made him an ideal part of the game plan in Bridgewater's debut. The Vikings called several of the plays early to give Bridgewater some short, easy passes to complete and get him into a rhythm. "It took me three years to finally get this game," Wright said.
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