MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Harris highlighted a thorough thrashing by Minnesota’s defense with two interceptions off Matt Ryan and a fumble recovery, Dalvin Cook carried a revived running attack and the Vikings started the season with a 28-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Eric Wilson recovered his own blocked punt at the Atlanta 21-yard line after a three-and-out by the Falcons on the first possession of the game, and the Vikings were well on their way to winning a fourth straight opener. Including the blocked punt, their first in five years, they turned all four Falcons turnovers into touchdowns.
Kirk Cousins connected with Adam Thielen for a 23-yard score to finish the short first drive and crossed the goal line on a 1-yard sneak in the second quarter to cap a 79-yard march to give Minnesota a 21-0 lead. Cousins went 8 for 10 for 98 yards, all career lows for games he started, but there was no need for more.
Cook had 21 rushes for 111 yards and two touchdowns behind the new zone blocking scheme influenced heavily by new offensive adviser Gary Kubiak, the former Houston and Denver head coach. Cousins averaged 38 attempts per game in his first season with the Vikings, and much to head coach Mike Zimmer’s chagrin they finished with the third-fewest rushing yards in the NFL. The new system directed by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and the favorable field position sure shifted the ratio hard the other way.
Ryan played more like a rookie than a 2016 league MVP beginning his 12th NFL season, unable to find his footing all afternoon in the face of a fierce pass rush that racked up four sacks. The worst moment came at the end of Atlanta’s first possession of the second half, a 13-play, 82-yard drive thwarted when his second-and-3 fling into the back of the end zone for backup tight end Luke Stocker was picked off by a leaping Harris.
Ryan finished 33 for 46 for 304 yards and two fourth-quarter scores to Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones to make the fantasy football players happy, but the Falcons left without much to be pleased about. Devonta Freeman had only 19 yards on eight carries, plus the lost fumble. Jones, who signed a $66 million, three-year contract extension on Saturday, was targeted 11 times but managed only 31 yards on six catches.
The Falcons, trying to get a once-potent offense back on track this year after missing the playoffs along with the Vikings in 2018, started rookies Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom on the right side of their offensive line. James Carpenter won the left guard job over Jamon Brown, who signed an $18.75 million, three-year contract in free agency. McGary took turns at right tackle with Ty Sambrailo, with Matt Gono inactive because of a back injury. Lindstrom left the game with a foot injury.
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