Leading 23-7 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons lined up on offense facing a fourth-and-3. With nobody open, Matt Ryan initially began to scramble in an attempt to pick up those three yards by himself. When a Vikings defender closed the space and Ryan realized he wouldn't make it, he pulled up just short of the line of scrimmage, drifted backwards a hair and lofted a short teardrop into the hands of Julio Jones.
Nothing about how that play developed suggested it should have worked, but, just like nearly everything for the Falcons on Sunday, the result was a major success.
Jones raced 40 yards after Vikings cornerback Jeff Gladney fell to the turf and kept linebacker Eric Kendricks at bay for the improbably touchdown. That one play served as a microcosm for Atlanta's play in its 40-23 win against Minnesota, the first of the season for the Falcons.
The Vikings played tough at times throughout the contest, but right from the jump the Falcons asserted themselves as the better team.
Linebacker Deion Jones kicked things off for Atlanta on the very first play of the game, picking off quarterback Kirk Cousins – one of three on the day for Cousins – and returned it 17 yards to set the Falcons offense up at Minnesota's 29-yard line. After four straight touches by running back Todd Gurley, Ryan connected with Jones for a 20-yard touchdown, the first of two for the duo on Sunday.
From there, Atlanta never looked back.
In all phases, the Falcons looked like a team determined to change their narrative after an 0-5 start to the season. It was the first game for Raheem Morris as interim head coach, and he couldn't have asked for a better showing from his team.
The Falcons gained 462 yards on offense and converted 53 percent of their third-down attempts. Ryan was especially sharp, completing 30 of his 40 passes for 371 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions. After missing last week's game against the Carolina Panthers, Jones made his presence felt Sunday. He led the Falcons with eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Calvin Ridley chipped in with six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, and Gurley added 47 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Atlanta's defense allowed Minnesota to pick up just one first down in the first quarter, while the offense added a field goal to extend its lead to 10-0. The lone blemish for the Falcons in the first quarter was a fumble by running back Brian Hill, but even that led to one of the game's most memorable sequences.
After a 36-yard pass from Cousins to tight end Irv Smith on the final play of the first quarter, the Vikings moved into Falcons territory for the first time. Another deep pass, this time an 18-yarder to rookie Justin Jefferson, moved the Vikings down to the Falcons' 2-yard line and they were poised to cut Atlanta's lead to three. Jefferson was a major bright spot for Minnesota on Sunday, catching nine passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
On four consecutive plays, Minnesota attempted to get into the end zone. And on four consecutive plays, Atlanta denied its opponent. After safety Keanu Neal dropped running back Mike Boone for a 1-yard loss on fourth down, the Falcons regained both possession and momentum.
Atlanta held Minnesota to 365 yards on offense, a large portion of that - 154 yards - coming in the fourth quarter. The Vikings converted just 30 percent of their third-down attempts and had just 32 rushing yards in the contest. The solid play on both sides of the ball allowed the Falcons to dominate time of possession 40:07 to 19:53.
The Falcons defense made another big play on Minnesota's following offensive possession. On a third-and-9, rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell – the team's first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft – dove to the turf in front of Jefferson to make a circus catch and secure the first interception of his NFL career.
Unlike the Vikings, the Falcons made their opponent pay after the turnover. Marching 40 yards, Atlanta moved into the red zone and took a 17-0 lead with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Calvin Ridley.
Providing a feeling of déjà vu, Minnesota's next drive ended in much the same fashion. This time, it was third-year linebacker Foye Oluokun, who has had an excellent start to the 2020 season, that secured the first interception of his career. The Falcons drove the ball down to the Vikings' 2-yard line before opting to kick the field goal with just four seconds remaining in the first half.
Starting with the ball in the second half, the Falcons wasted no time in adding to their 20-0 lead. Kicker Younghoe Koo netted his third field goal of the afternoon, hitting a 47-yarder to give Atlanta a 23-0 lead and continuing the momentum that the Falcons had built in the first half.
Although the Vikings scored their first touchdown of the game in the third quarter, an 11-yard pass from Cousins to Jefferson, the Falcons continued to dictate play in the second half. The 40-yard touchdown by Jones on fourth down seemed to be the backbreaker for Minnesota, which didn't score its second touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
The final nail in the coffin for Minnesota came on a fourth-and-1 just before the two-minute warning. Atlanta ran a play-action in the short-yardage situation, and Minnesota fell for it completely. After pulling the ball back from the fake, Ryan turned and fired a pass to tight end Hayden Hurst, who had no defender in the same area code and ran 35 yards for the Falcons' fourth touchdown of the game.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings with top photos from inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 6.