ATLANTA -- For one of the first times this season -- in a 30-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday -- circumstances forced the Minnesota Vikings out of the formula they've used all year. The Vikings gave Adrian Peterson the ball six times in the first quarter, but handed it to him just seven times the rest of the day, as they tried to play from behind without leaning on their best asset.
Against a team he's dominated for most of his career, Peterson wound up with just 45 yards on 13 carries, matching his career-low against the Packers, even though the Vikings were only down 10 points at halftime. It concerned the running back enough that, according to a league source, he met with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer this week to discuss his lack of carries. The Vikings quickly resolved the situation, according to the source, on the way to an important 20-10 victory on Sunday.
The Vikings are back atop the NFC North standings in large part because of what Peterson did on Sunday, carrying 29 times for 158 yards against an Atlanta Falcons team that entered the game as the league's best against the run. The Vikings appeared set on exerting their will against the Falcons from the start of the game, putting two or more tight ends on the field for 10 plays in their first two drives. On a series that set up Blair Walsh's field goal in the third quarter, the Vikings put fullback Zach Line and two tight ends on the field for four straight plays, paving the way for Peterson to gain 27 yards on those plays. They held the ball for at least 6 minutes on their first three scoring drives, taking a combined 21:06 off the clock in those drives.
The Packers' loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night provided a quick salve for the Vikings and gave them an opportunity to surge back in front of the NFC North. They scored a key victory before a home game against the Seattle Seahawks and they turned to their best weapon early and often to make it happen.
What it means: The Vikings are 8-3, once again a game in front of the Packers in the NFC North, and they have what might be their most important win under Zimmer. It's the first time they've beaten a team that still had a winning record after playing the Vikings, and instead of heading into the Seahawks game trying to protect their wild-card standing, the Vikings can set their sights on building their lead in the division.
One reason to get excited: The Vikings' defense turned in a resourceful performance without safety Harrison Smith, opting to send four pass-rushers after Matt Ryan most of the day and roll coverage toward Julio Jones. The Vikings put Xavier Rhodes on Jones for most of the day and bet they could get to Ryan without blitzing him. With safety Antone Exum starting for the first time and Robert Blanton filling in for Andrew Sendejo because of injury, the Vikings held the Falcons to just a field goal before a late drive in the fourth quarter.
One reason to panic: Teddy Bridgewater completed 20 of his 28 passes, but had a bad underthrow on an end zone throw to Kyle Rudolph that was intercepted by Ricardo Allen. Bridgewater could've hit Rudolph if he'd thrown the ball deeper into the end zone, but his pass cost the Vikings a chance to go up 14-0.
What were they thinking? At the end of a 10-play drive in the third quarter, the Vikings took Peterson out of the game like they often do on third-and-5. But instead of throwing in the red zone -- where Bridgewater had thrown an interception earlier in the day -- the Vikings opted to play it safe, gave Matt Asiata the ball behind a two-tight end set. Asiata gained 3 yards, and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal.
Fantasy watch: Rudolph's numbers have been on the rise and he established a season-high with seven catches by the early part of the fourth quarter. Rudolph finished the day with 53 yards on seven catches.
Ouch: Sendejo left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury after a hit on Jacob Tamme, briefly taking the Vikings down to two safeties before he returned. Linebacker Anthony Barr, who forced two fumbles, walked off with attention from the Vikings' training staff after getting injured on the Falcons' touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Peterson climbing the ranks: The running back passed O.J. Simpson, Corey Dillon and John Riggins on the NFL's all-time rushing list, putting himself 18th all time. He also ranks 10th in NFL history with 94 rushing touchdowns and became the sixth running back in NFL history to go over 125 yards 30 times.