ATLANTA -- Where was Bud Grant? Surely The Purple People Eaters were around Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, or did this all take place inside of the reincarnation of old Metropolitan Stadium, but only with a retractable roof and an artificial floor? I mean, Minnesota Vikings folks packed the place, and they were rewarded with a 14-9 victory by their heroes over the Atlanta Falcons after a defensive slugfest.
You know, just like the days of the NFL's Black & Blue Division.
So this was appropriate: Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton really was in the house to witness his team for much of the 1960s and 1970s win its eighth straight game for a 10-2 record. Since he lives in Atlanta these days, he made the easy drive Saturday night over to the team hotel to show the new Vikings a football from 1961 when the franchise was born. He told stories about Grant, Minnesota's legendary coach, but he mostly delivered a history lesson on those Purple People Eaters who made life miserable for opposing offenses as bruising defenders.
"Honestly, I think last night, when Fran Tarkenton came to speak to us, was the first time that all of those things ever crossed my mind," said middle linebacker Anthony Barr, confessing his cluelessness about the Vikings' glory years despite being in his fourth season with the team.
In case you don't know what Barr and other current Vikings didn't know until it rolled from Tarkenton's 77-year-old tongue, I'll tell you: He helped the franchise grab six NFC Central titles in that Black & Blue Division featuring the Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. Those Vikings also made three trips to the Super Bowl with Tarkenton, who finished with nine Pro Bowl trips courtesy of his scrambling legs and potent arm.
"He had a lot of inspirational words, telling us that we're the real deal, and that we play football the right way -- hard, passionate. We play together, and that really resonated with us," Barr said. "He told us about the legacy of the Vikings, explaining to us that the foundation was built on defense and how the offense kind of complemented the defense."
Sounds like the Vikings who crushed the Falcons' rising momentum (three straight victories and four out of five entering the game) by holding what was the NFL's seventh-best team in total offense to three field goals.
It was worse than that for the Falcons, now 7-5 and desperate in search of the playoff spot as a post-Super Bowl team, with the streaking New Orleans Saints coming to town for a Thursday night game. Take, for instance, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was last year's NFL Most Valuable Player, and he has flashed signs in recent weeks of resembling that guy again. His home streak of 200 or more passing yards per game just ended at 32 after he completed 16 of his 29 throws for 173 yards against the Vikings. He also began Sunday's NFL action throwing touchdown passes in more consecutive games (30) than any other active quarterback in the league. No more, and get this: The Falcons were the NFL's best offense on third down, but they went 1-for-10 against the Vikings, the top defense in the league in that category.
Then there was Julio Jones, Atlanta's magnificent wide receiver, who shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. This time, he had two catches for 24 yards. His first came five minutes into the second quarter, and his second didn't happen until nearly six minutes remained in the game.
Blame Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings' shutdown cornerback who tortured Jones with a combination of man-on-man coverages and helpful teammates. Lots and lots of them, just like those for the Purple People Eaters.
"It was a team effort, and it was a point of not allowing him to score," Rhodes said of Jones, a Pro Bowl player in four of his previous six NFL seasons. "That was the goal, and like I said in all my interviews during the week, Julio's going to get his, because they're going to try to feature him any possible way. I wasn't on him all game, but I was on him 90 percent of the game. … We knew this was going to be a different game, and this was a statement game, the way we looked at it, because we knew they have great receivers. They have fast ones. Guys that are physical. Good with their routes. In and out of their breaks. Then they have a quarterback who is pretty accurate with his throws."
The Vikings have one of those, too. He's Case Keenum, their third-string guy who has become a Pro Bowl guy after injuries to Terry Bridgewater and Sam Bradford forced him into the lineup. This was his eight victory in 10 starts in relief of the others, and all he did against the Falcons was complete 25 of his 30 passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns and a 120.4 passer rating. There also were nice moments from Latavius Murray along the way to 76 yards rushing, including a 30-yarder in the second quarter. He flew past and through Falcons defenders to set up Minnesota's first scoring drive. Keenum, Murray and others were enough to show why only five teams rank higher than the Vikings in total offense.
That said, Minnesota's defense did the heavy lifting against the Falcons before its offensive counterparts finished the job.
Just like the old days.