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In statement win, Vikings show their third-down dominance on both sides

ATLANTA -- The Falcons were beginning to resemble their Super Bowl selves in recent weeks. The offense surged in three straight wins and totaled 95 points against Dallas, Seattle and Tampa Bay.

The catalyst behind that hot streak was their success extending drives. Atlanta had the league's best third-down conversion percentage (48) entering Week 13, which was bolstered in that three-game stretch when Matt Ryan and his receivers converted on a whopping 65.9 percent of their third downs.

That strength was bound to be tested when the Falcons ran into the No. 1 third-down defense on Sunday.

The first third-down situation they faced came with 10:56 in the first quarter at Atlanta's 37 line when Ryan hit Levine Toilolo on third-and-6 for a 16-yard gain.

Atlanta's first third-down conversion would also be its last.

The Falcons went 1-of-10 on third down, failing to convert on their final nine attempts. The Minnesota Vikings, who entered the game allowing a 28.5 percent third-down conversion rate, dropped Atlanta's third-down success to a dismal 27.2 percent.

Ryan was 4-of-8 passing in third-down situations on Sunday, but all four completions were thrown short of the marker, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

"I didn't think we would go 1-of-10, but we always put a big emphasis on third down," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "It is always a big part of the game."

The defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone by pinning Ryan in third-and-long situations, worse than the third-and-sevens the quarterback cited postgame. In fact, Atlanta faced third-and-17, third-and-13, third-and-12, third-and-10 and third-and-8 and failed to convert in those five instances.

The closest Atlanta would get to its second third-down conversion came on the first drive of the third quarter when it was knocking on the door of Minnesota's red zone. Ryan threw a low ball to Mohamed Sanu that was initially ruled an 11-yard gain. Almost instantly, Zimmer's red challenge flag plopped onto the field, and the catch was overturned.

"Yes, it definitely hit the ground," cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "Then again, I need to be in tighter coverage, way tighter coverage. Thank God it hit the ground."

Rhodes' coverage of star wide receiver Julio Jones was monumental in the Vikings third-down success. Jones was held to two catches for 24 yards a week after posting 253 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay.

"I think we obviously have the best corner in the league in Xavier Rhodes," safety Harrison Smith said. "When you are on the same page and doing what the coach is coaching, we communicated and played well."

Along with Philadelphia, Minnesota is one of only two teams to rank among the top five in total offense (5th) and defense (2nd), yet another affirmation of the Vikings' balance. The Vikings were second behind the Falcons entering Week 13 in converting third-down opportunities and look to become the first team since Atlanta in 2005 to finish in the top 2 in third-down defense and offense.

Case Keenum shook off a slow start and was brilliant with his accuracy as the game progressed. Keenum completed his last 15 passes, going 13-of-13 in the second half, including three passes that converted third downs. Minnesota started the game 2-of-6 on third down and finished 6-of-12.

"Yeah, that's our goal every week is to extend drives and convert on third down," Keenum said. "Our defense is really, really good, but they're even better when they're not on the field and we're driving the football. With [Atlanta's] offense being powerful, we need to extend drives and win time of possession."