The Atlanta Falcons completed a week of new beginnings Sunday by taking a big lead -- and holding it.
After jumping out to a 20-point halftime lead at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Falcons closed out their first victory of the season and trounced the Minnesota Vikings 40-23. The performance made a winner out of interim coach Raheem Morris, who replaced the fired Dan Quinn earlier this week.
The Falcons entered the game without a win despite holding a 20-0 lead in one of their games (Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys) and a 26-10 advantage in the fourth quarter of another (Week 3 against the Chicago Bears).
The firing of Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff initiated an organizational overhaul focused on the long-term future, but Sunday's victory -- albeit against the 1-5 Vikings -- suggested the Falcons might still be competitive in 2020.
Holding a game ball during a post-game meeting with reporters, Morris referenced the team's historic "Dirty Bird" culture in assessing the victory.
"It's less about what it means to me," Morris said. "It's about what it means to us. To reinvigorate the team, the city, and everything about it. A little brotherhood, a little Dirty Bird, in collaboration with a win, sounds good to me."
The Falcons scored 20 points in each half, enough to hold off a late run from the Vikings. Receiver Julio Jones returned to the lineup to spark the offense, hauling in eight receptions for 137 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan, meanwhile, threw a total of four touchdown passes while completing 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards.
"It shows what we're capable of doing," Ryan said. "We just have to find a way to be at that level week in and week out."
More surprisingly, the Falcons defense clobbered the Vikings' offense -- and quarterback Kirk Cousins -- in a stunning reversal of its play for most of this season. Entering the game, the Falcons' defense had allowed the league's highest Total Quarterback Rating to its opponents (81.8). It had managed only two interceptions and given up 15 touchdown passes, and not once had it shut out a team in a half of play.
Sunday, the Falcons shut out the Vikings in the first half in large part because they intercepted Cousins three times. In so doing, the Falcons avoided their first 0-6 start since 1996.