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Case Keenum, Vikings stay hot in victory over Falcons

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Case Keenum stayed hot, completing 25 of 30 pass attempts in leading the Minnesota Vikings (10-2) to a 14-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) in a tightly contested matchup of NFC playoff contenders. Here's what we learned on Sunday:

1. When you turn on the game film, Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel emphasized to the FOX broadcast team, you would think you're playing against one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Keenum. Bolstered by a chain-moving ground attack and quality pass protection, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Month orchestrated to near perfection a conservative game plan, connecting on all 12 of his second-half pass attempts on the road against a quality opponent. Keenum came through in the clutch, hitting afterthought receivers Laquon Treadwell and Jarius Wright for third-down conversions to set up Kyle Rudolph's 6-yard, go-ahead touchdown, capping off a decisive 15-play, 89-yard drive that stretched from the middle of the third quarter into the final frame. It's long past time to stop thinking of Keenum as a liability bound to be exposed down the stretch. The journeyman quarterback has exhibited masterful pocket movement while avoiding back-breaking mistakes, keeping Minnesota in the hunt for the NFC's top playoff seed.

2. In a battle of the NFL's most effective third-down offense versus the top-ranked third-down defense, the result was lopsided (1 of 10) in favor of Mike Zimmer's troops. The Falcons shot themselves in the foot with penalties all afternoon, continually putting Matt Ryan in third-and-long situations against a hard-charging pass rush that forced quick throws. The Vikings took away Julio Jones and the deep ball, smothering an offense that had been humming to the tune of a 66 percent conversion rate on third downs over the past few weeks. To keep their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl alive, the Falcons will have to run roughshod over the rest of the NFC South, with three games yet to play against the front-running Saints and Panthers.

3. After watching Atlanta's All-Pro receiver explode for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 receptions last week, Zimmer told FOX's broadcast crew, "We are aware of how great Julio Jones is, and I think we'll cover him a little bit differently than Tampa Bay did." Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes joked that he would shadow Jones to the point of aligning at linebacker if Jones were to moonlight in the backfield. With help from Minnesota's safeties, Rhodes limited Jones to a negligible 24 yards on two catches and six targets. Even if Jones had managed to corral two high passes that bounced off his finger tips, he would have been hard-pressed to reach 50 yards. Locking down No. 1 receivers all season, Rhodes is battling the Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey, the Chargers' Casey Hayward and hotshot Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore for a first-team All-Pro spot.

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