Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings running back Bishop Sankey (42) in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Jason Getz, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA – You know there’s some serious complementary football going on with the Minnesota Vikings when the guy at the next locker can pretty much complete the sentence.
This happened on Sunday, in the aftermath of a 14-9 clamp-down of the Atlanta Falcons, an outcome underscored Julio Jones’ two-catch, 24-yard day.
A week earlier, the wide receiver torched the Buccaneers for 12 catches and 253 yards.
This time, he ran into a coverage dynamo in Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who spent much of the afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium matched in single coverage against Jones while the defensive line pressured Matt Ryan.
“It’s like what Harry always says,” Rhodes explained to USA TODAY Sports, referring to safety Harrison Smith. “They pay me a lot of money to do my job.”
Smith heard this as he finished getting dressed, and added, “A lot.”
Rhodes, who earlier this year signed a six-year, $78 million extension that guarantees him $41 million, went on to praise the trust flowing from coach Mike Zimmer and the contributions from his teammates.
Smith went on to drop a parting message.
“Might not be enough,” he said.
Minnesota (9-2) ran its winning streak to eight games while demonstrating exactly what complementary football can look like on the field.
Atlanta averaged 31.7 points per game during the three-game winning streak it carried into Week 13, resembling the unit that advanced to Super Bowl LI. Yet the Falcons (7-5) wilted against the physicality of the Vikings, failing to score a touchdown and converting only one third down on 10 tries.
“What does that tell you?” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen pondered to USA TODAY Sports. “They’re scared to get hit. The quarterback is scared to get hit, because he knows he’ll be hunted.”
Ryan, who threw 29 passes for a season-low 173 yards, was never sacked. But that’s where the stats can lie. Griffen and Co. made his life miserable with relentless pressure.
One instance in particular captured the game within a game.
On a third-and-7 from the Falcons’ 26-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Jones lined up tight in the slot to Ryan’s…