VIKINGS: Hardly a journeyman: Keenum shines again
ATLANTA (AP) — Maybe it’s time to stop asking about Case Keenum’s starting job with the Minnesota Vikings.
After being picked as the NFC offensive player of the month for November, Keenum kept up his hot play by throwing for two touchdowns in a 14-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, extending Minnesota’s winning streak to eight.
Keenum retained the starting job even after Teddy Bridgewater returned from major knee surgery, though coach Mike Zimmer keeps insisting it’s a week-to-week decision.
For the record, Zimmer confirmed Keenum will start next Sunday when the Vikings (10-2) travel to Carolina (8-4) to wrap up a stretch of three straight road games.
“He is making the plays he needs to make and not trying to overdo things,” the coach said. “He is staying within himself.”
Minnesota is on the verge of clinching the NFC North , leading Detroit and Green Bay by four games with four to play, and gained on Philadelphia in the race for the NFC’s top seed. The Eagles fell to 10-2 with a loss at Seattle on Sunday night.
Keenum completed 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Jerick McKinnon early in the second quarter and a go-ahead, 6-yard scoring toss to Kyle Rudolph on the first play of the fourth quarter .
“Anytime you are successful, I think that breeds confidence,” Keenum said. “I think the guys have confidence in each other, I think the receivers have confidence in me, I have confidence in the receivers, and the offensive line trusts each other. You trust the defense to make a stop every time that they are out there, and I think the defense trusts us to go out there to put drives together when we need to.”
Keenum completed his last 15 passes, going 13 of 13 in the second half. Hardly what anyone expected from a journeyman who made 24 mostly forgettable starts with Houston and the Rams over his first five seasons in the NFL, posting a record of 9-15.
Zimmer, for one, had been surprised by Keenum’s ability to create a little extra time to make the throw. He was sacked twice by the Falcons, but also made some huge throws that helped the Vikings convert 6 of 12 chances on third down.
“I probably didn’t know how good of a movement guy in the pocket that he is,” Zimmer said. “He has done a great job of that all year.”
The Falcons (7-5) were held without a touchdown for the first time since Dec. 13, 2015, when they were blanked 38-0 by Carolina.
“We’re a way better ballclub than nine points,” said Julio Jones, who managed only two catches for 24 yards.
The loss could be a crucial one for Atlanta, which dropped two games behind New Orleans (9-3) in the NFC South. The Saints beat the Panthers 31-21 , bumping Carolina a game off the lead.
The Falcons host the first-place Saints on Thursday night.
Matt Ryan failed to throw for a touchdown, ending a streak of 30 straight games with a touchdown pass — the eighth-longest in NFL history.
The Atlanta quarterback finished 16 of 29 for just 173 yards, his lowest output since he was held to 172 yards by Seattle in a 2013 loss.
Jones was blanketed by the Vikings one week after having 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had the primary coverage responsibility, but Jones usually drew a crowd of defenders.
“We very rarely will say ‘you got him’ and it was just the way we felt we had to play to win this football game,” Zimmer said.
Rhodes said the defense made a statement by shutting down the Falcons.
“When we needed a stop, we stopped them,” he said.
The Falcons are hurting in the secondary as they head into a short week.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant was held out with a concussion and nickel back Brian Poole didn’t suit up because of a back injury.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who had been inactive the past four weeks, made his first career start at cornerback.
He was beaten on the touchdown pass to Rudolph.
Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley had a sack for the third straight game , giving him five for the season.
He matched the third-most sacks by a rookie in franchise history.
After missing two games with a concussion, Devonta Freeman had a promising return.
He ran for 74 yards on 12 carries.
“It felt good,” he said, “to get back out there and feel that contact and just be able to compete with my brothers.”