MINNEAPOLIS — Julio Jones returned from injury to catch two of Matt Ryan’s four touchdown passes as the Atlanta Falcons beat the Minnesota Vikings 40-23 on Sunday for their first victory of the season — one week after firing coach Dan Quinn.
Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions in the first half for the first time in his career, and the Falcons (1-5) turned those picks into 17 points to build a 20-0 lead at the break that proved to be solid enough for even this falter-prone team.
The depleted Vikings (1-5) surrendered 40-plus points for the second time this year after going five straight seasons without any such games. After another injury left them with only rookies available at cornerback for more than half of the game, Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards to rebound from a three-week stretch during which he found the end zone only once.
Jones, who missed all but one half of the previous three games with hamstring trouble, had eight receptions for 137 yards. Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst each chipped in a touchdown catch, Younghoe Koo kicked four field goals and the Falcons rewarded interim coach Raheem Morris with a win in his debut after Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were dismissed less than four years after the infamous blown 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.
The Falcons held a 15-point lead over the Dallas Cowboys and a 16-point advantage on the Chicago Bears earlier this season, both times past the midpoint of the fourth quarter, and lost both.
With a fresh start, the Falcons had little to lose and played like it from the opening kickoff with an obvious energy embodying the upbeat Morris. Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich was promoted to fill Morris’ defensive coordinator role, and the strategy was superb for a group that entered the game in the bottom five in the league in most of the major statistical categories.
Deion Jones picked off Cousins’ dangerous into-a-crowd pass to Justin Jefferson on the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage. A.J. Terrell, who returned from a two-week absence on the COVID-19 reserve list, snagged his first career interception, also intended for Jefferson. Foyesade Oluokun got one too in the Falcons’ first first-half shutout in 12 games since Nov. 17, 2019, against the Carolina Panthers.
Cousins became the first Vikings quarterback with three first-half interceptions since Daunte Culpepper on Dec. 1, 2002, also against the Falcons. With the NFL’s leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, out with a groin injury, the Vikings netted only 32 rushing yards after racking up 201 rushing yards in a 27-26 loss in Seattle the week before. Trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter, Mike Boone was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Jefferson had nine receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Cousins hit Adam Thielen for a fourth-quarter score and finished 24 of 36 for 343 yards in meaningless catch-up mode.