ATLANTA -- The Minnesota Vikings had a look of comfort here on Sunday in the Georgia Dome that colored the place purple more than red. The Vikings strutted here like they owned it in their 20-10 win. It is becoming a habit, because this was their fourth straight road victory.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knew the place -- he was the Falcons defensive coordinator in 2007 under then head coach Bobby Petrino. Vikings receivers coach George Stewart was familiar -- he coached Falcons receivers from 2003 to 2006, still owns a home in Atlanta and spends much of his offseason here.
It was Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, however, who stormed the fridge, ruffled the beds, littered the lawn and propped up his feet as if he were king of this dome.
Barr -- a second-year, 6'5, 255-pound player from UCLA -- made eight tackles, earned a sack, made one tackle for a loss, defended a pass and forced two fumbles in Derrick Thomas-like, Junior Seau-fashioned, Ray Lewis-type play. Those are all Hall of Fame linebackers and Barr had a Hall of Fame-like game. He literally traumatized the Falcons.
SB Nation presents: Anthony Barr's hustle to create a turnover
Barr wears No. 55. By the time the game was over, the Falcons must have blurrily thought his number was 555555 and that there was three of him. He turned an early, 46-yard Falcons reception into a turnover by hustling downfield and jarring the ball loose. He produced a late, game-swinging sack on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 40. In between, he was pure mayhem.
He played his UCLA home games in the Rose Bowl.
"It kind of felt like this was the Rose Bowl indoors," Barr said, flashing a winning grin, fully aware of the game he had just completed and possibly career-jolting stature he had just reached. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Some scouts thought he was not tough enough, not physical enough and that all he liked to do was rush the passer. They were wrong. The Vikings were right.
"This game was sort of a homecoming for he me," Barr said. "My old coach from UCLA, Coach (Jeff) Ulbrich, coaches linebacker for the Falcons. He taught me everything. He instilled my mindset. I saw him before the game and we chopped it up. But in the game I wanted to show him just how much he taught me. I wanted him to see my progress. I felt comfortable. I felt at home."
* * *
It was an old school beatdown in every way that thrilled Vikings owner Mark Wilf as he exited the locker room beaming, and it reaffirmed what the Vikings are becoming en route to an 8-3 record and first place in the NFC North.
"A team of will and determination," said veteran cornerback Terence Newman, who intercepted a Matt Ryan pass in the end zone to start the second half with the Vikings ahead only 7-3. "Just turn on the tape and see us fly."
Or watch in person how they rebounded from a loss to Green Bay with this effort and their message is clear.
"We play hard," running back Adrian Peterson said. "We aren't trying to get too comfortable."
Peterson rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard, fourth-quarter sprint around left end against the Falcons No.-1 ranked rush defense to prove it.
"You play better than the other team, it doesn't matter where you play," Zimmer said. He was talking about his team's road success. He knows this team is on to something there, because the Vikings were 2-6 in road games in his first Vikings season a year ago and the franchise had not won four consecutive road games in 17 years. He knows a battle-tested, successful road team is a dangerous playoff team.
The Vikings have a formula for winning games. They look for their defense to pound. They look for their offense to pound with Peterson. They look for their quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, to open things early and then manage things late.
Bridgewater was 8-for-10 passing for 100 yards and a 108.3 passer rating in the first quarter. He finished 20-for-28 for 174 yards and a 72.6 passer rating. He does just what the Vikings want, zing it, cool it -- and just be ready to zing it again.
It is a tough demand for a second-year NFL quarterback who no doubt would like to zing it more steadily. But how can you argue with 8-3 and that defense and Peterson and first place?
The question is if the Vikings are setting themselves up for playoff failure, if when they are facing the NFC's absolute best, Bridgewater cannot easily push and pull.
"Well, we do have a formula for winning now," Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I have done this before. He can do what we might ask of him in the fourth quarter. He is a natural quarterback, a natural passer. Everything he does is just a football player at quarterback working with ease. He threw the ball in practice last week better than in any practice I have ever seen. He is a joy to work with. I have every confidence in him."
Remember, Turner coached Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.
"We have a game plan and we stick to it," Bridgewater said. "We get a lead and you're going to see a lot of our running back. He is not ordinary."
Nor is the Vikings schedule to finish the season: Seattle, at Arizona, Chicago, the Giants, at Green Bay.
These games are likely going to fall more into Bridgewater's hands. As will any playoff and championship hopes. The Vikings must be prepared to tweak their formula.
* * *
For the Falcons, there is an inclination to rip more than tweak.
Atlanta started the season 5-0 but is 6-5 now. It has lost four straight games.
Matt Ryan has thrown multiple interceptions in five games this season. That matches his high for a season, in 2009, but he still has five games remaining. He has thrown 12 interceptions this season. He threw two against the Vikings and has thrown five in his last two games.
He was booed by the Georgia Dome crowd. His home, his house, is becoming one of horror.
The Falcons want to talk about injuries and lack of creating turnovers and other stuff, but the problem for them is Ryan is not playing well and his interceptions are killing their season.
"You want to make plays and you want to be aggressive, but there is a time and a place to do it and that was not the time nor the place," he said about one of his picks on Sunday. This is a quarterback in his eighth season. The Falcons need him to act like it in his play, not just in his words.
It's an awful day for Ryan, for the Falcons, when the guest becomes the host, when the visitor feels more at home.
"That's kind of a script flipped, huh?" Barr asked. Like his game, he already knew the answer.
* * *
SB Nation presents: The Raiders' last-second lateral play goes very wrong