ATLANTA — Mike Smith cracked a joke after the Falcons held on for another win that was probably closer than it should’ve been.
“We make it exciting enough for you?” the Atlanta coach said, managing a smile.
Then he took a swig of water and breathed a sigh of relief. His team held on in a game it couldn’t afford to lose.
Matt Ryan tossed three touchdown passes and the Falcons came through with a goal-line stand after Percy Harvin’s 104-yard kickoff return, preserving a 24-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Atlanta (7-4) had to beat the lowly Vikings to maintain its spot in a tight NFC playoff race. Minnesota (2-9) didn’t appear much of a threat without star running back Adrian Peterson, who was sidelined by a sprained left ankle.
The game started according to plan for the Falcons, who raced to a 17-0 lead by halftime. Ryan hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 27-yard touchdown and Roddy White on a 6-yarder. The Vikings had only two first downs and 38 yards until their final possession of the first half, when they padded their numbers a bit against the prevent defense. Even then, Minnesota went to the locker room with five first downs and 97 yards.
“We know we’re a lot better than that,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “Sooner or later we’re going to hit our stride.”
The Falcons built a 20-point lead on the Titans but staggered to the finish, barely preserving a 23-17 win.
Now, another close call.
“At the end of the day, we had more points than they did,” Smith said. “That’s the most important stat.”
Ryan completed 27 of 34 for 262 yards and had his best efficiency rating of the season. White had his second consecutive big game with 10 catches for 120 yards.