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Updated: November 27th, 2011 8:12pm
Notebook: Percy Harvin's impressive day overshadowed in another defeat

Notebook: Percy Harvin's impressive day overshadowed in another defeat

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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ATLANTA -- Percy Harvin did everything he could to help the Minnesota Vikings avoid a ninth loss on a day they took the field without All-Pro halfback Adrian Peterson.

It wasn't enough, but one of the finest games of the third-year receiver's career helped the Vikings at least stay in a game the Atlanta Falcons held on to win 24-14.

With Peterson at home nursing a high ankle sprain, Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards, ran five times for 11 yards and nearly went the distance on a 104-yard kickoff return that gave the Vikings a last gasp in the fourth quarter.

"Just a special athlete, a special person," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's been exemplary all through this year, and the effort he's given us, to play as hard as he plays and for us -- we rely on him so much, and then losing Adrian this week going in, he knew he would have to be a major factor for us."

Limited in practice all week because of ongoing problems with his ribs, Harvin went into halftime with only 29 total yards on four touches. The Vikings offense as a whole was lifeless, managing only 97 net yards and five first downs on its way to a 17-0 halftime deficit.

Then came their second possession of the second half -- a 14-play, 80-yard drive punctuated by Harvin catches of 13 and 20 yards to set up Toby Gerhart's 1-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

"We knew it was execution," Harvin said. "We came back with plays that we executed in the first half."

Later, facing fourth-and-13 from the Atlanta 39, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw Harvin's way again and connected for a sensational touchdown over middle linebacker Curtis Lofton's deep coverage to make it 17-14.

"We saw that they like to do a different thing in their coverage where they drop their Mike linebacker to safety deep and bring the other two safeties kind of as switch players," Ponder said. "I knew we had a matchup of Percy on their Mike linebacker, and I would take that matchup any day."

The Vikings' next drive stalled, and Atlanta extended its lead to 10 on Matt Ryan's 3-yard touchdown pass to third-string tight end Michael Palmer with 6:40 to go. But back came Harvin again, returning the ensuing kickoff to the Falcons' 3-yard line before cornerback Chris Owens caught him from behind.

"I knew once I got to the 50, it was going to be a stretch," Harvin said. "I looked back. He was stretching out. I was stretching out. I probably shouldn't have looked back at the 5-yard line and probably would have scored. I was looking for him to maybe dive and try to clip my heels."

Instead, the Vikings got stopped on four consecutive plays -- including consecutive inside runs to Harvin on second- and third-and-goal.

Harvin thought he crossed the plane on the latter. But officials ruled him down at the 1, the Vikings didn't challenge, Toby Gerhart was stuffed on fourth down and the Falcons ran out the clock.

"I don't know about the stats that I had," Harvin said. "All that I know is that we have another loss and still have some work to do."

Secondary struggles

The Vikings planned to match cornerback Asher Allen against Falcons receiver Roddy White. That lasted less than a quarter.

Allen departed with a shoulder injury, forcing the Vikings to use No. 3 corner Benny Sapp outside in the base defense and Marcus Sherels in the nickel.

It was a rough day for Sapp, beginning when slot receiver Harry Douglas crossed his face for a 27-yard touchdown early.

"I was expecting someone to be somewhere in the defense," Sapp said. "It was just miscommunication a little bit. I've got to study a little bit more."

On a key third-and-4 midway through the fourth quarter, Sapp bailed out, allowing Roddy White to catch Ryan's throw beyond the marker, and then blew a tackle that gave White a 23-yard gain to the Vikings' 7. Palmer caught his touchdown between Sherels and safety Jamarca Sanford three plays later.

Signed off the street on Nov. 16, Sapp admitted he was "very winded" in his most extensive action since the Miami Dolphins cut him after a brutal performance in Week 1.

"I need a lot of work. Put it like that," Sapp said. "But for the most part, I dug deep and I thought I held up pretty good."

Sherels took the blame for the Falcons' second touchdown, with White running free to the back of the end zone as Sherels and Sapp both flattened out on the underneath receiver.

"We had a banjo call," Sherels said. "That means Benny took the outside and I took the inside. But they both kind of went outside. One kind of came up. it's a tough route, but it's on me. Got to work to improve."

The depleted secondary lost another player early in the second quarter when Tyrell Johnson injured his right hamstring. Rookie Mistral Raymond replaced him.

"It was tough," Frazier said. "Asher has really become a guy we're counting on a great deal to match up with other people's wide receivers. Then, to lose him as early as we did, it really puts you in a little bit of a bind. But I thought Marcus Sherels, I thought Benny, I thought Mistral and those guys that played back there played hard and were effective at times."

Sherels did make one key play, raking a third-down throw out of Douglas' hands as they skidded toward the Vikings sideline to force a punt with 12:05 to go.

Catching breaks

A hustle play by Ryan D'Imperio and, oddly enough, a successful challenge by the Falcons gave the Vikings a chance in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 17-7 with 14:18 to go, the Vikings punted on fourth-and-8 from their 22-yard line. Return man Eric Weems let Chris Kluwe's 40-yard punt drop. It took a sideways hop toward Domonique Franks, whom D'Imperio shoved into the ball, then picked it up to give the Vikings possession at the Atlanta 36.

"I saw the guy right there, saw the ball behind him," D'Imperio said. "I had the opportunity to try to make something happen."

An incompletion, a false start by Jimmy Kleinsasser and a Harvin run for 2 yards left the Vikings facing third-and-13 on their ensuing drive. Ponder checked down to Gerhart, whose 6-yard reception was overturned after the Falcons -- hoping to push the Vikings out of field-goal range -- successfully challenged the ball hit the ground.

That left the Vikings in the fourth-and-13 that turned into Harvin's touchdown, cutting the deficit to three.

Falcons nicked

The Falcons' secondary took a hit in the first quarter, too, when one starting cornerback (Brent Grimes) suffered a knee injury and the other (Dunta Robinson) suffered an apparent stinger less than a minute apart.

Yet with both off the field, the Vikings called a run play to halfback Toby Gerhart third-and-1, Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon beat Steve Hutchinson to stop it and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe gesticulated toward the sideline in frustration.

Robinson returned later in the half. Grimes didn't, moving Franks into the base defense at left cornerback and Chris Owens into the nickel.

Ponder improves

One week after throwing three interceptions in a loss to Oakland, Ponder finished 17-of-25 passing (68%) for 186 yards, a touchdown and a 103.1 rating.

He also took four sacks as protection broke down repeatedly, was short on a couple of passes, threw incomplete on his only pass after the Harvin touchdown and took at least partial blame for the offense's lack of rhythm in the first half.

"I need to do a better job in the huddle," Ponder said. "We need to do a better job of getting in and out of the huddle. We need to set the tone in the first half. We didn't do that from the very beginning of the game."

Long-shot long snapper

Jared Allen finally got his chance to show some versatility.

Cullen Loeffler went to the locker room with a lower-back injury after running down on a punt early in the second quarter, forcing Allen into action as the long snapper.

His first snap was on the mark and he ended up making the tackle, too, chasing down Eric Weems from behind on a 42-yard punt return.

"He was outstanding as a long snapper, when you consider he's our emergency guy that he had gotten a few reps a few weeks ago when Cullen was banged up," Frazier said. "But to go out there and play under that pressure and to not have any mistakes -- there wasn't much of a drop-off at all -- just a tremendous athlete, just a great player and for him to step in and do what he did, just hats off to Jared Allen."

Reisner in the mix

Promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, undrafted rookie tight end Allen Reisner got the most extensive action of his young career -- and recorded his first NFL reception for 5 yards in the scramble drill during the Vikings' 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

"We made some hellacious plays on that drive," Musgrave said. "The quarterback, the line, the running backs, wide receivers, our tight end that we just brought up from the practice squad. Everybody really hung together so we could stay in the game, stay afloat and continue to be within striking distance."

There was playing time to go around because Kyle Rudolph was scratched with a quadriceps injury and coaches limited Shiancoe's snaps on a tender hamstring.

Shiancoe finished with three catches for 24 yards.

Missed opportunity

The Vikings had a chance to halt the Falcons' momentum late in the first half, when Kevin Williams beat right tackle Tyson Clabo and stripped Matt Ryan.

But Ryan dived on the bouncing ball at the Vikings' 32 just before Letroy Guion popped him, and the Falcons got a field goal out of the drive, with Matt Bryant hitting from 37 yards to extend their lead to 17-0 with 37 seconds left in the half.

Quick hits

• MLB E.J. Henderson took nickel snaps instead of WLB Erin Henderson, who was returning from a hamstring injury.

• Four veterans served as the Vikings' captains: UT Kevin Williams, P Chris Kluwe, Jared Allen and Kleinsasser.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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