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Falcons rule early, sweat out 24-14 win over Vikings

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Sure, the Atlanta Falcons have fallen into a habit of allowing pedestrian opponents to linger unnecessarily long before putting them away.

Of course, the Birds must start stringing together four good quarters -- shoot, they'd take three -- to assume the pose of a playoff team.

Yet, they are a postseason-like 7-4 after vanquishing the Vikings 24-14, and win No. 8 might not be as elusive as it once seemed.

When the Tennessee Titans arose from the crypt last weekend at the Georgia Dome to make a game of it, a lesson should have been learned.

Apparently not. The offense dozed off in the second half Sunday, allowing Minnesota, absent Adrian Peterson and with a rookie quarterback, to close within a field goal.

It took a highlight-reel effort by Chris Owens on special teams to relight the flame. How do you run 104 yards, ball in hand, without scoring? If you are Percy Harvin, here is how: You take a kickoff seven yards deep in the end zone and, while headed toward the opposite one, turn to see Owens chasing you down for the tackle at the Falcons' three.

Thus alerted, the defense denied Minny any points on the possession. Eventually, Matt Ryan delivered a sigh-of-relief touchdown.

Next up: Houston, which is down to its third-string quarterback, lightly used rookie T.J. Yates, after Nos. 1 and 2 have gone down in consecutive weeks. It has become, in the vernacular, a winnable game.

This time, though, it might take four periods of estimable play.

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