MINNEAPOLIS - Teddy Bridgewater got hurt before he could finish a fine first NFL start.
He was good enough to put the Minnesota Vikings in the lead when he left.
The rookie passed for 317 yards and a key 2-point conversion before hurting his ankle in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings beat the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 on Sunday.
Bridgewater was 19 for 30 with no turnovers and ran five times for 27 yards and a score in his first career start, but his last carry was costly. His left foot rolled underneath him as he was sandwiched by two tacklers at the 1-yard line. Matt Asiata powered his way in on the next play for his third touchdown, and Bridgewater stayed in to zip a crisp pass to Rhett Ellison to push the lead to 35-28.
As Bridgewater was taken away on a cart for X-rays, Christian Ponder took over at quarterback after the Falcons were forced to punt for a second straight time. Blair Walsh drilled a 55-yard field goal to put the Vikings (2-2) ahead by 10, and Harrison Smith intercepted Matt Ryan on the next drive to seal the victory.
Bridgewater was back on the sideline before the end of the game, with Ponder the only healthy quarterback left on the active roster.
The Falcons weren't feeling sorry for Minnesota. They lost three starting offensive linemen to injuries and wound up sticking tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle in the fourth quarter. Ryan was 25 for 41 for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
Bridgewater replaced Matt Cassel in last week's loss at New Orleans when the veteran broke his left foot. The "Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!" chants started as the Falcons lined up to punt after their first possession, the anticipation of Bridgewater's debut palpable inside the sun-soaked stadium.
With pass protection a problem in recent weeks, offensive coordinator Norv Turner devised a plan with a heavy dose of quick drops for drag routes across the middle and screens to either side.
The Vikings piled up 351 yards by halftime, a total higher than half of the teams in the league averaged per game over the first three weeks. Bridgewater dived head-first into the end zone to finish a 13-yard touchdown run for the first score of his career and a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.
Fellow rookie Jerick McKinnon had a big day, too, running 18 times for 135 yards. But his touchdown run on the next drive was called back on replay review because he was down short of the goal line, and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal.
Asiata had 20 carries for 78 yards, and all of a sudden Adrian Peterson, on paid leave while the child-abuse charge against him is pending, was an afterthought.
The Vikings totaled only 16 points over the last two games. But on Sunday, they put up big numbers without the help of big-name players at the skill positions.
Jarius Wright had eight catches for 132 yards for the Vikings, who lost their starting right guard and tight end to injuries last week on top of Peterson's glaring absence.
The Falcons were so dominant in a 56-14 win over Tampa Bay last week their defense was hardly tested. But on Sunday, they recorded no sacks and were continually pummeled up the middle by Asiata and McKinnon. Safety William Moore hurt his shoulder and didn't return.