Peterson rushed for 158 yards and scored two touchdowns and Minnesota created four turnovers in a 20-10 road win over the Falcons.
Peterson scored on a 1-yard plunge to put the Vikings ahead 7-0 in the first quarter and then sealed the win with a 35-yard touchdown run with 4:15 to play. He moved into 19th on the NFL's all-time rushing list, moving past Corey Dillon and O.J. Simpson on Sunday. And he did it against the No. 1 rushing defense in the league entering Sunday.
"It was a grind," said Peterson, who now has 99 career touchdowns. "They have the number one rushing defense. I give those guys so much credit now that I can look back at some of my runs, it could have been 250 (yards), but their defense does a great job of tackling and corralling things that they made it hard for our offense to really have those big runs."
Trailing 13-3 with 4:45 to play, the Falcons went for it on 4th and 1 from the 48-yard line. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, in the shotgun with no running backs, was sacked by linebacker Anthony Barr and fumbled. Three plays later, Peterson burst down the sideline his clinching touchdown.
The Vikings (8-3) bounced back from last week's loss to Green Bay and returned to the top of the NFC North division by themselves, thanks to Chicago's upset of the Packers on Thanksgiving. Minnesota heads into December facing a difficult closing stretch. The Vikings host Seattle next week, followed by a game at high-powered Arizona. Minnesota closes at Green Bay in Week 17.
"It was important to win this week regardless of what happened last week," Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. "This was a big game for us, because we basically have a six-game season going. We go on the road, with guys injured and I don't know why, but this was a very important game for me to comeback, fight, scratch and get to 8-3 was great."
After jumping out to a surprising 5-0 start, the wheels are coming off for first-year Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and the Falcons (6-5), who have dropped four straight. Ryan threw two ugly interceptions, the second coming in the Vikings' end zone and leading to a chorus of boos from the Georgia Dome crowd.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Ryan said, "because again we had opportunities to score in the red zone and turn it over. It starts with me. I've got be better in terms of decision-making and knowing when to jut the ball away, cut our losses and kick a field goal."
Ryan's porous showing came against a banged-up Minnesota secondary that was without starting safety Harrison Smith. Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes shadowed Falcons receiver Julio Jones and kept the NFL's leading receiver out of the end zone for a second straight week. Jones finished with five receptions for 56 yards.
Ryan completed 22 of 31 passes for 230 yards with a 1-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nick Williams and two interceptions. Ryan has thrown five interceptions in the past two games.
Quinn said his faith in Ryan is not wavering.
"He's absolutely the competitor I want," Quinn said. "He's what we look for an dour teams for the whole way. We'll go back and find out was there a decision that could have been made that could be different. If there is in those scenarios, then we'll find those and say where else could you have gone with it?"
Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also threw a bad interception in the first half that prevented the Vikings from extending their lead. But that was Bridgewater's only turnover. The Vikings quarterback completed 20 of 27 passes for 174 yards.
Atlanta was without injured star running back Devonta Freeman, who missed the game while recovering from a concussion suffered in the first quarter of last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie running back Tevin Coleman started in place of Freeman and notched the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career. Coleman finished with a 110 yards and had a 46-yard run in the first half, but got caught from behind and was stripped by a hustling Barr.
"Anthony (Barr) is a special player, a special kid, as he continues to play he will be even better." Zimmer said. "I really feel think he sky's the limit for the guy."
NOTES: Atlanta K Matt Bryant, who injured his right quad in a Wednesday practice, was inactive. Veteran K Shayne Graham, signed this week, handled the place-kicking duties. ... Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson moved into 19th place on the NFL's all-time rushing yards list, passing Corey Dillon and O.J. Simpson. ... Vikings WR Stefon Diggs turned 22 on Sunday. .... Falcons LB Justin Durant suffered an ankle injury in the first half and did not return. ... Vikings S Andrew Sendejo injured his knee in the second quarter and had to leave the game.