MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe's steady improvement this season reached a high point on Sunday at the Metrodome with a career day against the Atlanta Falcons.
Shiancoe had seven catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-17 loss, emerging as a force down the middle in the passing game just like the Vikings envisioned when they signed him away from the Giants before last season.
"It doesn't mean anything if we come out with a loss," Shiancoe said. "All we can do now is look forward to playing the Giants next week."
That may be true, but even the disappointment of missing a chance to clinch the NFC North title wasn't enough to mask Shiancoe's impressive performance.
A liability in the passing game last season, Shiancoe made several big plays on Sunday. The first came on Minnesota's opening drive, when he caught a pass in the flat, rumbled over cornerback Domonique Foxworth and stretched out for a 21-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Shiancoe made a leaping catch down the middle in double coverage for a 31-yard gain and capped his day with a 17-yard TD late in the fourth.
But it wasn't enough for the Vikings to avoid losing their first game in five weeks.
"It's not really about me," Shiancoe said. "It's about the Minnesota Vikings. Just being able to come out and play after every week of working hard at practice, then being able to put it all together on the field. Today we didn't get that done."
RUNNING JACKSON: Tarvaris Jackson had an impressive day through the air, completing 22 of 36 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. But he was equally dangerous in the running game.
Jackson tied with Adrian Peterson for the team lead in rushing with 76 yards on eight carries, including a 29-yarder.
"I am not running just to run," Jackson said. "I am running when it is there. I am running with merit. I am not running just because I can. When it opens up, I see it. If nobody is open, I just take off."
Throughout the game, Jackson kept plays alive with his legs and generally appeared to have a far better command of the offense than he did in his first stint as a starter at the beginning of the season.
Some of that may be attributable to the improving health of his 1-year-old son, Tarvaris II, who went through several health problems after being born last year.
"He's up here now, so he's doing a lot better," Jackson said. "He's been going through a lot ever since he was born, but he's good now. He's a tough kid. He's doing well right now, so I hope he stays like that."
MISSING BIG PAT: Pat Williams' consecutive games streak ended at 101 when he sat out with a fractured shoulder. Williams is also expected to miss next week against the Giants.
The Vikings missed him early in the game, when the Falcons gashed the interior of the defense on a 12-play drive to open the game. Atlanta ran the ball eight times on the possession, most right over right guard, where Williams normally sets up shop.
"We definitely missed him, but for the most part we held it down inside," tackle Kevin Williams said. "The guy hit a lot of runs outside. We missed a lot of tackles on the edge and that hurt us."
That said, the Falcons still managed only 98 yards rushing as a team despite entering the game as the league's leading rushing team.
"We can't worry about Pat not being here," said Ray Edwards, who had two sacks. "We love him as a brother. Things happen in football. You have injuries. You have to be able to play without him and the game goes on. We still played today. We have to see what we did wrong and make the corrections."
ROOTING FOR THE PACK: Even with the loss, the Vikings can wrap up their first NFC North title if the Packers win at Chicago on Monday night.
That puts the Vikings players in an unfamiliar situation of rooting for their fiercest rivals.
"It's odd," said safety Darren Sharper, a former Packer. "I would like for them to win. More still thinking about the fact that we could have not had to worry about what they did if we would have taken care of our own business."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield said winning the division on their day off would almost be bittersweet.
"I'll definitely be watching, hopefully the Pack can pull it off," Winfield said. "But that's not the way we wanted to win it."